Mitt Romney is a busy guy, so I waited as long as I could to write this column, hoping that his campaign would put some muscle behind its claim that “women's issues are really important to us.” But with just more than one week left, it was now or never. And for the Romney campaign, it appears to be the latter.
In fact, the longer I waited for the campaign to follow through on my request for an interview – ideally with the governor himself (shamelessly trading on my time with President Barack Obama), though I would have gladly sat down with anyone in Romney's shop willing to tell me where he stands on women's issues – the more Romney revealed his true colors with respect to the gentler sex. I am not impressed.
Not surprisingly, Romney was not available for an interview, but somehow an earlier offer from Romney spokeswoman Alison Hawkins for time with a senior adviser or the “head of our women's operation” quietly slipped away as well. So I was left to listen to Romney's public declarations of his position on things like equal pay for equal work, access to contraception, abortion rights and other critical issues for women across the country. Unfailingly, Romney's content and tone combine to create an unappetizing blend of condescension and cluelessness that does not bode well for how policy affecting women's lives would be handled should he be elected on Nov. 6.
That is a very big deal. This campaign season has been rife with alarming Republican rhetoric about women, and those who utter such offensive comments about how rape is defined, how burdensome equal pay could be for small businesses, or the moral implications of using birth control are men – predominantly white, middle aged (or older) and of plus-sized financial means. This perspective provides a person a well-cushioned venue from which to espouse the values of hard work, personal responsibility and divine knowledge. That is, it is a perspective divorced from the reality that many women – and men – experience.
It might be difficult to cast off the blinders hewn from a Y chromosome and a seven-figure 1099, but it is important to at least try. That is where Romney continually goes wrong, and in doing so, he repeatedly exposes just how out of touch he is with the lives so many women live.
First, there is his belief that the government should not tell employers what kind of health-care coverage they must offer. That sounds fine – kind of – on its face. But add one ounce of critical thought and such a notion becomes a bit ridiculous. When Romney makes such comments, as he as many times, he is speaking in generalities about something very specific: birth control for women. He does not support the requirement that it be considered preventive care offered free under all insurance policies, and in so doing, Romney shows that he believes women should have to pay for the privilege of preventing unplanned pregnancies, or else bear the children that come their way – by God's will or otherwise. Insulting does not begin to describe it.
Then there is the notion of equal pay for equal work. Romney's now-infamous description of his “binders full of women” led to the less-discussed but more offensive point that he recognizes that women need more flexibility in their jobs so as to care for their children. What about men interested in doing the same thing? And what does that comment have to do with equal pay? It at least suggests that because women are distracted by their non-professional duties, they are somehow less equal than men when it comes to the compensation they deserve.
That, taken with Romney's unfulfilled promise to get back to voters on whether he supports the notion of equal pay for equal work does not bode well for the answer – or for women who demand and deserve the respect intoned by such support.
Instead, Romney seems to yearn for a world in which women need not worry their pretty little heads about such things as unplanned pregnancies or insufficient paychecks. Where they can work – a little bit, for pocket money – but spend most of their energy caring for children, the creation of which in Romney's view, is women's work of the highest order.
Those of us who are trying to do all of the above have a slightly different take on the matter. Of course we want the best for our children, and some of that is determined by how we plan for the children we have, how we afford the contraception needed to limit their number and how we afford to give them the best opportunities in life. With policies that put those goals just a little bit further from women's reach – and making himself and his campaign inaccessible to women seeking clear explanations of his positions – Romney seems compelled to keep us ladies shoeless, with babes in arms. He might succeed, but the reality of that picture lacks the wholesome nostalgia that informs his vision.
Megan Graham is a Herald editorial writer and policy analyst. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.