No, it’s not fine

I’ve been puzzling today about Ann Romney’s speech at the RNC. Particularly, this:

And if you listen carefully, you’ll hear the women sighing a little bit more  than the men. It’s how it is, isn’t it?

It’s the moms who always  have to work a little harder, to make everything right.

It’s the  moms of this nation — single, married, widowed — who really hold this country  together. We’re the mothers, we’re the wives, we’re the grandmothers, we’re the  big sisters, we’re the little sisters, we’re the daughters.

You  know it’s true, don’t you? You’re the ones who always have to do a little  more.

You know what it’s like to work a little harder during the  day to earn the respect you deserve at work and then come home to help with that  book report which just has to be done. You know what those late night phone  calls with an elderly parent are like and the long weekend drives just to see  how they’re doing. You know the fastest route to the local emergency room and  which doctors actually answer the phone when you call at night.

You  know what it’s like to sit in that graduation ceremony and wonder how it was  that so many long days turned into years that went by so quickly.

You are the best of America. You are the hope of America. There would not be an  America without you.

Tonight, we salute you and sing your  praises.

I’m not sure if men really understand this, but I don’t  think there’s a woman in America who really expects her life to be easy. In our  own ways, we all know better!

And that’s fine. We don’t want easy.

It’s great to see an acknowledgement of feminist concerns in this venue–concerns that women are held to a higher standard, and take on certain responsibilities almost by default–but this is really not “fine” and it has nothing to do with wanting things “easy.” Wanting equality does not mean wanting to avoid responsibility, and accepting systematic and structural disadvantage should not be equated with being the “best.” Thoughts?

(Full transcript here.)

18 thoughts on “No, it’s not fine

  1. It’s not clear to me that she’s saying it’s fine for women to have to work harder than men. I think she might just be saying that it’s fine that life is isn’t easy.

    There’s actually a little speech in the biblical book of I Peter that directs people in subordinate positions to do good to those over them, not because they deserve it or because anything unjust that they might do is legitimate, but because the more important goal is to win them over by good deeds. Feminism gets complicated when you’re more concerned about the eternal salvation of those participating in oppressive structures than you are about the often-small ways that those structures manifest themselves on a day-to-day basis for those who happen to be affected by them in more minor ways.

    It would mean, then, that you don’t have to think those structures are perfectly all right to think that women should put up with them, because the putting-up with them is for a higher purpose. There’s much of this kind of thinking in Augustine, who would accept any form of government for keeping order in this society, and how just it is isn’t as important to him as going along with the laws Socrates-style but for the sake of winning over by good behavior those he sees as heading in the wrong direction spiritually. It allows him to think certain ways of ruling are intrinsically bad but are not worth resisting (and thus he has very mixed feelings about slavery, seeing something wrong with it and worth resisting on one level but also as an institution that Christians can work within to do a more important task of being a light to the darkness of the slaveowners. It’s love for their enemy.

    I don’t how much of this approach would be manifest among Mormons, but I have to wonder if that’s the kind of thinking that lies behind Ann Romney’s speech. If I heard this kind of thing from an evangelical, it’s how I’d take it, and evangelicals and Mormons are at least culturally very similar, even if they’re worlds apart theologically.

  2. Yes, it is great to see a public figure acknowledging the various micro-inequalities many women have to put up with in order to get stuff done….

    …until Romney turns around and acts like the following is a healthy sentiment: “Hey we actually like doing all this unappreciated crap that often leads to burn outs and break downs. Helps build character.”


    Also, fun game: if you replace “women” in this quote with “the working poor” the top half sounds pretty on key still but it becomes even more obvious how obtuse and distortive the last lines are.

  3. Also, I had a moment where I thought “hmm, maybe there’s a “but” after her quote where she explains that, well, things really aren’t fine, actually.” And she does…but she implies that it’s only been the past few years that things have tipped over into the “not fine” zone. Before that (her speech implies), the micro-inequalities women faced were still safely in the ‘character-building’ zone.

