Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be stay-at-home mamas. That seemed to be the underlying bias recently on a popular daytime TV show. It’s not a new one, but it’s one that may be a-changing.
“She almost made it,” said Barbara Walters as she introduced Rachel Campos-Duffy and her husband, Sean, on ABC’s The View. At first, it didn’t seem like the revealing introduction it was: Campos-Duffy, a former reality-TV-show cast member and now an author and mother of six, had auditioned for, and come close to getting, a place among the women of The View several years before.
But there was another sense in which Rachel — I’ll call her by her first name, because they do on The View — “almost made it”: Eleven years ago she married a young lawyer, moved to his home state, Wisconsin, and started having children. Her husband has now been elected to Congress. People in Wisconsin may refer to her as “Sean Duffy’s wife.”
The famous interviewer went on to ask, “Did you ever think, ‘I wish I had a career and I didn’t have six kids?’”
Without hesitation, Rachel happily responded to Walters: “Well, being a mom is the best job in the world.” She said it, by the way, with her youngest, eight-month-old MariaVictoria, sitting on her lap.
Knowing she was representing a lot of women who will never be on The View, Rachel later all but apologized for not saying more. She wrote on her parenting-site blog: “I couldn’t help being disappointed with my response. Not that it wasn’t true — being a mom is the best job in the world — but I felt that a question as culturally loaded as this one deserved a better answer.” What she may not have realized is that her witness was already as powerful as any longer response would have been.
Walters also pointed out that Politico has called Rachel and Sean the new D.C. “hot couple.” That really is quite the witness — if “hot” can now include being a mom who stays in Wisconsin with the kids and an Our Lady of Guadalupe statue in the living room as the Tea Party dad commutes to the nation’s capital. (Though I’m not that hopeful about the D.C. social pages getting that yet — they may still be stuck on the presentable couple’s MTV Real World past.)
Such questions aren’t new to Rachel. I doubt that they are to any mother of six in 2010. In fact, stay-at-home moms watching The View that day might have been insulted if they weren’t so used to it. Raising your eyebrows at stay-at-home mothers of many children may be the sexual revolution’s most acceptable bias.
Walters left it out of the intro, but Rachel knows this problem so well that she wrote a book called Stay Home, Stay Happy: 10 Secrets to Loving At-Home Motherhood. When I interviewed her about the book earlier this year, Rachel explained what there wasn’t time to say on The View. After the second time she tried out for The View, she realized that she was already “doing what God was calling me to do: being home, taking care of my kids.” Previously, she had considered herself in a waiting position, “waiting for my next big break.” But her oldest child was five at the time and, she explained, “I was starting to see the fruits of my time at home with them — their manners and sense of compassion, the things that happen when you parent well.”
At the same time, though, she confronted firsthand a culture not all that approving of the choice to stay home. She admitted, “Even if we feel good about our days and choices, we still crave that outside validation.” She’s fortunate enough to have a supportive husband but realizes not every woman does. And it can get lonely when people feel free to provide commentary on the supermarket line. “I guess I hoped that by writing this book I might in a small way help elevate this noble profession,” she told me. I wonder if her appearance as a bit of a zoo animal on The View counts as “outside validation.”
During our interview, Rachel went on to say, “I have made a choice to fully enjoy my kids and this particular season of my life. It’s a very conscious, powerful decision. In some ways, it takes more guts to give up the financial rewards and adulation that come from a professional career to pursue something so culturally undervalued as at-home motherhood.”
Therein she hit on something almost as powerful as motherhood: the current backlash against feminism as we know it. There is a growing discomfort with the worldview that women should want to “have it all.” That girls should do anything and everything. Certainly, you can choose not to have children. You can have a fulfilling life in other ways. But for too long now we have acted — in our schools and in pop culture and in our social lives — as if the woman who is on The View is superior to the woman who lives in Wisconsin with the man she loves.
Barbara Walters implied — in a perversely natural way — that Rachel’s life was missing something — something a modern woman is supposed to want before anything else. Women who put their children first have no reason to feel inferior to anyone. They’ve got our greatest natural resource on their laps. There is nothing to regret there. There’s everything to love and enjoy. Now that’s reality TV.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is available exclusively through United Media. For permission to reprint or excerpt this copyrighted material, please contact Carmen Puello.