Ann Romney, who is not running for president, has rekindled the Mommy Wars by giving a single interview defending herself after a Democratic talking head said a single mean thing about her resume. Why did this happen? Every time there's a presidential election, the political parties try to cleave off a few voters by exploiting emotional issues that mostly involve sex -- contraception, gays, working women, etc. You can look at it two ways: as an obnoxious ritual of fake outrage, or as a chance to check in on how the country has changed in the last four years. The latter is more fun, because you don't have to go around despairing for the human race all the time. Right now the maybe-fake issue is stay-at-home moms, and this little check-in has revealed that the country has changed, even if Ann Romney has not.
Ann Romney stayed home not because she's a rich lady whose family doesn't need a second income, but because she's Mormon, BuzzFeed's McKay Coppins writes. The idea that women should stay home and raise the kids isn't unique to Mormons, he says, "but Mormons have proven uniquely unwilling to bend them to fit modern times." Over the last 30 years, the church has doubled down on its teaching that women should not join the workforce. Coppins points to a 1987 sermon by Ezra Taft Benson called "To the Mothers of Zion," which says:
Mothers are to conceive, to nourish, to love, and to train... So declare the revelations...
Do not curtail the number of your children for personal or selfish reasons. Material possessions, social convenience, and so-called professional advantages are nothing compared to a righteous posterity. In the eternal perspective, children--not possessions, not position, not prestige--are our greatest jewels.
And a 1995 church publication, "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," which said:
By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.
You can hear these ideas in some of the things Ann Romney says. Defending her choice to be a stay-at-home mom on Fox News last week, Romney said, "Mitt said to me more times than you would imagine, 'Ann, your job is more important than mine... your job is a forever job that is going to bring forever happiness.'" (With that comment, Coppins writes, "more than few Mormon ears perked up.") When asked about the family's wealth in March, she explained, "I don't even consider myself wealthy, which is an interesting thing. It can be here today gone tomorrow... How I measure riches is by the friends I have and the loved ones I have and the people that I care about in my life, and that’s where my values are and that’s where my riches are."
And reporting on Mitt Romney's role in the church when he became a bishop in Boston in the 1980s also reveals the couple were old-fashioned. Boston was the center of the feminist movement within the Mormon church, The Washington Post's Jason Horowitz reported in November. "In 1981, at the nadir of the Mormon women’s movement in Boston — when a top apostle was warning the church’s intellectuals to tone it down because 'some things that are true are not very useful' — the church called on Romney, then 34, to act as bishop in one of its most rebellious wards." Though Romney eventually evolved, church members told the Post, at first he was seen as a " tone-deaf enforcer of doctrine," Horowitz writes. While the Republican might have become more tolerant of the feminists in the church, his wife never became one of them. Vanity Fair's Michael Kranish and Scott Helman report that while Romney liberalized, "Ann Romney was not considered to be sympathetic to the agitation of liberal women within the stake. She was invited to social events sponsored by Exponent II [the feminist group] but did not attend. She was, in the words of one member, understood to be 'not that kind of woman.'"
As this chart from the St. Louis Federal Reserve shows, most women are that kind of woman these days.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.