Putting aside the fact that, for millions of women, being a stay-at-home mom isn't even a viable choice, the brouhaha over Hilary Rosen's ill-chosen remarks about Ann Romney has only served to distract attention from the real issues plaguing women.
In this election year, women are being thrust into the political debate and openly attacked as if we were a single hot-button issue like gun rights or fracking. Everything from a woman's state of mind to her body and her actions is being politicized. Yet, nothing about men as a whole -- from their health to their safety -- has ever proven controversial. But supporting women's issues can be a political liability, and politicians are quick to dismiss gender equality when public sentiment deems it inconvenient.
Much of the recent legislation that attacks women is too preposterous to even make up:
- The Georgia House and Senate passed the "Women as Livestock Bill," an anti-abortion bill that earned its moniker after State Rep. Terry England compared pregnant women, carrying fetuses that had already died, to cows and pigs on his farm, saying that if the animals should have to deliver dead fetuses, so should women.
- A proposed law in Arizona could force women to prove to their employers that they are not using birth control pills for pregnancy prevention -- or face termination.
- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker repealed his state's Equal Pay Enforcement Act, which permitted victims of workplace discrimination to seek damages in state courts. The bill was enacted in 2009 to address the tremendous gender gap in compensation in Wisconsin.
- The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which would expand the reach of domestic violence programs, faces opposition in the U.S. Senate.
Combine these outrageous bills with a record number of reproductive rights restrictions being introduced -- some of a more extreme nature, like mandatory invasive trans-vaginal ultrasounds prior to abortion -- and it seems like we are in the midst of a coordinated strategy to undermine women's rights. It is hard to imagine that these attacks are occurring in the year 2012 in the United States.
So, even as our politicians pursue the "female vote," they appear to be out of the touch with the reality of our lives. If our leaders were truly interested in advancing our nation and creating prosperity for all, they should focus on addressing some core concerns for women and communities:
- Support policies that help close the gender wage gap, which now stands at 77 cents to the male dollar;
- Participate and promote national dialogue that values women's work rather than ignoring the fact that three-quarters of all women who work outside the home are concentrated in just 20 female-dominated, low-paying occupations;
- Guarantee access to contraception for all;
- Propose legislation that mandates minimum paid parental leave after the birth of a child to encourage bonding; and
- Introduce legislation to ensure access to affordable, high-quality day care options for all families. (In nearly half of all states, the cost of center-based child care for an infant exceeds the average cost of rent.)
But that brings us back to the working versus stay-at-home mother debate. Amidst all the squabbling over parenting and career choices, we have turned a blind eye to the fact that the so-called "choice" to stay at home is most often made by those occupying extreme ends of the spectrum. The ranks of stay-at-home women are filled with those who are the most privileged financially and those whose jobs pay so little that the cost of day care would exceed their salary.
Politicians who are truly interested in letting all mothers "choose their path," as Ann Romney put it, would support economic policies that make it financially possible for all mothers -- and fathers -- to decide between working and staying at home, based on what is best for their unique family circumstances.
Unless, of course, addressing women's concerns was never the goal of this manufactured distraction, after all. It is easier to talk about mommy wars than to promote policies that enable better parenting by all.
Follow Anika Rahman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@AnikaRahman_