Context is Everything: Ann Romney and "Women Who Don't Have a Choice"

Ann Romney’s remarks about “women out there who don’t have a choice” perfectly captures certain rich people’s deep-seated beliefs about class -- namely, that class inequity is a positive thing, and that there's something noble about poverty.

Apr 25, 2012 at 6:00pm | Leave a comment

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Ann Romney after speaking at CPAC in 2011. (Image by Gage Skidmore, licensed under Creative Commons.)

In case you couldn’t guess, I'm not a huge fan of Mitt Romney. At all.

That said, I sometimes cringe when I watch politicians get tarred and feathered for comments they’ve made that are taken out of context.

Romney’s "I'm not terribly concerned about poor people" comment, for example, gets quoted again and again by liberal-leaning pundits and each time I hear it I think a little angel of truth sheds a tear.

The whole quote is something more to the effect of "I'm not concerned about the very poor, poor people who have a safety net and if that’s broken, we can fix it" which is not exactly “Let them eat cake.” (Fun fact, in case you’re curious, cake -- in this familiar axiom -- is a reference to the crud stuck to ovens, not the delicious frosted variety that I would be glad to live on whilst waiting to get paid).

We can criticize the Romneys for promoting economic policies that solely benefit themselves and their billionaire friends at the expense of everyone else, but taking politician’s comments out of context to make them out into caricatures of themselves is, in my opinion, just a bit below the belt.

That said, let us all turn our attention to a comment made yesterday by Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann Romney, at some political event somewhere: “'I love the fact that there are women out there who don’t have a choice.” When I first read this in a headline on the Daily Kos, I thought for sure it had to be some sort of elite-liberal-media-freedom-hating communist misquoting our just-might-someday-be-the-first-lady, and so I promptly read the article, which included Ann Romney’s full quote: “I love the fact that there are women out there who don’t have a choice and they must go to work and they still have to raise the kids. Thank goodness that we value those people too. And sometimes life isn’t easy for any of us.”

No, really, she said that. And thank goodness! she did, because -- contrary to some things which are taken out of context and blown up unnecessarily into some sort of big deal -- I think this quote really says a lot.

However unintentionally, I think Ann Romney’s remarks about “women out there who don’t have a choice” perfectly captures certain rich people’s deep-seated beliefs about class -- namely, that class inequity is a positive thing and should exist, that working poor women don’t have choices, and that there's something noble about poverty (so long as you're not the one experiencing it).

Daily Kos’s Kaili Joy Gray said it best when she said, “There's nothing wrong with being rich. But there's something very wrong with being so oblivious to your own privilege and all the choices it has afforded you that your response to your fellow Americans who don't enjoy such privilege and don't have the same opportunities is to tell them how much you ‘love’ their struggles and hey, you've struggled too, so you can totally relate.”

When I started teaching memoir-writing to adults I learned an interesting lesson. My students, who had come from all walks of life, taught me that adversity does not discriminate. You can never tell what a person has gone through just by looking at them. People -- all types of people, no matter their race, class, gender or what have you -- have gone through some pretty crazy shit.

Only when people begin to tell their stories, I have found, can you begin to see a person for who they truly are.

Adversity may not discriminate -- but poverty does. That is to say that poor people’s struggle is uniquely the struggle to those who are poor. Poor people work all their lives to make ends meet and oftentimes the ends never meet. Poor people work hard -- a lot harder than I work, doing work I would never even consider doing -- and most will never be anything other than poor.

Fewer than one percent of Americans break out of the class they were born into. The rest of us work to get by, all the while dreaming the increasingly unlikely American dream.

This year, I’ll make just under what I made my first year of college -- which is still more money than my mom made when we were growing up, working as a secretary at a racetrack and taking overtime as often as possible.

I’ve written about the experience of growing up working poor, and of having what Michelle Tea calls “fearful notions of scarcity and less-than” forever embedded in my heart and my gut. Ann Romney cannot relate to mine or my mother’s struggle, and that’s okay-- but don’t insult us by pretending you do.

When Hilary Rosen said that Ann Romney had “never worked a day in her life,” the pundits went all but crazy calling her remark “dismissive” and forcing everyone all the way up to the president (who was no way associated with Rosen) to apologize. I’m sorry they all did, because Rosen was right -- not because stay-at-home moms don’t work -- THAT was a comment taken out of context -- but because, as Rosen was trying to articulate, it’s different.