Estes Gould

In light of the comments about Romney’s wife not working and the conservative uproar saying the left doesn’t respect stay-at-home moms, I thought I’d take a look at motherhood and conservative politics.

Women have been in conservative politics much longer than I thought. In fact, huge groups of women rallied around the campaign against women’s suffrage before the 19th Amendment was passed, and that was one of the first organizations of politically conservative women on a national scale. They believed that giving women the right to vote would dissolve women’s privileged status and detract from their more important domestic roles as wives and mothers. They couched it in terms of “rights” — the right to be exempt from political affairs, while other women were fighting for the right to have a say in their government.

But conservative women are getting a lot more attention now, largely thanks to the Tea Party. It’s amazing how many leaders of the Tea Party movement, including the national director of activism site ResistNet and several members of the board of several Tea Party organizations, are women. And what’s remarkable is that they are making arguments based on the exact same premise: their roles as mothers.

Sarah Palin, the celebrity woman in the conservative movement, has touted her motherhood as her number one qualification for being in government.

“There’s no better training for politics than motherhood,” she said.

But it’s more than training; it’s more than a job description — it’s the reason Palin, and so many other conservative women, say they’re getting involved.

Concerned Women for America, a deeply religious conservative women’s organization founded in 1979 to oppose the Equal Rights Amendment, advocates for stay-at-home motherhood, saying feminists put pressure on women to be “Superwomen” juggling parenting and careers when childrearing is the role that would make women the happiest. But when asked why they work despite having children at home, leaders in the organization say they have to advocate for other mothers and families who share their beliefs (even though some say there’s no way they could be full-time moms).

This contrasts pretty starkly with the views of most Americans — 73 percent think the shift toward more women in the workforce has been a good think, and 62 percent believe a marriage with both parents employed is a more satisfactory lifestyle, according to a Pew Research Center poll.

Still, CWA and other conservative organizations believe motherhood is the first priority for women, and that shapes and motivates their political participation. Abortion is seen as an abandonment of that duty; same-sex marriage is a betrayal of traditional values, and government-funded childcare is socialism by taking children from their parents and indoctrinating them with secular, liberal ideas about America.

So yes, the Tea Party has given spotlight to women in leadership roles, and many of them mothers: Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin both have five. But the close ties between religion, conservatism and motherhood are nothing new.

The only surprising thing to me is that in today’s economy, anyone can be a stay-at-home mom like Mrs. Romney.


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