When Hilary Rosen uttered The Remark and the politics-fueled Mommy Wars absurdity ensued, I got mired in a comment thread on a popular blog site. The blogger was of the opinion that Rosen was biased against SAHMs and wrote a post calling for the end of the Mommy Wars.
The post set off an avalanche of comments. Most commenters believed that Rosen was anti-SAHM and saw Ann Romney as a victimized role model for mothers who raise kids full-time.
A minority of commenters, of which I was one, believed that the Mommy Wars debate was a smoke screen for the more pressing issue of Privilege, and how those who lack it are hindered, whether or not they stay home to raise children.
Some of the moms who weighed in were inspired by the Romneys and felt that they were proof that those who worked hard would inevitably be rewarded with financial gain.
One mom, “Stella,” explained that she had started a work-at-home business in order to become a “job creator,” because, she said, “when was the last time a poor person offered you a job?”
I became fascinated by Stella as she fired off comment after comment. How many people can ask “when was the last time a poor person offered you a job?” without a shred of irony or acknowledgment of the lack of Privilege that leads people who sell strawberries on the road side to be unable to offer steady employment with a nice benefits package?
Each of Stella’s comments was like a puzzle piece, and when I put them all together this is what emerged:
Stella was a single mom of four children. Her ex had limited involvement in her kids’ lives. She was a disciple of a how-to-get-rich-quick guru — let’s call him Richie — who sells books, DVDs, audiotapes, and seminar packages to people who want to be just like him.
Stella was convinced she would hit the money-lode any day and she used the comment thread for what appeared to be a pyramid scheme, peddling Richie’s videos. She was almost evangelical in her insistence that these videos would teach others how to be business dynamos and lead to the life of their dreams.
Because that’s what Richie promised.
There are many Richies out there. Some of them offer sound business advice that also incorporates living a life of integrity. Some of them are snake oil salesmen. Richie, in my opinion, is one of the latter.
Regardless of their integrity or lack thereof, motivational gurus are charismatic figures who have an endless supply of betterment products — books and tapes and seminars and day planners and vitamin water and God knows what else — that do create wealth.
For the gurus.
And while a minority of their disciples might become successful putting their principles into practice, most will not. As Malcolm Gladwell explains in his brilliant book Outliers, other factors such as luck, timing and possessing a very particular set of characteristics that a chosen career requires, have always diluted the hard-work-eventually-leads-to-success formula. Without these factors, hard workers will never strike gold.
What was possible after World War II was that middle-class people could work themselves into nice homes, nice cars, family vacations, and ultimately, comfortable retirement. They could do this because they could stay in jobs for thirty years and collect pensions. Houses were affordable. The tax system was far more equitable than it is today.
But the era of the contented middle-class worker is gone. Poof! It is a quaint, sepia-toned memory. Unless a miraculous sea change occurs — for example, Warren Buffet’s proposal for tax reform goes into effect, more billionaires bequeath their fortunes to organizations that benefit all of us, the defense budget is slashed and funds are diverted into education, social services, and universal healthcare — middle-class people will be working till they drop.
And single mothers like Stella, who lack education and an influential social network, will face even grimmer prospects.
Which is why I believe Stella took to the Mommy Blogs to hawk Richie’s wares. Confronting her reality is a downer. Fantasizing about hobnobbing with Ann Romney is an upper.
The inimitable social thinker Barbara Ehrenreich believes that the culture of positive thinking has actually contributed to the country’s financial collapse. How? By convincing those who have been screwed over by corporate America to support policies that only benefit the 1%.
I was amazed that Stella, and many other commenters, felt protective of the Romneys and insisted that Mitt was a “job creator,” despite staggering evidence to the contrary.
Ehrenreich would say that middle-class people like Stella unwittingly contribute to the class divide because they believe they can positive-think themselves into the 1%. And when they think this way they vote for politicians who are going to create policies that will further reduce their opportunities.
I’m not advocating pessimism. Relentless negative thoughts drag us down and sap us of the energy required to make the most of our situation. Judicious escapism serves a need. As much as I love Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman for his spot-on economic forecasts, for instance, I sometimes feel like sticking my head in the oven midway through his columns.
But back to Stella — and all women concerned with reduced options, whether their own or the options of others. You say you want to end the Mommy Wars? Join Unite Against the War on Women.
