At the close of 2011, according to the United States Census Bureau, women comprised no less than 50.8 of the nation’s population, or slightly more than half. I will not go through the exercise of breaking down this statistic into socioeconomic groups, ethnic heritage or religious affiliation. Because I firmly believe, for the purposes of this column, that those distinctions don’t matter.
So why bring up the data at all? Well quite frankly, a sizable proportion of my fellow female citizens and I aren’t sure the Republican Party in general, and Mitt Romney more specifically, yet understand the implications of pissing us off less than three weeks before the election. American women are not a special interest group but a diverse MAJORITY of residents who can nonetheless usually come together on one issue: we hate being marginalized whether that discrimination comes in the form of public policy, religious dogma or the blustering of a Presidential candidate who fails to recognize that this is no longer the early 1960s, and he is not guest starring on an episode of Mad Men.
Heading into Tuesday night’s second Presidential election debate, Obama supporters had good reason for concern. Whether the week 1 Romney “victory” was real or imagined, the court of public opinion had somehow ruled in Romney’s favor. What would round two portend? Would we see a more contentious, vivacious President, ready to deflect the charming deceptions of his smarmy opponent? Would Mittens be able to maintain his current pretensions toward moderation or would the pendulum swing hard right again?
On the question of Obama’s performance, the answer, fortunately, is that television viewing audiences once more saw a candidate fired up and ready to go, a man who successfully called his challenger to the carpet on issues such Romney’s flip flop on the construction of coal factories (“Does anybody ever actually look at that guy and think, man, he’s really into coal?”). However the answer to the second question is a bit more complicated. While Romney did his best to sustain his latest persona, Fall 2012’s Mitt the Moderate, several noticeable cracks appeared in the facade. And nowhere were these schisms more apparent than in Romney’s responses to town hall questions related to women’s issues.
I won’t revisit Romney’s rhetorical blunder regarding “binders full of women,” except to remind people that the larger point of the candidate’s meandering answer is that a man with decades of private sector business experience blithely reported that he knew of exactly zero qualified female candidates for his gubernatorial cabinet – before the appearance of the much-discussed Trapper Keepers. While certainly less attractive comedic chum than the binder remark, it is epically disappointing that journalists and pundits failed to stone the candidate for this disingenuous claim.
But things went from bad to worse when, in the course of breaking his arm patting himself on the back, Romney went on to detail the tremendous working environment his Massachusetts administration created for female employees. This nurturing setting was constructed not in the form of challenging leadership roles or demanding policy work. No, Team Romney deemed themselves pro-women….because they permitted flex time which allowed working moms to get home in time to put dinner on the table.
It is incredibly disheartening that amongst all the social network memes circulating about the “binders” sidetrack, there were not equal numbers of interrogations regarding the real takeaway: working women are nice and all but their real place remains in the home. And once again, just like that, the Republican party standard bearer attempted to roll back 50 years of social and workplace gains so hard won by female Americans.
Blogger Brenda Peterson, writing for the Huffington Post this week, said it best: “Women were the real winners in this presidential debate. We clearly recognized the real Mitt Romney — and he’s just like every domineering and sexist boss we’ve worked with. While Romney boasted about considering his infamous ‘binders of women’, for a job, it was clear he and his policies are the true binders of women.”
So to return to my original argument: we are the 50.8 percent. Romney can stand there and smile, blandly reporting that he wouldn’t fight to repeal the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (gee thanks), and asserting that women would never have to question their access to contraception under his tenure. But the candidate has spent years undermining his own credibility with female voters and there’s no reason, particularly after Monday night’s showing, to trust him now. Across party, socioeconomic and spiritual lines, I have a feeling women will ensure that the already-unemployed Romney is left with plenty of flexible hours after Election Day.