Election 2012: The Mami Wars

It was the shot heard around kitchens, in car pool lines, and book clubs.  Referring to Ann Romney, advisor to the Democratic National Committee Hillary Rosen said on CNN, she had “never worked a day in her life.”  Indeed, the wife of likely Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney had not pursued a professional career after graduating from college.  Instead, she choose to stay home and raise her sons.  Responding to Rosen, @AnnDRomney tweeted, “I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work.”

Barbs from Republicans and Democrats went back and forth on cable TV, Twitter, and blogs.  This latest round in the so-called Mommy Wars hit a cultural nerve and I wanted to write about women’s visceral, make that uterine reaction.  Since I don’t have kids, I asked my sister.  “Huh?,” she asked.  I got the same reaction from other friends and women in my blogging networks: “This is asinine.  I don’t have time for this.”

Yes, these Latinas are too busy working, raising children, often times both, to engage a debate that seems, well, out of touch with the reality of a rapidly growing segment of the population and electorate. Many American women don’t have a choice but to work--they either are raising their children singlehandedly or have to bring home at least half the bacon in a household. That more homes are dual income has as much to do with women asserting their independence as economics. 

While the cost of living--what you pay for gas, food, and utilities--has increased, incomes for 90% of Americans have flatlined, even slightly dipped, with an average taxpayer earning in 1988 $33,400 a year adjusted for inflation. 20 years later, the average is $33,000, according to data from the IRS.

Within this financial context, who is “right”?  Hillary Rosen is correct in noting that Ann Romney never had to work a day in her life because husband Mitt comes from a ritzy family, and as important, made millions as head of private equity firm Bain Capital.  Yet Ann Romney is equally spot on.  Babysitting my nieces for two hours gives me panic attacks--what if they get bored, what if they hate me, what if I break them?  I can’t imagine raising five kids--and boys!--day in and day out.

Where both women are “wrong” is the assumption that their upper class reality--whether they choose to work or not--is the standard. 12.8% of women in the workforce are Latinas. Yet our jobs are among the least compensated, earning on average 60 cents for each dollar white men make, according to the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) which recently released the Trabajadoras report. Even my friends who “stay at home” have “side” jobs or businesses--blogging, making and selling arts and crafts, homeschooling their children, selling Avon or Mary Kay make up. 

There’s also this: Romney and Rosen likely have access to “help” in the form of nannies, babysitters, servants, personal assistants, gardeners, interns, cooks--all the things that free up valuable time so they can focus on nurturing their children and their marriages, as opposed to the endless juggle of tasks on a To-Do List.  In the case of Latina women, we’re lucky if we have family close by who can lend a hand. 

While Team Obama and Team Romney are trying to gain an edge with the coveted voting bloc of women, both campaigns would be wise to not ignore mamis--their realities, the issues that matter most to their families, their aspirations.  Just months before the November general election, they’re listening and watching, closely.