At first I was saddened by Hilary Rosen’s criticisms of Ann Romney for being a stay-at-home mom. It reminded me of the heated arguments and soul-searching debates my girlfriends and I had about jobs and family and career a generation ago.
We were baby boomers who went to college during the height of the civil rights and anti-war movements, and entered the workforce during the movement for women’s rights. We knew we were blazing a new trail. Our mothers’ generation may have had to choose between career and family; our generation would be different. We were going to have it all. The problem was this: we weren’t sure about how we would juggle everything – education, career, marriage and children. And in that struggle to juggle, we sometimes turned on ourselves, because we had so few role models to show us the way.
I was so desperate for advice when debating whether to quit my big job in Washington in the 1980s to marry and move to New York, that I stopped my neighbor, the first woman Justice of the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor, in the checkout line of our local grocery store. After a brief chat, I asked Justice O’Connor whether I was making a mistake to take time off to marry and raise a family. She graciously answered that she had taken some time off to be a stay-at-home mom when her boys were young, and her career turned out all right. I took her life story as gospel that a woman could have it all.
That’s why I found Rosen’s remarks so disappointing. But when I listened to those remarks a second time, and the dismissive and disdainful tone of her voice, I got mad….really mad. Because Hilary Rosen wasn’t just scoring political points against Ann Romney, she was betraying the freedoms and opportunities the women of my generation fought long and hard to give her.
Who is Rosen to sit in judgment of other women and the life choices they’ve made? Doesn’t she realize that the rights she enjoys -- to equal education, equal job opportunities, and even the chance to have an equal voice on the national stage -- are things that just a generation ago very few women could even dream of? Doesn’t she realize that what she takes for granted as her due, women of my generation fought long and hard to achieve? Doesn’t she realize that the struggle was not just for equal opportunities in education and career, but for the right to make those choices ourselves? That being forced to do without a career was just as bad as being forced to have one?
My generation of women blazed a trail without the legal protections against discrimination that Rosen takes for granted. Yet isn’t her criticism of Ann Romney and stay-at-home moms just another form of discrimination? Would she really take us back to that place when women sit in judgment of other women for the choices they make?
How would Hilary Rosen like others to sit in judgment of her? Is she married? Is she divorced? Should they snicker it’s because Ms. Rosen couldn’t keep a man? Does she have children? Should the Ann Romney’s of the world berate her for being a bad mother because she’s handed off child-rearing responsibilities to others? Of course, no one would dream of doing that to her, and shame on anyone who would. But how would those criticisms be any different from Hilary Rosen debasing Ann Romney for ‘never working a day in her life’?
My generation fought long and hard not just for professional opportunities for ourselves and our daughters, but for the opportunity to choose. We wanted to move past the catfights; to leave behind forever the days when women ganged up against other women, or self segregated into camps of working women versus stay-at-home moms. We wanted to bequeath to our daughters the opportunities our mothers never had -- the chance for an education, and a career, and a husband and children. But we also wanted to give them the chance to choose, to have any of them, or all of them; to have them all at the same time, or to live them in chapters.
One of the greatest freedoms American women enjoy today is the freedom to choose. Inherent in that freedom is the opportunity to choose without bringing down the wrath of other women for those choices. We should focus on supporting each other as we try to juggle the extraordinary opportunities we have, not scratch each others’ eyes out for making different choices. Women of my generation thought we had successfully left those dark days behind us. What a tragedy if the women of this generation, like Hilary Rosen, bring them back.
Kathleen Troia "K.T." McFarland is a Fox News National Security Analyst and host of FoxNews.com's DefCon 3. She is a Distinguished Adviser to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and served in national security posts in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations. She wrote Secretary of Defense Weinberger’s November 1984 "Principles of War Speech" which laid out the Weinberger Doctrine. Be sure to watch "K.T." every Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET on FoxNews.com's "DefCon3"-- already one of the Web's most watched national security programs.