Mitt Romney and his wife Ann wave to supporters in Manchester, N.H. (Jim Cole / Associated Press…)
In my April 19 column, I weighed in on the latest round in the "mommy wars": the firestorm ignited when Democratic pundit Hilary Rosen accused Ann Romney of "never working a day in her life"; a statement President Obama then condemned, saying, "There is no tougher job tougher than being a mom."
By way of exploring the ways in which Americans are obsessed with and define themselves according to circumscribed notions of work, I submitted that maybe it was time to let go of the idea that motherhood trumps all other enterprises in its degree of difficulty. It may well the most important job in the world, I noted, but the "world's toughest job"?
Many readers agreed. "Finally some rational sanity on a topic that apparently needs some," emailed one. Another wrote to me: "People ... do not see the real issue.... Ann Romney, a women who has never worked outside of the home, is Mitt's advisor on economic issues for out of work women."
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Presidential Election 2012
More, however, used adjectives such as "disgusted" and "appalled." They had a fundamental beef: As a non-parent, I had no right to an opinion about the job of being a mother.
"Shouldn't this article have actually been written by a mom?," wrote "brdcstr" on the comment board. "And no, having a sheep dog doesn't count."
"I find it appalling that someone who isn't a mother feels educated enough to make such a claim," said "LisaSD22."
Meanwhile a reader who identified himself simply as "A Dad" emailed: "Written from the perspective of a non-mom. From my perspective any idiot can write an opinion column such as yours -- and one does."
And then there was this email, from "SMART."
"Is your last name really pronounced Dumb? Maybe sitting at a computer mindlessly typing in whatever thought blows between those two over-sized ears onto the screen is the 'toughest job,' simply because of the struggle to convince others that it is in fact a 'job' and that you should be paid for it. Does Dumb even have a child with Dumb's unattractive lesbian lover or does Dumb only speculate about what it is like to raise one?; or, if Dumb does have a child, does Dumb drop Dumb's child off at daycare all day so that others can do the job Dumb is supposed to be doing?"
Never fear, "Smart." As "LisaSD22" and others pointed out, I do not have children. I’m well aware that parenthood is a monumental undertaking that people probably shouldn’t sign up for unless they’re totally enthusiastic about the idea, which I’ve simply never been. But does that disqualify me from writing a column about the way parenting choices and philosophies have become politicized? After all, I write about the president without being the president. I’ve written about abortion despite never having had one myself. I wrote a column about Norway even though I've never been there and know exactly one Norwegian. Should I have recused myself due to lack of personal expertise or experience?
I'm going to go out on a limb and say no.
For the record, I’m not someone who thinks having a dog is remotely equivalent to having a child. And to those who sarcastically suggest that being an opinion columnist is more difficult than being a mom, I would say, unsarcastically, "No, it is not." I do, however, think our culture is too in love with platitudes.
This is particularly evident in political discourse, where lines such as "failure is not an option" and "the only thing to fear is fear itself" belie the unavoidable fact that failure is always an option and there's plenty to fear beyond fear itself. And, sorry -- "there is no tougher job tougher than being a mom" is a platitude extraordinaire -- even if you happen to believe it’s true.
A topic like motherhood is at once totally universal (most women eventually become mothers; even those who don’t have had a mother at some point) and totally individualized (no two people feel quite the same way about the institution). As a result, it’s spring-loaded for maximum controversy. In any case, I wrote not so much about motherhood but about the nature of the rhetoric that surrounds it. As for readers who suggested this was a subject on which only mothers were entitled to an opinion, well, they’re entitled to their opinions.