Governor Romney and the Ladies Fair

If Republicans ever want to win the women vote, they really need to stop talking about women.  They are just terrible at it.

One of the more surprising poll trends coming into last night’s debate was that Romney seemed to be picking up steam with women voters – and not simply because his ruggedly virile supply of cash and boy-making sperm make the ladies weak at the knees.  Because of this unexpected trending, I had fully expected Team Romney to be preparing the Governor with one thought in mind: Misstep wherever you like on tax or foreign policy issues, just don’t put your foot in it on any of the women’s issues questions.  When the inevitable women’s issue question came it was low hanging fruit, requiring but a quick and obvious answer. It should have been a cakewalk.

And yet as he answered with what was obviously a well coached and pre-canned response, Mitt Romney proved once again that whenever Republicans try to connect with women they invariably come off sounding condescending and chauvinistic – even when what they’re saying is factually undeniable.

Here was the question:

In what new ways do you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?

The obvious response – the only response for a conservative Republican – was to say some variation of this:  “As a champion of the free market, I believe everyone should be paid exactly what their contributions are worth – no more, and no less.  That should be just as true for women as it is for men, and discrimination should never be tolerated.”  That’s all Romney had to say.  Hell, that’s all Romney should have said.  And yet, like a radio show host that just can’t leave well enough alone, Romney decided to swing for the fences:

Thank you. And important topic, and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men.

And I — and I went to my staff, and I said, “How come all the people for these jobs are — are all men.” They said, “Well, these are the people that have the qualifications.” And I said, “Well, gosh, can’t we — can’t we find some — some women that are also qualified?”

And — and so we — we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet.

I went to a number of women’s groups and said, “Can you help us find folks,” and they brought us whole binders full of women.

I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my Cabinet and my senior staff, that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states, and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.

Now one of the reasons I was able to get so many good women to be part of that team was because of our recruiting effort. But number two, because 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.

There are a lot of pundits that are giving Romney high praise for that answer (Andrew Sullivan called it Mitt’s “strongest” answer at the time), but just about all of them are men.  I suspect that as the week goes on we will see that women found the answer to be condescending, and that what Romney’s team believed would bring him female votes will actually cost him some.

Let’s leave aside the fact that Mitt’s feel-good anecdote about being a champion of women didn’t actually happen (and that in fact he reduced the number of women in senior-level positions), and instead focus on what he said.

According to Mitt, while going through all of the applications for his cabinet[1] he noticed that there were no women.  He immediately picked up the phone and called women’s groups to ask if they knew where he could find some qualified ladies.

If you are a man of a certain age, I suspect this answer sounds pretty good so far.  Hey, he’s trying to find a decent woman, right?  However, if you’re a woman I suspect the biggest takeaway is that the Governor and his transition team knew of stacks and stacks of men they thought were qualified to manage people and departments, but couldn’t think of one woman.  If I’m a woman, that just sounds terrible.

Far worse was his talking about flextime.  Again, if you’re a man of a certain age I imagine this answer sounded pitch perfect.  After all, women like to be home with their kids, right?

It is absolutely true that flextime can rightly be perceived as a women’s economic issue.  Child care issues sometimes demand that parents who might be able to work 40 hours a week can’t always work 9:00 to 5:00, and for them flextime is a Godsend.  Because many mothers are single – and because, like it or not, in our culture it is still the expectation that in households with two working parents it should be the mother who bears child responsibilities – access to flextime actually does effect women disproportionately to men.  However, the question Romney was asked didn’t have to do with workplace logistics, it had to do with workplace equality.  Because of this, his response was especially egregious.

Despite what Romney suggests, the truth is that flextime isn’t really an issue for executives.  Most higher paying positions are salaried, and as such are judged upon a specifically defined set of outcome criteria.  They don’t need flextime, because flextime is basically built into their job.  The kinds of positions that often require flextime are lower paying jobs such as administrative assistants, file clerks, receptionists and data input typists. So when answering a question about general female economic inequality in the workplace, Mitt inexplicably responded with an answer about administrative assistants, file clerks, receptionists and data input typists.  Now, it is true that not everyone is keenly aware of who does and doesn’t need flextime. But you know what subset of voters is keenly aware of this?  Women.

