Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Defending Ann – Los Angeles Loyolan.
It turns out the glass ceiling isn’t quite broken yet for women in the political realm. While one might look at the success of Michelle Obama as a public figure or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s success in the last Democratic primary as signs that sexism in politics is on its way out, it only took one comment about a presidential candidate’s wife to throw all that into question once again.
Earlier this month, according to a USA Today article from April 12 titled “Hilary Rosen says Ann Romney never worked ‘a day in her life,’” Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist, made a comment on CNN about Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann, and her status as a stay-at-home mom.
The comment started a political wildfire, and after initially standing behind her stance that Romney had not worked “a day in her life,” Rosen backed down. President Barack Obama publicly distanced himself from the comments, stating that there is no harder job in the world than being a mother. All was well – Ann Romney picked up a couple approval points and Opinion columnists online and in print had something to talk about for that news cycle.
However, things didn’t stop there. The next day, comedian and “Real Time With Bill Maher” host Bill Maher took a nasty shot at Romney jokingly ‘clarifying’ Rosen’s statements. According to the April 16 Boston Globe article “Bill Maher’s slam on Ann Romney poses dangers for Obama,” Maher said “What [Rosen] meant to say, I think, was that Ann Romney has never gotten her ass out of the house to work.”
The comment was crass, but Maher’s whole comic persona is that of a jerk. It’s a shtick that is, quite plainly, unfunny, but the comment didn’t cut any deeper than the original one. Of course, being Maher, he couldn’t resist following up with further cracks at Romney’s expense.
“No one is denying that being a mother is a tough job; I remember I was a handful,” Maher said, according to the April 16 Fox News article “Bill Maher facing bipartisan criticism over Ann Romney remarks.” “But you know there is a big difference between being a mother, and that tough job, and getting your ass out the door at 7 a.m. when it’s cold, having to deal with the boss, being in a workplace, or even if you’re unhappy you can’t show it for eight hours.”
That single statement is dripping with so much sexism it makes my head spin. And it’s not just sexist, either; it also manages to cram elitism and a healthy dose of egotism in there as well.
Maher, whose show airs once a week for half an hour on HBO, doesn’t really know what a “tough job” is either – and if he knows what it is, he hardly works at one. Not only that, but why exactly does a “tough job” matter more simply because you start earlier, you deal with being managed and have to disguise your unhappiness? What of any of that goes towards worthiness? It’s a flawed argument from the start.
However, what’s ugliest about Maher’s statement is exactly how sexist and hateful it is. The phrase “I remember I was a handful” is full of condescension – as if raising a child is all about when children make a mess in their room or won’t brush their teeth. Not only that, but Maher addresses the statement about being a mother in general, not about being a stay-at-home mom. The two ideas are completely different; again, his argument becomes more and more flawed.
The icing on the cake, however, is the comparison between being a mother and a nine-to-five job. I was raised by a working mother (who was stellar both at home and in the workplace, it should be noted), but many of my friends were raised by stay-at-home moms, wonderful women who gave their lives to supporting their children. It is endlessly demanding and emotionally draining. There are up days and down days. But it is an incredibly fulfilling ‘job’ and incredibly worthy of respect. Just because it isn’t a desk job doesn’t make it worth anything less.
The idea that Maher would imply such speaks to how ignorant he is of how much stay-at-home-moms do. It’s more than just dealing with kids like him who were ‘handfuls.’ It’s a commitment and a choice millions of women in this country have made. Ann Romney isn’t out of touch because she’s a stay-at-home mom. Maher is out of touch because he can’t see what contributions those mothers make.