Ann Romney is a valuable asset for the Romney campaign. Not only is she an inspirational wife and mother and apparently a talented speaker, but she’s also a woman who effortlessly draws errors from the Democrats. Last night, Juan Williams felt lukewarm about Ann’s performance and called her a “corporate wife” because her husband has always taken care of her.
To the extent he meant that someone wealthy enough to not have to worry about the price of gas isn’t the most believable person on the plight of the middle class, Williams isn’t way out of line. But after decades of being groomed by feminists not to dismiss women’s opinions, his comment smacks of dismissing the experiences of an entire group of women based on career choice. She hasn’t had to take care of herself financially so her opinion isn’t valuable.
One might think that feminists would come to Ann Romney’s defense, but they beat Williams to the attack months ago. Remember the Ann Romney “hasn’t worked a day in her life” comment from Hilary Rosen back in April? Both comments suggest that unless a woman works for money and accolades outside the home, then she has nothing of value to say.
Not only is the notion insulting, it’s also wrong.
Both career women and housewives offer valuable perspective, but for topics outside a particular area of expertise like law or accounting, a housewife, even a rich one, might know more than the career woman does.
Countless books, blogs, essays, and coffee chats have told us that professional women max out with juggling their career and motherhood. They don’t have time for anything else. They know a lot about modern parenting and are well-informed in their professional fields, whereas housewives of Ann Romney’s vintage and style have the time and the means to be hands-on at home and examine a broad spectrum of issues. In fact, that is the defense used by affluent, educated, feminist, freelance women writers. When they face criticism that they are too out of touch with ordinary women due to their affluence and the flexibility of a freelance life, they counter that they have the perspective, opportunity, and even duty to write about women’s life issues. The grand dame of the Second Wave, Betty Friedan, was just such a housewife who wrote about all women based upon her experience in affluent suburban New England. It is quite bold for feminists to argue that affluence should discount a woman’s opinion.
But if a woman expresses unapproved ideas, then they will make an exception. For example, Caitlin Flanagan is a leftist woman with more traditional views about motherhood and marriage. She was savaged as an out-of-touch corporate wife type — see Joan Walsh’s review entitled “The happy hypocrite” for an example — when she published To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife. Since Ann Romney is a traditional wife and mother, the feminist opinion makers must explain why their own privileged perspective is valuable while Ann’s is worthless. Ann Romney provides an easier smear job than Flanagan. Her work history is in charity, and instead of writing for money, she gives speeches for her husband. That is, she doesn’t get paid.
In every other area of life, the fact that someone is paid for an opinion is a strike against credibility. In the post-feminist era, we are supposed to believe it is a mark of credibility — at least for women. This absurdity reminds me of a related twist that has often bothered me: why are those who are paid by non-profits and assorted socially acceptable organizations deemed more compassionate than heartless conservatives who often do similar work for free?
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