Given the furore that has arisen over Ann Romney’s speech at the Republican Convention this week one could be forgiven for thinking that what she had to say was novel. It was not. Twenty four years ago Margaret Thatcher gave a speech which Ann Romney could have very well used as a template. The similarity does not lie in both women being Conservative (that would be stating the obvious). It lies in the sentiment expressed and the examples used to back these up.
It is a recipe for the implementation of anti-women policies that serve the gender interest of neoliberalism in keeping a woman in the home because, ultimately, this will cut the state’s spending costs in areas like healthcare, education and juvenile problems. If women did more than enough in the home then neoliberalism rewards them by likening motherhood to sainthood.
On May 25 1988 Mrs Thatcher spoke at the Conservative Women’s Conference in Central London in which she used the traditional role of the woman in the home to support her neoliberal policies of welfare cuts and a small state. In the speech she starts off by pandering to Conservative women by playing on their nationalistic sense of pride and by seemingly aligning her experience with theirs to bring about a sense of female kinship. She said, “Conservative women bring common sense to Government. I can’t help reflecting that it’s taken a Government headed by a housewife with experience of running a family to balance the books for the first time in twenty years with a little left over for a rainy day”.
Ann Romney used the same technique to escalate the love that a woman has for a man into nationalistic sentiment. She spoke of her love for Mitt then turned this into a romantic shared notion of “...profound love I have…for this country“.
Both women then transpose this love into an intense feeling for children which thereby panders to the Conservative female ego and provides justification for the framing of a woman’s role as being one that is firmly confined to the home.
Mrs Thatcher spoke of women wishing to be ‘lawyers, doctors, engineers, scientists, politicians’ but, went on to say that “many women wish to devote themselves mainly to raising a family and running a home. And we have that choice too“.
Cleverly, she did not linger on the option of choice too long because she then went on to say that “very few jobs can compare in long-term importance and satisfaction with that of housewife and mother“. Choice is an illusion.
Ann Romney does much the same. She spoke about “working mums who love their jobs but would like to work just a little less to spend more time with the kids, but that’s out of the question with this economy”. Again, choice is an illusion because Conservative women generally tend to be stay at home mums whereas non-Conservative mothers are seen as being selfish working mums. To bridge the link between a Conservative working mother and the picture of a traditional Conservative stay at home mother Ann Romney introduced the concept of choice as being one that is made under duress i.e If Obama had not wrecked the economy good middle-class mothers would be able to stay at home.
Both women used heavy emotional rhetoric in making their case as to why women are needed in the home. In addition, Ann Romney applied a technique which preys on the ‘women go to the bathroom together in order to share secrets’ gender specific behaviour.
By telling women that “i’ve heard your voices…we just can’t get ahead” Ann Romney presented a picture of sisterhood that can only get ahead if mums “…have to work a little harder…you’re the ones who always have to do a little more…” It is a shared burden that is comprised of sacrificial motherhood. The subtext being that if you aren’t sacrificing something then you aren’t doing your job of being a mother well and, perversely to Republicans, this means that the Obama presidency is working.
“The family is the building block of society…However much welfare the state provides, the family provides more-much more”, Mrs Thatcher said. There you have it. The woman at home picks up the pieces left behind by the cuts made to the welfare state but is proud to do so because the Prime Minister has said so. Also, there is the hidden threat of how a welfare state will never satisfy a family’s needs, only a mother can. What greater call is there to national pride being the implication.
Both women being Conservative neoliberals are, not surprisingly, prescriptive in their descriptions of the roles that mothers should play. Though this goes against the grain of the incursive state Conservative women will justify the descriptions as being ones that stem from the intrinsic nature of all women.
Ann Romney: “the price at the pump you just can’t believe, the grocery bills that just get bigger, all those things that used to be free, like school sports…” A good mother worries all the time and finds life hard but, according to Anne Romney, “and that’s fine. We don’t want easy”. Have you noticed that all these acts are couched in monetary terms? What about other things like praying that it won’t rain because you forgot to give your child a waterproof jacket? A true picture of mothering covers concerns and joys that don’t carry a price as well as ones that do.
Mrs Thatcher used ‘family’ interchangeably with ‘women’. She said, “For the family is the building block of society. It is a nursery, a school, a hospital, a leisure place, a place of refuge and a place of rest. It is the preparation for the rest of our life. And women run it”. A mother is a childcare expert, teacher, nurse, doctor, hotelier, entertainment manager and a self-help guru. Is it any wonder then that neoliberalism favours Conservative mums? Think of all the money it saves which can then be distributed to the worthy rich rather than to the unworthy poor.
My indignation lies with the use of mothers by politicians as tools of propaganda for an economic system that marginalises us by bestowing us with the so-called virtues of selflessness as a means to a selfish end. It is also a divisive game to play that favours the middle-class mothers who have rich husbands to rely on in the way Ann Romney does and Mrs Thatcher did.