In addition, the unspoken assumption in Mitt’s response was that a male employee would not need to take care of children at home, but a female employee certainly would.  Like many Republican responses to women’s issues, I know this chafed the very women it was intended to mollify.  Plus, if there’s pushback from the Left on this it will invariably mean that conservative pundits and talk show hosts will go on the defensive and make arguments about why men really are different from women in the workplace. They just won’t be able to help themselves, and that hole they dig for themselves (and Mitt) will just keep getting deeper.

If Romney wants to court the female vote, he needs to keep it simple and direct, and not go off on these attempts to “connect” with women in a touchy-feely kind of way.  It’s just not his strength, and it will hurt him far more than it will help him.


[1] Seriously? Going through the applications? Apparently in Massachusetts cabinet vacancies are simply employment opportunities you post on, not a team of experts hand-selected by the Governor.

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118 thoughts on “Governor Romney and the Ladies Fair

  1. This echoed my thoughts exactly. By attempting to reach women, he doubled-down on many of the things that are most inhibiting to women’s equality, particularly the societal assumption and pressure to “make dinner for the kids”.


          • Sure he could.

            He could say that the demands on women often unfairly outweigh those on men. As such, this sometimes requires a different approach to recruiting, hiring, and retaining women. While it would be ideal if we could level the playing field outside of the workplace, for the time being we must do what we can to account for this unlevel playing field inside of it.

            Going with , “Well, dem women need to get food on the table so how dey supposed to work?” was sub-ideal. And not even close.


          • He can’t win? What if he says, “Look, I was wrong when I opposed the Lily Leadbetter Act. It is a travesty that women doing equal work aren’t paid equally, and I have every intention of pursuing policy which rewards women for the work they do.” Maybe the Social Conservatives would have punished him but who else are they going to vote for?


  2. I think equally effective was Romney’s trope that he would make the economy so strong that eventually employers would have to settle for women employees…


  3. Great post Tod and pretty much exactly what was going through my head as I listened to Romney. His answer just reinforced my belief that he does not care and does not have a clue as to what is important to women. I mean really they knew of NO women qualified for cabinet posts?! I think what that means is that Romney, and his apparently all male team, don’t believe that women are qualified for the job. It reads to me like he went searching for “token” women to put in his administration because well you know women should be home making dinner for the kids.


  4. “if you’re a woman I suspect the biggest takeaway is that the Governor and his transition team knew of stacks and stacks of men they thought were qualified to manage people and departments, but couldn’t think of one woman. ”

    And that dirty bastard proceeded to go and ask for help finding some. I mean, the unbelievable cheek of that man, to admit that this was an area where he didn’t have much knowledge; the sheer gall of actually recognizing a problem and looking for guidance about solving it.

    I mean, far better if he’d just bulled ahead, saying “of course there ain’t no fillies for the job, they’re all back home raisin’ kids just like they’re s’pose ta be!” Because then he wouldn’t be so disingenuously acting like he cared, right? (I mean, it’s obvious that that lying sack of lying lies couldn’t possibly actually care.)


    • Asking is an acceptable option if you don’t have a better option.

      That he didn’t have a better option is troubling.

      This man worked in business for how long? He couldn’t think of a single qualified woman he could select for his cabinet?


    • Is it just me, or is anyone else kinda offended that he needed to go to women’s groups?
      I’m sorry, but where I’m from, you call in subject matter experts. You want the best
      negotiator, you pull in ten negotiators, and you Find The Best One.

      He wasn’t (I don’t think) trying for The Best Woman. Or the most Feminist one.

      Condi Rice didn’t get pulled out of no NOW binder.


