This is a guest post by Nisha Chittal. Nisha Chittal is a social media strategist and writer in Washington, DC. She writes about politics, media, and technology, and her work has been featured in The American Prospect, Ms. Magazine, NPR.org, Jezebel, Mediaite, and more. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/NishaChittal.
In just one question last night, Mitt Romney told us everything we needed to know about how disconnected he is from everyday women. His answers reflected a shockingly retrograde view of working women, and a total lack of interest in women’s issues. Behind his answers lies the reality that a Romney presidency has no plans to do anything to rectify gender inequality in the workplace.
When asked what he would do as president to rectify the fact that women earn 72% of what men earn for the same jobs, Romney stumbled unbelievably. It became clear that Romney has never given much thought to the economic inequalities faced by women, and was woefully unprepared for the question.
Instead of providing an answer about what he would do as president, he reflected on how while governor of Massachusetts, he had sought to hire more women in his cabinet and brought in “binders full of women” to find a women he could hire.
The binders full of women comment instantly became an internet meme, but if we keep poking fun at the meme we risk losing sight of the real issue here: that Romney actually plans to do nothing to help women, and in fact, opposed the Lily Ledbetter act that supported equal pay for women at the time that it was being passed.
Here’s what we really learned about Mitt Romney last night:
1) He has no plans to push for any policies that will push for gender equality in the workplace
It’s true that Romney hired more women in his administration as a result of the “binders of women” given to him by MassGap. This is great and both Romney and the efforts of MassGAP should be applauded. However, Romney dodged the question. He didn’t talk about legislation or policies he would put in place during his presidency. He told vague anecdotes about how once, he hired some women to work for him; but he showed a general lack of interest in doing anything to help American women at large overcome discrimination at work if he were President.
Looking forward, Romney identified zero plans or policies to rectify workplace inequality for women; it appears to be an issue that is not a priority to him. His solution was that he’ll create more jobs, so many jobs that employers will want to hire women, rather than making a concerted effort to solve for inequalities in the system.
2) He equates all women with moms, and ignores the millions of unmarried, childless women who vote too
This is a common theme in the Romney campaign: in trying to appeal to women, they speak directly to moms. Ann Romney’s convention speech focused on heralding moms and how hard they work. And no doubt they do – but it’s important to address all women, not just moms. When faced with a question about women at work, responding by talking about giving moms flexibility at work implies a) that flexibility is a privilege only available to moms and b) that the only people who face workplace inequality issues are moms, not childless women.
By addressing women’s issues as mom issues, he once again brushes aside the millions of childless women who are affected by workplace inequality as well – and who vote, too.
3) In Romney’s world, it is only women who need flexibility and need to cook dinner.
Let’s leave aside the patronizing, out-of-touch, condescending claim that women need to be home in time to cook dinner. I think that says enough about Romney’s worldview on its own: he still exists in a world where the women are always home to cook dinner.
What women actually want is to be treated as equals at work. Pushing the idea that women and women alone require “flexible” jobs because they have so many burdens outside of work is what makes employers apprehensive about hiring women and moms, and this idea needs to stop. Real equality means shared parenting and shared household duties so that women are able to take inflexible jobs too. Real equality means men stepping up and participating in household duties so that women aren’t always the ones forced to put their careers on the backburner. Flexibility shouldn’t be a women’s issue, it should be for everyone.
There were several other moments throughout the night that revealed the real Romney, but his answers to the question about equal pay for women were particularly enlightening. His answers demonstrated just how out of touch he is with real women, and how little he cares to do anything about it.
What would a Romney presidency do to rectify inequalities women face in the workplace? Behind all of his stumbles was his real answer: nothing.