Frederick official's comment that a woman's place is in the home creates uproar

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 3, 2011; 10:15 PM

The first thing Frederick County Commissioner Paul Smith does when explaining his controversial views about a woman's proper place is to hand out a pamphlet from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families," the pamphlet reads. "Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children."

In other words, just as he told a TV station and intimated at a public hearing before voting to slash half the funding for the county's Head Start program, a woman's place is in the home.

Smith (R), a 60-year-old lawyer and devout Mormon, insists he wasn't trying to stir anything up in making his views public. "But I hit a hot button or something."

Indeed. Local newspapers and TV and radio stations have had a field day in recent weeks, heralding the "battle of the sexes" and the "gender showdown" in the county. The community has been abuzz with talk about the role of women and mothers in society, culminating in a candlelight vigil sponsored by the Commission for Women.

Some have hailed Smith for giving voice to "good old-fashioned family values." Others have angrily posted on Facebook pages and e-mail lists wondering why people are arguing about an issue they thought was resolved decades ago.

"Welcome to the 1950s," wrote one.

The realities of family life have changed dramatically since then. Yet polls show that many Americans still struggle with it. Most people say they find egalitarian marriages more satisfying and accept the reality of working mothers - 71 percent of all mothers work for pay outside the home. Three-fourths of all Americans disagree that women should return to their traditional roles in society, compared to the 17 percent who think they should. People remain deeply ambivalent about whether the mothers of very young children should work at all, with older men showing the greatest unease.

"I feel that wherever possible, mothers should be home with small children," Smith says at his dining room table.

He knows the working family statistics but waves them off as a reflection of how materialistic people have become: "Everyone feels they have to have a standard of living that is so high that it does create more financial pressure."

"You didn't used to have to move into a mansion after you got married," adds Terry Smith, his wife of 37 years and the mother of his 12 children.

She sits next to him around the large family dining room table in their modest, five-bedroom ranch house in Frederick. A stroller, for one of their 16 grandchildren, is parked on the front porch. A swing set sits in the back yard.


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