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CNN commentator Hilary Rosen would like everyone to accept her apology for saying that Ann Romney hasn’t worked a day in her life. That way, she reasons, we can set aside “a phony war” and get back to matters of substance. I’ve got news for Ms. Rosen: unfortunately, this war isn’t phony. It’s a decades-long conflict that’s quite real for women of all stripes and it’s not over yet. If it weren’t so, why would there be such an outcry after her remarks? I would like to blow a few raspberries at writers who further trivialize this discussion by referring to it as the Mommy War.

This is not a petty catfight. It’s a matter of great significance to people who suspect Rosen’s comments reveal a thinly-veiled truth about how women are viewed in our culture. Most politically astute people have learned to suppress their scorn for women and their work, but that doesn’t keep it completely out of sight.

Rosen’s unusual boldness placed her thoughts in full view. That created an inconvenient distraction to her work. That’s why she wants the offended to move along as quickly as possible. Here’s my response to that:

No, Ms. Rosen, words matter. You have chosen your subject. If you were bold enough to say it, then let’s not change the subject quite so soon. I would like to help you understand why this is not a phony war for women by giving you some anecdotal evidence.

I just finished Ernest Hemingway's book, A Moveable Feast. Next on the list: The Paris Wife, a fictionalized account of Hadley Hemingway's life with the famous author.

Let’s begin with Hadley Hemingway, who was cast aside like a dirty ashtray when her husband met for long conversations with artists like Gertrude Stein, although Hadley was of far superior character than Ernest Hemingway and many of his contemporaries. (That’s not my opinion. Ernest Hemingway said it himself.) If an educated, informed woman in a visible public role is not a credible voice on the subject of women and the economy because of the fact that her main job has been raising children, then we haven’t come all that far since Hadley Hemingway was sidelined from discussions that interested her. Women still have a problem making their voices heard today.

Let’s talk about the young mother I met this week who recently decided to set aside her career to care for her eight-month-old son. Her replacement hasn’t even been hired yet and she’s already feeling ostracized by her professional peers and worried about the future of her career. Women are often forced to make difficult choices about their careers and endure criticism no matter what decision they make.

Let’s talk about a Mom I met last night at the gym, who patiently steered her five-year-old toward self-control following his dispute with another child. “I use to work 15-hour days as a corporate attorney at one of the biggest law firms in town,” she said. “Being a full-time Mom is far and away harder than being an attorney. There’s so much riding on it.” Raising children is intricate, demanding work.

Let’s talk about the countless mothers we all know, trying to juggle work and a family life. They are criticized as high-maintenance employees when they request flexibility to deal with a sick child or leave early for a school event. They privately wonder whether they are doing the right thing for their families. The galleries are full of spectators ready to seed a working mother’s doubts about the quality of her parenting. Working mothers walk an exceedingly high tightrope.

Let’s talk about my mom and how little respect she got from people outside our family and friends. At one of her class reunions during the 1970s, a former classmate asked what she did. She answered that she was a full-time mom and caretaker of a home with four children. His reply: “Don’t you feel like a parasite?” As far as I can tell, Mom lived at least two decades of her life without doing a single thing out of self-interest. And this was the respect she earned for that? Observing these and other injustices, I reasoned at an early age that motherhood might not be a good choice for me. It’s not the only reason I didn’t have children, but it was an underlying factor.

So I chose a path that seemed more likely to generate respect. To her credit, my mother encouraged me as I pursued a career. That worked out fairly well for me through my twenties and thirties if you subtract the occasional implication that I was (by nature) a selfish person because I was not a mother. People sometimes hinted or said that I didn’t have my Godly priorities straight because I hadn’t taken this role. But I pressed on, confident and happy with my choice.

Then came a surprising twist. In my mid-forties, I decided to make my own career part-time and secondary to my husband’s for many reasons that made perfect sense to us. When I left the corporate charge, I began to notice how quickly I was blown-off by young women working in business roles similar to the ones I occupied while they were still in diapers. As far as they knew, I had always been a lowly librarian, a role that seems to rank equally low on a value scale with motherhood. These women would much rather talk to my husband about how he started his business. What could we possibly have in common?

When I was no longer chalking up business experience and meeting “important people” on my own, there was a remarkable decline in my personal charisma. Even close friends did not hesitate to show their disdain. A friend might interrupt me mid-sentence, holding up a finger to silence me while straining to hear some startling observation my husband was making across the dinner table. Or, after asking me what I had been up to and getting an explanation that was less impressive than a corporate job description, another might say that SHE had ALWAYS worked. The subtext, of course, was that my work did not count. One thing I’m certain of: my husband and I are the only people who know exactly how I contribute by dividing myself between our family-owned business and part-time work elsewhere.

Are you with me so far, Ms. Rosen? Do you still think this is a phony war? It seems pretty authentic to me. This is the full range of options available to women: we can choose full-time motherhood and be scorned; we can pursue a career path and be scorned; or we can choose a middle way and be scorned. That leaves us with a classic conundrum of conflicts. It’s like Hotel California: you can check out any time you like, but if you’re a woman, you can never leave this place of judgment. Or can you?

This post wasn’t really for Ms. Rosen. It’s for you. Here’s all I know about the subject: When deciding the direction for your life, go to your room, close the door and pray about it. The answer may not come definitively or soon. Discuss it with your closest family. Make your choice and live your life with your head held high, whatever you decide. This is the United States of America. Remember? We have freedom to make choices. Every choice has an upside and a downside.

Take it a step further. Resolve not to judge people on the basis of what they do for a living. When the inevitable happens and you feel the slap of judgment, be resolute: these people may know you, but they don’t know you well enough to judge what’s right for you or your family. Who will live the life you were intended to live while you’re over there living the one someone else wants for you? And who, by the way, is minding your judge’s life, while he or she is living yours?

No matter who you are, a day will come when you will see that your life’s work is more than the job you choose or the important people you know. Whether you’re rocking the corporate world or rocking your baby, you’ll realize that life is too precious to worry about what someone else thinks of you.

That day may hit you when you’re caring for a sick parent, grieving the death of a friend, raising money for your library, mentoring a disadvantaged child, teaching a Sunday school class, helping in your child’s classroom, or organizing a family reunion; but it will come.

At that moment, you may reach the happy and wise conclusion that former First Lady Barbara Bush has: “Women who work are wonderful. Women who stay home are wonderful. Whatever.”

P.S. I accept your apology, Ms. Rosen.

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.

I'm confused, but not about my role in life. Is this print snakeskin? A little too large, but I love this double-breasted coat. I hope this is the last vintage coat I'll be wearing until next fall!