The XX Factor

Hilary Rosen and Feminism’s Image Problem

The Romneys, Ann and Mitt

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Forgive me, but I’d like to add one last last word on the Hilary Rosen v. Ann Romney what’s-the-definition-of-a-working-woman argument. Hanna, I don’t think Republicans have cornered the market on disingenuous attacks this season. Democrats are also quite talented at it. Some of them suggested that RNC chair Reince Priebus was really comparing women to insects when he accused the “mainstream media” (disingenuously himself!) of imagining a war on women just as they might imagine a war on caterpillars. He wasn’t; he was just making a lame analogy.

Let’s all agree that Rosen’s valid point was buried by the boneheaded way she tried to make it, when she accused Ann Romney, a mother of five, of never working “a day in her life.” Ann Romney is really rich, and for Mitt Romney’s sake he’d better have more advisers than just his wife to brief him on the troubles women face in this economy. That said, I don’t think anyone – Rosen included – wants to suggest that being wealthy should preclude a person from the conversation about how to improve our nation’s economic troubles.

The real problem with what Rosen said is the way it feeds into some voters’ assumptions about daaangerous feminism. It reinforces the conviction Rick Santorum wrote about when he suggested that “[r]espect for stay-at-home mothers has been poisoned by … radical feminism’s misogynistic crusade to make working outside the home the only marker of social value and self-respect.” I don’t think Santorum’s is a fair assessment, but I’m also not an undecided voter in a swing state that Barack Obama needs to win over. By pitting working moms against stay-at-homes with divisive language, Rosen feeds Santorum’s argument. She makes feminists seem angry instead of inclusive. And she makes Obama’s appeal to women of all types that much harder.