  4. Jeremy, I’m pretty familiar with that way of thinking amongst evangelicals, but I too have no idea if it holds of Mormons. A similar theme shows up in Aquinas. I don’t think it’s plausible (unless we suppose she had a vey bad speech writer) that she meant merely that it’s fine life isn’t easy. She wasn’t just saying that life isn’t easy–the (planned) comment came right after a discussion about some specific ways in which women tend to have less easy lives than men.

    Nonetheless, while I think there’s something theologically interesting about the idea, when centuries of putting up with it hasn’t resulted in winning folks over by good deeds but rather allowed oppression to continue, I tend to think this approach is one that just excuses and rationalizes oppression. I think it’s an important theme of Christianity that one should love their enemies, but I think it’s morally, philosophically, and theologically (once you consider the whole canon) problematic if one takes that to mean that one should submit to systematic oppression. Some of the things she mentions might be “minor” taken in isolation, but the repeated patterns and total effects are often devestating.

  5. It was more than systematic oppression that the early Christians were submitting to. It was outright slavery, and they did win their masters over in many cases. Nietzsche was both right and wrong about Christianity. He was right that it encourages people to live like slaves. He was wrong (among other things) in thinking that the idea was that it’s intrinsically good to be lower than others. That wasn’t the idea at all. It was clearly conceived of an instrumental good, at least in the passage I have in mind.

    The idea is very much not that the institution would be done away with and injustice remedied, and that’s why someone submits. Rather, it’s that individual masters would be saved. The same would go for a systemically unequal marriage, even one that’s pretty unjust (although most evangelicals would say if it involves real abuse, a better response is to call the police, since that’s criminal behavior, and it’s not loving to wink at crime, even against oneself when one is trying to be self-sacrificing).

    The goal isn’t to try to change the inequality over time. That’s why this argument would never work for someone with purely secular commitments. The lack of change in structures over time is no argument against this point (although convincing arguments for atheism might be). The goal for the early Christians was in winning over those who placed them in unjust circumstances, and many people in the Roman empire across the spectrum economically and socially were won over by people directly living Christian lives. The spread of Christianity was not mainly from apologists giving convincing arguments. It was much more from individual people living lifestyles of love toward those who didn’t deserve it.

  6. maybe we ought to send this mother of five boys a copy of “My Introduction to a New Feminism” and leave this ‘stay at home’ life as the myth it truly represents, and all the baggage that has been discarded with this ‘long suffering’ symptom.

  7. It’s a very Christian idea: that suffering somehow makes one a better person, even if the suffering is totally undeserved and could be avoided. Christianity provides a ready excuse for people to sit back and do nothing while injustice occurs because it holds that those who just quietly accept their suffering will eventually be rewarded for it in the hereafter. Of course, Romney conveniently forgets that it also holds that those who stand idly by while others suffer shall denied their reward.

  8. I really think that whether or not being lower than others (in this sense), or submitting to injustice is even an instrumental good on the Christian view is highly contentious and it depends on a particular reading of particular scriptures. If we consider, for example, the whole of Esther, it looks to me more like if you have the power to do something about injustice you have an obligation to stand up for yourself and others. Given the importance of justice I think the only way this view can get real theological traction is if not only individual masters are saved but if the institutions as a whole decline as a result– otherwise, one would be sacrificing the good of so many others for the good of some individual masters.

  9. Then how is it fair to Christianity to claim that it’s such a ready excuse? Only if you ignore part of what it says is it an excuse to do nothing while injustice occurs. What I think the entirety of Christianity teaches is that one should not stand up for one’s own rights (turn the other cheek) but that one should stand up for those who are being mistreated who are not oneself.

    Of course, Romney wouldn’t disagree. Just because conservatives have a different view about which policies are actually helpful doesn’t mean they are standing by idly while others suffer. It’s been empirically demonstrated that people who prefer conservative economic policies tend to give much greater percentages of their resources to charities, and this is even more true of people who are theologically more conservative than it is of people who are economically conservative. It’s simply nasty demonization to pretend that those who don’t like government to manage our charitable contributions (or who prefer policies that are more conservative in how that is done) are somehow mean and nasty people who don’t care about the suffering of the world and don’t do anything to help them. There certainly are people like that, just as there are people on the left who don’t really care about the suffering but do enough to satisfy their constituents in order to get reelected. But it’s not helpful to our political discourse to act like the Romneys don’t care about the suffering just because they happen to have different views on how best to do so. Even if those views are wrong about the best way to do it, it doesn’t mean they don’t care and are doing nothing.