    • Let me share a personal anecdote that I think is related…

      My school makes a big deal about Halloween. Last year, I noticed a lot of families opted to keep their children home on this day as they didn’t recognize the holiday or they did but did not celebrate it the way our school did. The families that I knew that did this were all African or African-American. I was confused and a bit concerned about this. A wondered if there were subcultures within the black community that did not recognize Halloween and if this was something that ought to make us reconsider our celebration. But I didn’t know for sure.

      Fortunately, I had made close acquaintance with a woman who was both a parent in the school and an educator herself (at a different school) and whose family was among those who did not celebrate the holiday. I reached out to her, shared my observations, and asked her help on better understanding the issue. It turns out that the difference was more along religious lines than racial lines.

      Regardless, I think it would have looked bad if I, the “Coordinator for Diversity and Inclusion” in my school, had to reach out to a group like the local chapter of the NAACP to get this question answered. How qualified could I be for the position if I didn’t know enough black folks personally and well-enough that I could first ask them?

      How qualified to be President, how qualified to address women’s issues can someone be if they and their underlings can’t think of a single qualified woman?


      • This speaks more to his history as a businessman than anything else.

        He went through his businessland as a businessman and didn’t see this – you know, as a supposed businessleader and all that – until he left business for politics.

        What, in all his years at Bain, taking over other companies and whatnot, he never had a case where he had to make a decision about a company policy and some woman executive wanting to take longer for maternity? He never thought of this as a problem or an issue or even noticed it until he got into politics?


    • Actually, no. The group of women, MassGAP, had begun putting together the ‘binder’ of women with skills for cabinet-level positions in the State Government before the election.

      They gave Romney the binder.

      And by the end of his term, the numbers of women in executive positions had declined to levels lower then when he was sworn in.

      Now I’m might glad he did opt to use that binder. But he didn’t recognize there was a problem, he was told — by women — that there was a problem. And he put women in charge of departments he felt ‘suitable’ for women, not departments he thought important.


  5. From the National Review piece Tod links to:

    the only 40-year-old woman Jack Nicholson has ever seen naked is Kathy Bates in that horrific hot-tub scene (emphasis added).

    Tod is right, Republicans. Shut up, now, while there still might be a few women without cable, cell phones, or mail service who don’t know exactly what you think of then.


  6. This is what I mean when I say this question was a classic Ackbarian trap.

    Romney is going to receive no credit for anything he said or did.

    The President receives no blame for doing only doing the bare minimum 15 pieces of flair on his first day of office, and discussing Pell Grants.


    • I don’t necessarily agree. I think in political debates, you *want* questions that force you to tackle in-the-room elephants.

      For example, the two most obviously slighted questions of the night were the one (to Obama) saying “I voted for you 4 years ago, I’m very disappointed, why should I even consider voting for your now?” and the one (to Romney) saying “A whole bunch of this mess is from before Obama, so how do I know you’re not the next Bush?”

      Each guy used the questions to(somewhat) separate themselves from story lines that made them look bad, and each came off looking stronger because of it. (In fact, I though the “Here’s why I’m not Bush” answer was by far Romney’s strongest of the night, and was the most compelling reason he gave all night to consider voting for him.)


    • Speaking as a female, Romney deserves no credit for this.

      Honestly, there wasn’t one intelligent capable woman on his campaign staff? Not one that he’d ever noticed in all his years in business that he might consider tapping for a cabinet post?

      And while I, as a parent, think flextime is important, guess what? My husband is the one who gets home in time to make dinner. Obama’s reply that this isn’t a women’s issue but a family issue was dead on target. He didn’t need more than that to bring the contrast home.

      Oh, and Mitt didn’t actually answer the question. What would he do to rectify the pay gap? Apparently nothing. Somehow, magically (because govt doesn’t create jobs!), the economy will become so strong once he’s elected that business will be desperate for workers and therefore willing to bend to ‘lady issues’ like fair pay and reasonable work hours.