Founded by two women who got mad as hell with the abuse of privilege undermining women — and men — in this country, Unite Against the War on Women seeks to defend human rights.
How do they do this, exactly? By using social media to educate women about politicians’ policies. By creating online auctions to raise money to keep budget-slashed rape crisis centers afloat. And by spearheading a nationwide rally on April 28th to urge legislators to create policies that support human rights — equal pay, reproductive rights, access to healthcare — instead of dismantle them. Click here to find a rally in your area.
I don’t know if the rally, or the organization, will change anything. It certainly won’t make anyone rich. But it’s a step in the right direction. The very fact that in only two months time, two frustrated women have spawned a nationwide grass roots human rights campaign is remarkable.
It is the result of true positive thinking — the kind that ignites people instead of numbing them to their circumstances.
I love this. I have been approached numerous times to be involved in some pyramid scheme. My heart goes out to my friends as they attempt to sell me on their “become a consultant and work your way up to financial greatness” pipe dream. I look at them and think “I cant even bring myself to the point wherein can justify buying your $200 skin care system (or vitamin or green cleaning supplies or miracle makeup)” yet you want me to invest in a staring my own business? First off font I need a clientle base?!? Like all my friends are worried about their underwater mortgage and rising gas prices and I’m suppose to sell them vitamins?! Call me a pessimist but I will pass on the “opportunity.”
William Belle says
Spot on, Pauline. You have quite astutely pointed out how the foolish are actually contributing to their own misfortune by supporting those who support the 1%. Stella has taken an unrealistic, starry eyed approach to life by looking to win the lottery. She has forgotten that for every millionaire winner, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine of us had to lose. She needs to come back to reality; she needs to come back to the 99%. We are not rich but we are hopefully somewhat comfortable. We don’t own five homes; we rent but if we do own, we own just one house with a manageable mortgage that someday will be paid off in full. We pay our taxes but accept the tax credits offered to us by the system to offset where we are on the economic ladder. If Stella votes against the 1%, she will be voting for the 99% and doesn’t Stella really want to contribute to the greater good? Excellent article; excellent description of problem.
A poor person has never given me a job, but then a poor person has never raided my pension fund and awarded my management huge bonuses, either.
Thank you, Mr. Belle!
You’re not a pessimist! You’re a realist. Hopefully that word is coming back into fashion.
It’s always baffled me how lower income voters can support Republicans, and your post explains it so well. They think if they think positively enough, they can be like them one day. I’m proud to be a realist, possibly even a cynic. We need less positive thinking and more realism if we’re going to solve this country’s major problems.
Yes! I’ve also been struck by the lower or middle-class voters who actually have been defending the Romneys! As if they neeed defending!
Elizabeth Aquino says
Love this — and thanks for the links!
Growing up in rural Northern Florida around a lot of really poor people, I can tell you that not all of them vote conservatively due to a feeling that conservative policies will make them rich. Many vote that way due to their own personal sense of fairness. They simply don’t believe it is fair for one individual, without regard to that individual’s extreme wealth or good luck, to pay an extremely disproportionate flat dollar share of the public burden. Put more straightforwardly, they don’t believe that Mitt Romney gets $15M more value out of living in this country than they do, so why should he pay $15M more to live here? They’re comfortable with him paying SOMETHING more, but feel he is supporting them if he pays such a much higher amount. These people are proud, and would rather do without than have someone else paying their portion of the public burden, as though they were children. You may not agree with their position. You may think their position is not in their best interest. You may choose not to stand with me in admiration of their independence. That’s okay – just as they don’t feel comfortable forcing someone else to pay what they view as their burden, they aren’t the type of people to feel comfortable haranguing you until give in and agree with their point of view.
Denise Emanuel Clemen says
Run for political office. Please.
This post and the preceding one are excellent.
HAHAHA! Actually, my fantasy is that Jon Stewart runs with Rachel Maddow as his Chief of Staff and Elizaebth Warren as Secretary of the Treasury. Wake me up when that happens.
And if the poor think the rich aren’t deriving significantly more benefits from living in the U.S., they should consider why the rich start their businesses here and continue to live here, rather than someplace with lower taxes and fewer regulations, although they may be happy to move their manufacturing there.
Good point. An avowed Prius driver, (one of my own privilege symbols), I am thinking of getting a Ford the next time around. I used to think the phrase “Buy American” was hokey, but no more.