The Working Woman Swap: A Proposal

The media frenzy over the tiff between Hilary Rosen and Ann Romney is about to exit stage left, and not a moment too soon. I’m ready to see it fade away, but I can’t help but think it’s brought into the spotlight – yet again – the ways that stay-at-home-mothers and working mothers are pitted against one another in a debate that should be far less shallow than it often is.  You, me, and the rest of the country can agree that we disagree with Hilary Rosen’s declarative, yet stumbling remark on April 11 that Ann Romney “actually never worked a day in her life.” It isn’t true. She raised five boys. She worked. It was a hard job. But that debate is like the difference between grocery store chitchat and a real, honest conversation.

Is this really about whether women who stay at home work? Or whether Ann Romney is able to speak for or to all women? Of course not. This is about the divide between those who have safety nets and those who don’t. And Ann Romney cannot speak to or for those women. Not yet, at least.

There is a divide between those who have husbands who support them as they work from home for little or no pay, and women who just don’t have that choice. Many women in this country must take whatever job they can get to help feed their family and pay the mortgage. Their worries go far beyond whether they should sign their kid up for city soccer league or competitive ballet. Here are a few of the collective anxieties of working women who don’t have safety nets:

What if my child gets sick and I lose my job because I’ve taken days off to be at home with him?

Why do I earn less than 80 percent of what the guy in the cubicle next to me earns?

What if I get pregnant? My company doesn’t offer paid maternity and we can’t afford to lose six or eight weeks of pay.

If I take time off to raise my child, will I lose Social Security benefits in the long run?

It seems that issues like these are lost in the shouting matches that have taken place in the Mommy Wars. These wars mostly seem to involve women who choose to stay home and women who choose to work, and the debate is often over who works harder. But is anyone listening to the women who don’t have choices? Is anyone listening to the women who worry about putting food on the table and keeping a roof above the bed? Does anyone stop and take time to hear their concerns about paying medical bills and finding good childcare? For some women, it takes one missed paycheck – either hers or her husband’s – to jeopardize the basic necessities of life. Can anyone like Ann Romney or Hilary Rosen empathize with women in those real-life situations? Do our politicians and would-be politicians ever try to step into their shoes, or is the plight of the working mom without a safety net simply a good story for the campaign trail?

Here is my proposal: In this election season, I think each presidential and vice-presidential candidate’s wife should be required to spend a month in the shoes of a woman who doesn’t have choices. She should have to sleep in her bed, wear her clothes, drive her car, and raise her children with the same worries and challenges that woman faces every day. It’s easy to gush concern for someone when you’re never in danger of living her life. Every one of us should take the time to step into the world of those we say we care about, but candidates for political office should be forced to do this. And how can a man understand the issues of women? He can’t. But his wife can. And then she can have a nice sit-down with her husband to tell him what he needs to know, and make helpful suggestions about what he should do. It happens all the time. You know it does. It’s great that women are on the campaign trail supporting their husbands, but let’s challenge them to an even higher calling. Let’s ask them to do what women do well: Come together. Listen carefully. Care deeply. Speak honestly.

I’ll take this proposal one step further: Voters, let’s also spend some time in the world of those who are affected most directly by the economic decisions of our elected officials. When we cast our ballots, perhaps instead of all the bickering and clamoring that rings in our ears, we could have some clarity about how the issues affect real people.

About Lisa Tresch, Contributor

Lisa Tresch is editor of Mia magazine, a quarterly storytelling journal for women. Lisa graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University with a B.A. in Journalism. She worked as a City Desk reporter and features writer for the Tulsa World before launching a freelance writing and editing business. In 2009, she entered the world of magazine publishing as a partner in The Leslie Group, and began editing Mia in 2009. She keeps a tenuous balance of competing passions: writing, editing, blogging, photography, advocating for orphans, and coordinating social media for a non-profit. Some of these things she does better than others, but she is most passionate about her role as the mother of three amazing children and the wife of her college sweetheart.


  1. i haven’t read much about this whole situation, but i liked your article and your perspective.  And I especially liked this quote:  “It’s easy to gush concern for someone when you’re never in danger of living her life.”  instead of arguing and debating, i like the idea of walking in that other person’s shoes.  also, it would be great if we could collectively get to a place where we can think about what could be done to help empower these women whether they work at home or outside the home rather than continue the destructive rhetoric with these two types of women pitted against each other.