Acknowledging the important work done by moms sounds like about as uncontroversial a move as a politician could make. Yet when the pro-mom statement is uttered by the daughter of the Republican candidate for President, it can set off internet fireworks.
In a recent thirty-second campaign ad, Ivanka Trump introduces herself as a wife, mother, and entrepreneur, and outlines her father’s agenda, which she describes as helping families and working moms. It’s not those policy suggestions that are now creating headlines and controversy. Rather it’s her simple opening statement: “The most important job any woman can have is being a mother.”
In New York magazine, writer Laura June explains the sinister implication of those words:
What that sentence really means is that Ivanka—and by extension, her father, whose platform the video was created to advertise—thinks that all women should have children, because it’s “the most important job for them” . . . . Saying that women’s most important job in life is motherhood suggests that women without children are lacking not just children, but a true calling in life.
Slate’s Christina Cauterucci is similarly appalled:
This is a surprisingly dismissive opening line for a video meant to capture the support of working mothers, who presumably invest a great deal of time and energy in their paying, non-maternal jobs. It seems she’s already given up on working women without children, whose lives are bereft of the meaning and importance their reproductive capacities were meant to provide. One wonders, in Trump’s estimation, what a man’s “most important job” might be.
It’s a stretch to read anything more into this simple statement other than that Ivanka Trump wanted mothers to know that she values the work they do as caretakers. After all, the left often laments that women take on a greater share of the parenting and housework, both of which are unpaid jobs, which means that it’s especially important that we find other ways to acknowledge and appreciate the value that these women provide for society by taking on these roles. Outside of the political lens, such kind words of acknowledgment are a commonsense courtesy. Calling mothering “the most important job” doesn’t take away from the critical importance of other jobs women do. It’s simply shorthand for saying that, even though mothering doesn’t come with promotions and pay raises, it’s important work too.
If all political communications mentioning mothers were scrutinized like Ivanka’s, then plenty of others are also guilty of belittling one group over another. Hillary Clinton, for example, recently wrote “An Open Letter to Working Mothers” that praises their importance to society and offers her own slate of policy ideas that she claims will ease their burdens:
Working moms have had their fill of insults and condescension. You’re out there making sacrifices for your families every day . . . Working moms are our doctors, our teachers, and the drivers who keep us safe on long road trips through warm Summer nights. And while you’re working hard to fulfill your dreams—and to help your kids achieve theirs—I’ll never stop fighting for you.
If the writers at Slate and New York magazine were as hungry to find offense in Hillary’s words, they’d have plenty to work with here. After all, fathers aren’t included in the address. Does this mean Mrs. Clinton doesn’t think dads should also be involved in raising kids? And what about women without children? Doesn’t she appreciate that many of them are also acting as caretakers and making sacrifices for their families? Stay-at-home moms can find their own insults: Does Clinton think they aren’t also working hard and trying to fulfill their own dreams? Isn’t Clinton going to fight for them too?
A double standard in how conservatives and liberals are assessed, especially as they relate to women, is nothing new. And it seems that Ivanka Trump provokes particular ire, perhaps because she doesn’t fall into liberal’s cartoonish vision of conservative women. She’s a (perhaps annoyingly beautiful) working mother of three, who is proactively talking about issues like childcare and family leave, subjects that heretofore have been exclusively the terrain of the left. That, not her praise for the value of mothering, is likely what is really bothering the left.