  10. Is Esther incompatible with Augustine’s view that you should turn the other cheek when it’s your rights at stake but should stand up for what’s right when others’ rights are at stake?

  11. Let’s take a big step back here because I think there’s been some miscommunication (the internet is always hard this way!). I never meant to say that what I see as this approach excusing oppression is a fault of Christianity per se. I think it’s a fault of certain interpretations of Christianity (and though some folks might disagree with me, I also tend to think it is often unintentional and the result of not taking full stock of the effects, rather than some malicious conspiracy).

    I also never said anything about conservatives as a whole, or the Romney’s in general ignoring oppression, or anything about what role government ought to have in any of this. What I’m focused on here is particularly the framing of the specific ways in which Romney here talks about how women’s lives tend to be more difficult. I think she likely does care very much about certain kinds of systematic disadvantage and sufferering, but here she literally says this is “fine.” I’m disagreeing here with that statement in particular. Even on your interpretation of the submission is often good hermeneutic, this is an issue where it is not only the self that is disadvantaged and discriminated against, but women as a whole social group– I think we agree that this is problematic. How best to address it is a wholly different question, and one that I take it folks can reasonably disagree on without assuming that those who hold a different view must not care.

  12. It wasn’t your comment I was responding to (two of my comments back). It was ajm5007, who said that Christianity provides a ready excuse for ignoring suffering, just before saying that Christianity contains within it teaching against such a thing. I’m not sure that set of claims is coherent.

  13. I think part of what Ann Romney was doing was responding to Hilary Rosen’s comment in the spring that AR hadn’t worked a day in her life. That was characterized by the repubs as very divisive, while AR was being very ‘unite women.’

    On religion: there’s a strong strand in discourse among African Americans that I hear in Houston that I find very alarming. The idea is that our lives are all a product of God’s plan, and God never gives you more than you can deal with. I often feel like pointing out that the plan is often the product of exploitative white people, etc. I’m not sure why I don’t, but I suspect I think it would be disrespectful.

  14. As a compatibilist, I see no contradiction between the idea of God never allowing us more than we can handle and very evil people being responsible for quite a lot of hardship. (Isaiah chapter 10 has God saying that the king of Assyria is his tool in his judging of Judah, which is immediately followed by his condemnation of that king’s mistreatment of God’s people. There’s similar language early in the book of Acts about Judas’ betrayal of Jesus as both immoral and as necessary for fulfilling God’s plan of salvation.)

    I think the two statements are compatible even on some of the more libertarian approaches. Plantinga and Alston have defended different models of the compatibility of libertarianism and complete divine sovereignty over the evil choices of free human beings. Open theists would, of course, see more problem here. But I think that’s penumbral to mainstream Christianity, and it’s certainly not common among African American Christians, who tend to be very conservative on theological issues.

    But I suspect our hosts would prefer not to have this lead to a philosophy of religion discussions, so maybe we shouldn’t have a debate about that here.

  15. Jeremy @14:

    “…that Christianity provides a ready excuse for ignoring suffering, just before saying that Christianity contains within it teaching against such a thing. I’m not sure that set of claims is coherent.”

    One of the things I try to teach my students is that careful reading sometimes requires fair-minded – even generous – interpretation of the ‘words on the page.’ I think it is pretty clear that thte author of the claims you cite as incoherent intended Christianity(1) in one way and Christianity@ in another. Thus: some Christians seem to use their faith as a way to put up with/ignore suffering. Christian texts (the NT) offer teachings against such passivity.

    Personally, I don’t think we need to go to Esther. Jesus was not an entirely ‘accepting of suffering’ man when it was the suffering of others that was in question.

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