The Soapbox: On Ann Romney & Women “Marrying Up”

Another day, another bombastically link-baity piece on the Internet to get everyone’s feathers ruffled!

Today’s linkbait comes courtesy of The New York Daily News op-ed page, in which writer S.E. Cupp hammers away at Democratic consultant Hilary Rosen for a foot-in-mouth comment she made on “Anderson Cooper 360″ last week, that stay-at-home  mother (SAHM) of five Ann Romney “never worked a day in her life.” Rosen later clarified that she meant Ann shouldn’t be her millionaire husband’s earpiece for issues on women and the economy; alas, her point was lost by inelegant phrasing.

The rudeness of Rosen’s comments were chastised by everyone from First Lady Michelle Obama, members of the president’s staff, and feminists such as myself. But that fact has been conveniently ignored by S.E. Cupp. Instead, she wants to pat Ann Romney on the back for “marrying up,” writing:  

[W]hile liberal women may praise Ann for (at least) getting herself an education, where is the praise for Ann’s best decision of all — to marry well?

Ann Romney attended college at Brigham Young, met and married Mitt, and then finished up her degree attending night classes at Harvard, Cupp writes. Though she stayed at home and raised five children — and doing plenty of unpaid work supporting her husband’s political career along the way — Ann always had her education to fall back on, to “hedge against an uncertain future,” as Cupp puts it. But feminists and progressives — who goose-step in unison to all the same beliefs, of course! — are not praising Ann Romney. We are bashing her! Viciously! Writes Cupp:
Progressives … would presumably prefer women to be dependent on the state for health care and housing . But by marrying wealthy, Ann made a truly empowering decision that allowed her the freedom to do whatever she wanted. And she did it, by all accounts, without sacrificing the really important stuff, marrying someone she loved. And what a catch she found in Mitt Romney, a good, churchgoing guy who worked hard to achieve huge success. But don’t hold your breath for the choruses of ‘You go, girl!’ from the feminists. Apparently, picking a good provider is only okay in political mates, not domestic ones. But why is that? Women want safety and dependability, especially today, with such a volatile economy. And President Obama knows this, which is why his appeals to women include paternalistic language and fear-mongering about the Republicans.

Pardon me while I wipe all the dust off myself after rolling around laughing at the suggestion that it’s the Obama administration — not the abortion-banning/birth control-messing-with Republicans — who are “paternalistic” and “fear mongering.” 

Alas, it’s too bad a larger point about Ann Romney gets lost in a hit piece on feminists and progressives. Because I’m a feminist and a progressive and guess what? I want to be a SAHM someday, too. So, I am in agreement with Cupp on her observation that marrying someone who could financially provide for the family was a wise decision on Ann Romney’s part (if she did indeed plan to be a SAHM her whole life … none of us have intimate knowledge of Ann and Mitt’s marital discussions on this subject). In a defense of SAHM-dom using Ann Romney’s fortuitous marriage as an example, Cupp writes:

Because of whom she married, Ann was able to stay at home and raise her family the way she wanted. She was able to support her husband’s ambitions. She was able to afford lifesaving care when she was diagnosed with both multiple sclerosis and breast cancer. And she was able to devote her time to charity.

Of course, Cupp neglects to mention that Ann Romney was lucky, supremely lucky, to never be forced back into the workforce due to her husband’s death, unemployment, or other financial hardship. It’s no secret that it isn’t easy for women who’ve taken time off to have children to transition back into the workforce; that reality perhaps would have been doubly so, given the lack of paid employment on Ann’s resume. Had Mitt Romney not been a millionaire and had he, say, suddenly been hit by a truck and killed, Ann would never have been able to “raise her family the way she wanted,” which throws a wrench in Cupp’s claim that “marrying wealthy” was a “truly empowering decision.”

