It’s been a rather disappointing election cycle in regards to the issue of gender equality.
When congressman Todd Akin of Missouri—currently running for Senate—infamously, and very erroneously, claimed that the female body is somehow capable of magically preventing conception in cases of rape, it seemed promising that the Republican Party immediately hung him out to dry. Sure, there were a frightening number of men out there who, like Akin, held onto attitudes about female biology that were straight out of the 19th century.
But at least we had come to the point where such attitudes were an immediate disqualification for higher office. Or so it seemed for a brief moment. But when it became clear that Akin’s election would be a necessary component of the Republican effort to retake control of the Senate, the GOP discretely accepted Akin back into the fold.
And during the first presidential debate—supposedly focused on domestic policy—not a single question was asked about the persistent wage gap between genders, access to contraception, or reproductive rights.
The vice presidential debate did feature a poorly composed question about abortion that fed into the preconception that the opinions of the religious automatically hold more weight on the issue. But it did force Paul Ryan to come out and say that a Romney administration would oppose abortion in all cases except rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.
It would have been nice to see a follow-up about whether the rape exception would require a police report, or the contradiction between making an exception for the “life of the mother” and their unwillingness to ensure that women of low income have access to adequate prenatal care. Or what their staunch opposition to abortion would mean in a world where employers could impose their religious views on female employees by denying contraception coverage.
And that’s not even getting into the discrepancy between their supposed concern for the life of the child while still in the womb, and their disdain for providing the opportunity for non-wealthy children to live a healthy, successful life. Apparently, they’ll make sure you come into this world, but once you’ve drawn your first breath, you’re on your own.
This is not to advocate for unrestricted access to abortion across the board. But it should be recognized that the arguments offered by the “pro-life” movement are often rife with contradictions, and point to the idea that political opposition to reproductive rights has more to do with control over women’s bodies and sexuality than any sort of genuine concern for the child.
The second presidential debate did feature an informative exchange over the issue of the wage gap—women generally make around 72 percent of what men in equivalent positions receive—though, again, a deeper examination of the issue would have been nice. It is not enough to simply acknowledge the issue, and, though the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act—which makes it easier for women who have been discriminated against to seek legal recompense—is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t address the underlying causes of the persistent wage gap.
The fact of the matter is that, even in today’s society, hidebound attitudes toward women still run rampant. This was illustrated to some extent in Mitt Romney’s attempted effort to identify himself as some sort of advocate for women during his tenure as governor of Massachusetts. He claimed that, upon discovering that all the applicants for cabinet positions were male, he actively scoured the New England landscape for qualified females, obtaining the now infamous “binders full of women.”
Not surprisingly, his statement was somewhat less than truthful, as it turned out that these so-called binders were put together by an advocacy group prior to his election as governor and his “highest nationwide percentage of women in leadership roles” declined from 42 percent to 25 percent—lower than his predecessor—once the issue faded into the background.
Romney’s claim of concern for ensuring female representation in leadership roles is further undermined by the fact that there was not one single female partner during his time at Bain Capital.
But it was the second part of his answer that put the spotlight on Romney’s truly antiquated attitudes towards women. He used the example of his female chief of staff to make the point about the importance of schedule flexibility in balancing work and family life—something it could be argued is true for both men and women. And in making that point he cited the fact that she had to be home in time to cook dinner.
If Mitt Romney is elected, he will take office in the year 2013. And yet he seems to think that, no matter how accomplished she may be, a woman’s place is still ultimately in the kitchen.