      Argh. I wasn’t planning on voting for him anyway, but this makes me want to go out and canvas for Obama.


      • Excellent.

        The strong position for women would be not only stressing the importance of flex time, but stressing how important it is for all parents. Men do the child-care thing, too. They go to soccer games and plays and pick kids up from music lessons. They stay home with sick kids. Heck, some of them are single parents, raising the children without a mom in the house at all.

        Sometimes, feminism means pushing for equal rights for men, even when they don’t realize the need them.


  7. Romney botched this question just as badly as all the others. He lost all his momentum in my opinion last night. I cannot imagine voting for this guy.

    The interesting thing is that he could never have told the truth, which is that on the whole women are paid fairly but that they have different career goals, interests, skills, work habits, tradeoffs and risk tolerances.


      • Yeah, the fact that guys with kids don’t get mommy-tracked is obviously just women’s own fault for having the bad judgment to be born with XX chromosomes.

        ::rolls eyes::

        Conservatives really are just bad at this.


    • I think there is two things at play…

      Looking at women’s aggregate salaries and men’s aggregate salaries runs into the very issues that Roger rightly highlights.

      But they cannot explain the entirety of the gap that exists between men and women who do the same job, with the same credentials and same experience.

      So, really, it depends on what you’re looking at. Will the average female salary equal the average male salary? Not likely. But should male and female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies have great disparities in their pay? No.


        • Unless they are playing loose with their language, I often here people say that women, on average, earn X% of men. If they are talking about position specific averages, I stand corrected. But it doesn’t always appear that way.


          • Sam and Bookdragon,

            Did you even read the question above that was asked of Romney that I am responding to? It is exactly as Kazzy states.

            The facts reveal that women work substantially fewer hours than men. They choose substantially different professions. They tend to work indoors. They rarely ever choose hazardous, dangerous jobs (I believe the work fatality stats are over ten times higher for men). Finally, they tend to prioritize other things other than work, especially as they age (and who can argue with that, seems to me they are choosing right, no?) .

            When you adjust for these factors, there is no wage differential, indeed, younger professional women tend to make more than men.

            And for the record, Bookdragon, people who disagree with you are not necessarily “conservatives”, they may just be better informed. I am not really sure of the latter, but I clearly am not the former.


              • I also think it is worthwhile to examine how many of those factors are ones that women naturally choose and how much are the result of larger forces.

                Using child rearing as an example, how much of the decision to stay home and raise children is one that women would make voluntarily in a vacuum and how much is because of broader social pressures (including a history of getting less pay)? I’m confident it is a “both/and” situation but I don’t know to begin dividing the pie.


                • This is rather clearly the larger issue, and it’s much harder to figure out how to use policy to correct it. Affirmative action helps, but early education and a general changing of cultural norms would be far more effective.


                    • Which is not to say that he shouldn’t say something about it. In fact, I think you can easily make an intellectual case that a great deal of sex segregation in jobs is due to the distribution of domestic responsibilities, that it would be a good idea for us to think about fixing that distribution in our own lives, and that it’s not the FBI’s job to make husbands do housework or pick the kids up from school.

                      The problem, of course, is that Democrats don’t want to hear about the first part, Republicans don’t want to hear about the second part, and no presidential candidate is non-robotic enough to get anyone to laugh at the third part.


                    • Oh, yea. The President can prove a powerful symbol. But he can’t push legislation or enact an executive order to shift societal norms.

                      I suppose we could elect a female POTUS. That might move some needles.


                    • Actually, there was a decent amount of evidence that Obama supporting gay marriage actually moved the needle among black people by a heavy chunk (basically changing it from 40-60 opposition to 55-45 favorability).


                    • See my comment immediately above.

                      To your specific question, though, I can’t see how it matters. We should have presidential candidates who don’t lie, who admit the limitations of their power, and who are especially willing to take moral stands on issues where they believe their base is wrong.

