Teresa’s apology is only for the “right sort” of women.

I’m willing to be fair. Teresa Heinz Kerry made an attempt at an apology after making yet another incredibly insulting and – let’s face it – stupid comment, this time about her erroneous understanding that Laura Bush had never held a “real job”, which meant, apparently, that Mrs. Bush brought less to the table than Mrs. Kerry..

I will avoid wondering what Teresa ever did besides working at the UN for a very short time before marrying a bazillionaire, because I’m no class warrior, and I understand that rich and influential people have their place in the world, just as the rest of us do (imagine, if there were no rich and influential people in the world, there would have been no Joseph of Arimathea, with the connections to get Pilate to release Jesus’ body, and the moolah to have a nice, new crypt handy…)

But when I read Mrs. Kerry’s remarks, I couldn’t help thinking: my gosh, lady…don’t you understand that when you come back with “I forgot she had been a teacher and there is no more important job” – nice as that sounds – you are saying, by implication,“oh…now that I know she WORKED, that’s fine. She’s allowed to be an official person and get some respect. It’s just those women who DON’T work, they’re the ones I meant…”

It’s just a ghastly distinction to make, especially because any woman who has ever done both – worked outside the home and taken time out from that to raise the kids and “work at home” – will tell you that raising the children and keeping the house is the hardest, most demanding, most intensive, most important – and also the most rewarding – job in the world.

I stopped working to raise my children. While the loss of my salary hurt, I was fortunate enough to have a husband who believed, as I did, that making some sacrifices and struggling along for a while was a small price to pay for the privilege of raising our kids, and I’ve always felt badly for the women who wanted to stay home but could not because they hadn’t the support to do so. Now that I have only the 15 year old left at home, I have returned to work part-time; I like to be home when he comes in. Some of the women in my office sneer and remind me that my son is quite old enough to fend for himself, and they are right – he is.

But I know from personal experience (I was one of the original latch-key children) that teenagers don’t particularly like walking into an empty house. They have a lot of things to talk about, a lot of thoughts rolling around, needing expression – a lot of questions, and emotions. And too, I know that in three years this one will be off to school and this pleasurable era of having him walk through the door, singing away and shouting “hello” across the house will be over…so I am pleasing myself, too. I understood what Karen Hughes was doing when she took a few years off to be home while her son finished High School. It’s important, more important than too many hours in an office.

The gift of being able to stay home – to wear the soft, frumpy clothes and take off the makeup – is an under-appreciated one. While I endured the sniffs and tsks of my ex-co-workers for leaving “real work” behind, I discovered that housework – which I hate – is an ideal vehicle for daydreaming and for contemplation – for reasoning out a knotty problem and for finding out what one really thinks about things.

Working “outside the home” keeps a woman very busy. Putting in the 8 hours at the office and then shopping, cooking, cleaning – even without kids, it’s quite enough on the plate. It leaves one little time to think. When you’re “working”, it becomes easier to attach oneself to a convenient line of thought, to simply parrot all of the conventional wisdoms and ride upon the prevailing winds, than to try to find the time to really reason out one’s positions.

When I stayed home, I found myself forced to scrub the bathtub and do the laundry and dust the shelves (in between raising the babies) and I discovered that – far from my work being “mindless” it was a profound vehicle for reason. I found myself just teeming with ideas I’d simply never had the time to entertain before; I made all sorts of surprising discoveries about the world, about the press, and about myself. I discovered that the world was not populated only by people in a rush to get somewhere to “do something important”, that there were people who took a dim view of the urban hustle, and they had compelling reasons for their views.

I found that the newspapers, which I had dutifully read on the subways, nodding my way through one agenda-driven editorial after another, no longer seemed like bastions of unbiased truth but more like condescending tripe. By the time the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas debacle came around, I found myself sickened by the overblown circus that emerged from the (dubious) charge that a man-in-power had asked a female underling for a date (gasp!) and maybe had made a few crude jokes (Get me the smelling salts, Beulah, I have the vapors!).

The Victorian-age prudery of the Anita Hill event insulted my own sense of myself as a strong, capable woman, and it made the feminists I’d formerly admired look silly and weak, but I was especially perturbed by the incredible media bias; I perceived the press to have become nothing more than a clearing house for the pronouncements of the National Organization of Women, all too willing to smear a seemingly decent fellow because he wasn’t the “right sort” of black man. When my disgust at the excesses of the press motivated to me cancel my daily subscription, I told them why I was doing so. I actually got a call back from a female editor who asked me in shocked disbelief: “You don’t mean you SUPPORT HIM?” I told her I that what I supported was the idea of clean, balanced reportage – that I would appreciate being treated like a reader who could think for herself.

She hung up on me. Quite loudly, actually.

By the time the daily Bill-Clinton-Down-Shouters-Defense-Team was assembled (all those shrill, angry women defending him time and again despite his base, reckless habits and his clear disrespect for women) I’d really had enough – my journey from left to right had been made complete, assisted by a party and a press that seemed positively allergic to balance, and a feminist leadership that would throw over any principle for political expediency. Just as Clarence Thomas was the “wrong sort” of black man, the women who accused Bill Clinton were all the “wrong sorts” of women…they weren’t educated enough, they were “trailer trash”, “bimbos”, “screwballs”. Reports of a rape? “Those are stale charges” (that would be Ellen Ratner).

Teresa Heinz Kerry’s “apology” today gave the back of the hand to women who are not the “right sort” of women, and played in
to the mindset that I began to reject when I had left the work force and finally started to THINK.

It would be refreshing if, once in a while, just once in a while, Mrs. Kerry would do a little thinking before she opened the ol’ pie hole.

About Elizabeth Scalia