I don't consider myself an alarmist. I don't go in for conspiracy theories, if only because I doubt the capacity of humans to be that organized. I don't believe there is a war on Christmas or that everything will go to shit if the person I don't support is elected president.
But I just can't see my way to denying anymore that there is something going on with regard to women and women's rights in our country. An attack, a backlash, something. Suddenly, we're questioning women's right to contraception. We are, in fact, calling women who want access to contraception whores. That this coincides with a shitty economy that hasn't taken as big a toll on women as it has on men doesn't seem like coincidence.
Women now outpace men in college admission and graduation, something that would not have been possible without access to contraception. If this causes you to characterize young women as whores, then you've really got to ask yourself who exactly you think these women were having sex with that caused them to have to give up on or seriously delay education and career to deliver and care for babies. Hint: it wasn't other women.
In the most recent debate, the President made the link between workplace success and access to contraception when the question was asked about fair pay for women. He gets it. He also talked about the Lilly Ledbetter Act, legislation named for a tire factory worker who was denied the right to sue her employer for paying her less than her male counterparts because the decision to discriminate against her had been made more than 180 days before she brought suit. The law changes the statute of limitation to begin when the discrimination affected you, i.e., when you received your paycheck. This legislation, which Paul Ryan voted against, provides actual help in the fight for parity.
Mitt Romney answered the question by telling a story about being presented all male candidates for cabinet positions when he became governor and telling his staff that, golly, there must be some qualified women candidates and they should find them. And they brought him binders full of women! While yes, this story does make good comedic fodder, it has much bigger problems than poor phrasing. First, it demonstrates yet again how disconnected he is from the average person. Yes, we want more women in high-ranking positions, but most women are much closer to the position of Lilly Ledbetter than seeking cabinet-level jobs. What will he do to help us? I'm not angling for an appointment as Secretary of Education; I want to know that I'll be paid the same as my male colleagues. Second, this story is not even true! The binders full of women were prepared by MassGAP, an independent bi-partisan group dedicated to getting more women appointed to high state offices. They were given to Governor Romney when he took office as they would have been to his opponent, had the election gone the other way.
He went on to tell us that his chief of staff had asked for flexible hours since she had a family and he made sure she could leave by 5:00 to get home to make dinner and spend time with her kids. And sure, we've gotten a lot of comedic mileage around here out of the idea that women need to leave work early so they can make dinner. And yes, flexibility of hours would be a good thing for all parents. But for what segment of society is it even a possibility? The low income workers who Mitt Romney doesn't think are taking responsibility for their own lives are often working multiple jobs and are paid hourly. You can't leave work by 5:00 when you depend on the dinner rush for your tips or you're cleaning the offices of the people who are home spending time with their kids.
You'll note that neither of these answers actually address the question of fair pay.
It matters that Mitt Romney doesn't have an understanding of the real issues facing real women. He doesn't get it. It's not that I want a president who is just like me. I want a president who is much smarter than I am, with better judgment and education. But I do want a president who understands what it's like to live the way I do. A president who doesn't believe that having eaten tuna fish sandwiches off an ironing board while he was in college means he understands what it's like to be poor. A president who defends my right to medication that allows me to decide when I'm ready to have children and provides me real medical benefits in the meantime. A president who doesn't decide three weeks before the election that it's time to care about women's issues.
I want a president who understands that women's issues are human issues. That matters.