By now, most marginally politically savvy people are aware of Mitt Romney's bizarre comment that he had "binders full of women" when he was Governor of Massachusetts. For the record, if I were not going out on the trail to do GOTV, I would totally be a binder for Halloween.
As you may or may not know, in addition to my MPA, I am getting a Certificate in Gender Policy (because I want to be Amy Gardner when I grow up.) When considering any public policy, I can't help but view it through a gender policy lens and Tuesday's debate was a doozy. Audience member, Katerine Fenton, asked this question about workplace inequality, “In what new ways do you intend to rectify inequalities in the workplace? Specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn.” Interestingly, Fenton has outspokenly rejected the label of 'feminist' and remains undecided, but I'll let you unpack that kettle of fish on your own.
Let's discuss the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Lilly Ledbetter itself is not what gives women the right to equal pay, that would be the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Lilly Ledbetter states that the statute of limitations "for filing an equal-pay lawsuit regarding pay discrimination resets with each new paycheck affected by that discriminatory action." In other words, it doesn't make it illegal to pay men and women differently for the same job, it makes it more feasible to do something about it.
Right now in the United States, women make 77 cents for every dollar that men make. "But," you may argue, "some women choose to take time off to care for children. Women are less ambitious than men. Women choose to work in different fields." I would challenge some of those assumptions. How do you define ambition? How are women socialized not to exhibit ambitious behaviors, or to choose alternate fields? Most concretely, even when women do try to fit in the male model they are not rewarded in the same ways as men. (Brilliant catalyst study that I highly recommend to anyone interested in these things.)
Second,they can adjust for these differences. (Don't worry they got a man to do the math.) Even when every single discrepancy is accounted for; race, class, children, education, job title, job function, etc, women still make 5% less than men across the board. So, not supporting or being non-committal about legislation that allows women to do something about this (like say, Mitt Romney is) is pretty ludicrous. (LUDA!)
Now, let's talk about something that Mitt Romney said about women in the workplace, that, hold on to your underpanties, I actually sort of agree with:
"I recognized that if you're going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said, I can't be here until 7 or 8 o'clock at night. I need to be able to get home at 5 o'clock so I can be there for making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school. So we said fine. Let's have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you."Romney has gotten a lot of flack for the implication that women's first responsibility is in the home, but flexible schedules and job share are actually recognized and respectable policies to help patch the "leaky pipeline" of women in the workplace. It's something I could imagine myself taking advantage of when I become the world's most politically active housewife (move over, Bill Clinton.) Can men or childless women take advantage of these policies? Sure. But let's call a cat a cat. It is mostly women with familial obligations requesting these policies and mostly those women taking advantage of them. It would be fabulous if more men were to take advantage of these policies in dual earner households, since as one of my Professors is fond of saying "it's not going to be 50/50 at the top until it's 50/50 at the bottom." But, it is not a Governor's place to tell families how to divide household responsibilities (after all, we're talking about the party of small government) nor do I think it is healthy to expect him to deny the societal pressures that hinder women's ability to advance in their careers. So while he phrased his answer and explained the policy ectremely poorly, I'm going to go ahead and assert that the policy in and of itself is not sexist.
What I loved about President Obama's answer was that in addition to addressing the Lily Ledbetter Act (which he signed) he pointed out that healthcare and birth control are economic issues for women. (Killed it.) Speaking of birth control, let's address Mitt Romney's ridiculous solution to gun violence in our country:
But let me mention another thing, and that is parents. We need moms and dads helping raise kids. Wherever possible, the — the benefit of having two parents in the home — and that’s not always possible. A lot of great single moms, single dads. But gosh, to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone — that’s a great idea because if there’s a two-parent family, the prospect of living in poverty goes down dramatically. The opportunities that the child will — will be able to achieve increase dramatically.I don't care that he mentioned "parents," this was like the world's biggest dog whistle for those trampy, irresponsible unwed mothers, particularly black ones. (For more on Romney's dog whistle strategy, click here.) Let's pretend for the moment that this was not a contemptible attempt to evade the fact that Romney does not support laws addressing gun ownership for the mentally ill, which it totally was. You know what would reduce the number of single parent households, Governor Romney? Subsidized birth control, sex education, safe and legal abortion, and adoption for gay couples. So I'm assuming you must support all of those, right?
So we can make changes in the way our culture works to help bring people away from violence and give them opportunity and bring them in the American system.
As a post-script, I want to talk about one more thing that did not happen at the debate but did happen of the debate and made me want to unsubscribe from society. @5hannnnnon (who has since deleted her account) tweeted: "Obama shut up you nigger. You're a liar. Your brother lives in Kenya where you were born. #Romney2012” and somehow of all the hate-filled ignorant tweets taking place that night, this one got retweeted all up and in the internet. Later she clarified "Omg people calm down I'm not racist. I just hate Obama.” Oh, okay, I didn't realize that ASS OUT BIGOTRY was how we dealt with discourse in our country, good note. So clearly, this girl is a horrible person (although you have to applaud her correct usage of your/re.) But then I go on her twitter page and there is a SLEW of tweets saying things like "I WILL RAPE YOU!!!!!," like A LOT OF THEM. WHAT? So we deal with policy arguments with racism and racism with sexual violence? These are America's voters, kids.