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Mitt Romney's Women Problem: Is Paul Ryan the New Sarah Palin?

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When I first heard the news about Mitt Romney's choice of a running mate, I had a sneaking suspicion that this was the Romney camp's solution to the women problem.

The Republicans are facing a gender gap. Most women understand that the Republican party does not have her best interests in mind. The Republicans might be talking about the national debt and unemployment, but when they get elected it's easier to enact an agenda of being against a woman's right to control her own reproductive system -- whether it's abortion or birth control. Women's health care in general is also under attack. Being against gay marriage is the tip of this iceberg.

When I first saw the photo of Mitt Romney's running mate, I squinted at the small photo of the rugged man with the stubbled face and with a sinking feeling clicked on a larger image of him. Yup. My suspicions were confirmed. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is Mitt's solution to his "woman problem." He has what my mother once described to me as "bedroom eyes." And at 42, he hasn't lost his boyish charm.

I asked a bisexual friend of mine what she thought of him. "He's very handsome but... " her voice trailed off. My partner said of Paul Ryan, "He's a pretty boy and everyone knows that pretty boys are trouble."

In the presidential election of 2008, when the McCain campaign announced Sarah Palin as the vice presidential pick, many women I knew were insulted. They were not going to vote for a candidate simply because she was female -- especially when she had an anti-feminist agenda. Little wonder that John McCain described the Romney vice presidential pick as "a bold choice."

Romney took the McCain campaign's thinking and took it a step further. The fact is that women, as a group, are more likely to vote for a good looking man (with sound experience) than for a woman just because she is a woman. The Romney campaign just might have a woman staffer around who clued them into this fact.

I have spent some time around post-feminist heterosexual women, slightly younger than me, but still middle aged, and I know how they think. The women I have based my study on have nothing on RuPaul when it comes to artifice. (Fortunately, there are heterosexual women around who are, in fact, feminists. But I do think this post-feminist mid-life group is a representative sample of a larger population.)

They actually change their behavior when there is a good looking male around. Voices become higher and more kittenish. His ideas somehow become more original than, say, an older female colleague who has been making the same suggestions all along. Every word he says is somehow imbued with (hormonal?) importance. Sometimes when he turns out to be gay, their voices change back. They sound disappointed. You almost feel sorry for the guy.

Despite this behavior, the post-feminist women are mostly intelligent. They have their own best interests at the forefront of every action. And many of them have achieved high positions (so they have their feminist forerunners to thank whether they acknowledge it or not).

One of my greatest lessons about feminism came when I returned home to care for my terminally ill mother, an experience that I chronicled in Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books). My mother was a woman ahead of her time -- she took me as an adolescent to NOW meetings and reproductive rights rallies. "I never trusted rich men," she said to me... "Rich men think they can buy you. "

She was right. Rich men cannot be trusted. This is especially true when the rich men happen to be politicians who have the interest of other rich men at heart. And when they select young, sexually attractive men as running mates, they absolutely cannot be trusted. Focusing on Ryan's bedroom eyes might be akin to, say, making references to Hillary's pantsuits or hairstyles in the 2008 presidential election, but judging people on their appearance is a fact of life.

A politician's attractiveness does have the potential to influence voters. So to the post-feminist women who may be swayed by Ryan's appearance, I urge caution. Bad boys might be enticing but, mark my words, Ryan is a mistake you cannot afford.

You can learn more about Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters here.

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