Defending Hilary: The War on Women is a War on the Family

Hilary Rosen's challenge to Ann Romney, and Mrs. Romney's subsequent rebuttal, created just the kind of fanfare Republicans needed to label Democrats as out of touch. Rosen seemed to equate stay-at-home moms with non-working moms when she said "Ann Romney's never worked a day in her life." Fox News and other conservative outlets then came to the rescue, defending Mrs. Romney with "traditional values" rhetoric and demeaning Rosen as a left-wing feminist. All together, the right was in a frenzy, having finally found a way to pivot from the public backlash instigated by the GOP's assault on women's access to contraceptives.

This whole saga was unfortunate, especially considering how many left leaders genuflected to the right's accusations and distanced themselves from Rosen. Certainly, Rosen's implications could be refuted. Childcare is an arduous occupation. The thousands of childcare providers and educators across the country can testify to that fact. And mothers who pay for or seek childcare can add to the chorus. Still, the left should not have made it so easy on Romney and the GOP establishment.

Let's talk frankly about the depth of the war on women. At its base, it is really a war on family. Theda Skocpol reveals in her book Protecting Mothers and Soldiers, women were at the forefront of creating a social welfare state. The reformative women's clubs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries showed greater concern for the poor and families than had previously been expressed in American politics. What's more, they saw that the federal government, with its ability to craft and implement social policy, could create a more humane society for the weak. And so these women fought for labor rights, pensions, minimum wages, subsidized pre-natal care, and their own voting rights to ensure that the gains won could be secured. In so many ways, the growth in modern welfarism was a demonstration of crusading women affecting political change.