All that being said, Cupp is right about one thing: “Why shouldn’t women also feel compelled to consider how their future husbands will take care of them?” I dislike the phrasing of the sentence — “takes care of them” — because it’s my view that a partnership takes care of each other, regardless of who is the financial breadwinner. However, Cupp’s question is nevertheless a question that I explored myself a few years ago. With a heapful of Hilary Rosen-esque ineloquency, I wrote about how I want to become a SAHM for at least a portion of my future children’s youth and therefore I logically need to consider a partner’s earning potential when I shack up and make babies. (Get outraged here! And here!) 

I fully understand why using as “man as a financial plan” is ill-advised for anyone but Donald Trump’s wives. It it ridiculous for anyone to suggest the 99 percent could solve all their problems if, duh, they had only thought to marry up!  First of all, there aren’t that many rich folks to go around. Second of all, refer to my previous point about the unreliableness of the breadwinner’s paycheck.

At the same time, it’s just realistic to acknowledge that if you are not independently wealthy (hey, what’s up!) and you truly desire to be a stay-at-home parent with every fiber of your being, you need to marry/partner with someone who can financially support the family unit. That’s just accounting, folks. Of course, it takes an enormous amount of class privilege to be able to have that choice. Yet I’m uncomfortable with the tone that sometimes arises during this discussion, including from my fellow feminists, that anyone who aspires for this future partnership-and-parenthood setup in some way is a “goldigger” or entitled sell-out.

I got torn a new asshole when I wrote about wanting to partner/procreate with someone who is down with my SAHM aspirations, specifically from feminist blogger Jill Filipovic, who suggested on Feministe that I had an “immature” “princess fantasy.”  That stung, in part, because I think planning parenthood is actually admirably mature. One of the things to take into account when planning parenthood is how are you going to feed, clothe and shelter the freakin’ kid. Yet it seems to me to be this thing that feminists aren’t supposed to talk about because it perhaps wades too deep into class issues that people are afraid of being perceived as being “on the wrong side of.” (Which I also find weird because intersectionality on issues is usually a big thing for most feminists, and one can be a SAHM but also support things like paid maternity leave, pay equity, and other gender/labor issues. I certainly do.) People should be able to have honest conversations about their family/parenting ideals — even if they are only in the realm of fantasy for some — and not to be judgey-wudgey about people’s personal choices that affect no one other than themselves.  It is to our detriment to ignore or shame the desire to be a SAHM (or SAHD, for that reason) because the desire does exist. It may not be a choice everyone would choose. It certainly isn’t a choice everyone can choose. But if someone wants to choose it, it should be treated with respect.

Of course, this is personal to me — as most of the issues I write about pertaining to feminism are. Since girlhood, I have always wanted to have a large family someday. I also want to take time off from full-time paid employment to be a stay-at-home mother. I always intend to work as a writer throughout my life — that’s just in my blood —  but I would prefer to not juggle a 9-to-5 and children if that’s an option available to me. In order to stay in, or near, this city — which is close to my much-loved family and the hub of my career — I need to have children with someone who can financially support us for the SAH period of time. Of course, the dude I eventually build a family with will be on board with this.  I will try my best to have kids with the one I love who can also provide me and our future kiddos with the lives we all want.  Obviously I don’t see that as “gold-digging”; I see that as two partners coming together with similar goals and acknowledging the reality of those goals.  And I’ve dated guys more broke than I am and I’ve dated guys considerably more wealthy. It’s noteworthy to me that none of those dudes, regardless of their income, turned up their nose at my future SAHM ambitions. 

Discussions about stay-at-home moms, women and the economy, work-life balance, and the troubles of working parents are not going to go away anytime soon. It’s a shame that during this election cycle, a lot of them will be pegged to millionaire wife Ann Romney instead of, say, Ms. Main Street With Two Kids, A Mortgage And Credit Card Debt.  It’s my sincere hope that when we have these discussions we can remember to be nuanced in our arguments. 

[NY Daily News]

Contact the author of this post at [email protected] Follow me on Twitter at @JessicaWakeman.