                      That we don’t have such candidates and never actually will doesn’t really detract from the argument.


                • For this to be true, there would have to be evidence that it’s only women who’ve opted for a child-rearing break that are paid less; and women in similar positions who’ve not had children would show no pay gap.

                  I could be wrong here, but I’ve certainly never heard of a study demonstrating this. Have you?

                  But I have had the experience of being paid less then men I supervised (also a violation of state law, union rules, and federal law,) and when I asked why, was told ‘they have families.’ Those men I supervised where hired on the same day as I was, and had less experience. Go figure. They had families; so me, a woman without a child at the time, should get paid less.


                • Thanks, Roger. To what extent do you think the self-selection is a function of societal norms, pressures, or segregation (some of which may no longer be active but which still resonates via legacy)?

                  In a nutshell, do women tend to choose to teach because there is something about women that makes them want to teach or because spciety sends a message that that is a more appropriate career for them? Again, both/and is my guess.


                  • I agree it is a bit of both. I will say that women are different, and I really, really respect balance in one’s life. Most of the really successful people I know were screwed up human beings. I’ve seen the top of the corporate ladder, and it is not someplace a balanced person with a family and normal personality would ever want to be. Kind of like politics.


            • You know, I almost would have apologized, except that I read further and saw that your basis was AEI studies. Somehow a conservative think tank doesn’t strike me as an impartial source (especially given some of the other articles on that site).

              For myself, I have seen the difference in engineering – a more than full-time profession in which I have an advanced degree. I’m not even sure it’s conscious discrimination so much as a boy’s club atmosphere and the impression that women ‘just don’t look like engineers’, so while we get put on display when someone wants to score diversity points, we don’t tend to get the same opportunities for networking and advancement.


              • Actually the links take you to studies and data from the labor department, the Wall Street Journal the Bureau of Labor statistics and so forth. The blog was originally Mark Perry’s, but last month it was absorbed by AEI, of which Mark is a member.

                If you know of problems with the data please share.


      • When I was in college in the 80s, discrepancy between men and women at the executive level was explained in terms of the rat moving through the snake in a way I found quite compelling.

        The sex of an executive no longer mattered, conservatives argued, but because it had mattered for so long it was going to take a decade or so for young women to be properly educated, and for women in the workforce to gain the experience their male counterparts had. By the mid-90s everything would be equal.

        That argument made a lot of sense to me. So too, I must confess, have all of the subsequent arguments. They’re all quite logical.

        Still, a generation later it’s hard not to shake the growing sense that there’s something else at play here.


    • My good friend, a Harvard demographer, says:

      “In a nutshell, there is not much evidence of within job pay discrim. Gap is 25-30% ish, 2/3 of which is due to occupational sex seg, most of rest to firm sex seg.”

      She said that in a text message, which is why it appears the way it does.


  8. Here’s the thing that I keep thinking- they keep trying to sell Romney as this high-powered corporate boss archetype and, aside from the fact that he keeps coming off as Bill Lumbergh, don’t a lot, maybe most people, kind of hate their boss?


  9. For the ladies, Obama says, “cover their reproductive health-care costs.” Not just contraception, but preventive screenings.

    Now apparently this is controversial for those withe certain religious beliefs. I presume those same folk are solidly pro-life. Yet it’s the most pro-life actions a president has taken. Come to find out, when women don’t have to pay out-of-pocket for contraception, they have fewer abortions.

    Romney, on the other hand, belongs to a church where every member who happens to be male is a member of the priesthood. And no woman need apply.

    For the ladies, and the men who love them as partners, not chattel, who’s got your back?


  10. “The obvious response – the only response for a conservative Republican – was to say some variation of this: “As a champion of the free market, I believe everyone should be paid exactly what their contributions are worth – no more, and no less. That should be just as true for women as it is for men, and discrimination should never be tolerated.”

    I would have also accepted “The study was bogus and that has been well documented” but that wouldn’t have been the “best” answer, would it?


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