Women are important. That was the message on Day 1 of the general election campaign. Just how we are seen as important seems to change depending on the message of the day. Now, the issue of economic inequality and class is being played out through the women's lens. Gender roles are shifting almost too quickly for us to keep up with and this affects some of most complex issues we face as a society. First it was reproductive health, now it's women, men and money. These issues are ones we struggle with as people and as couples, and they are being played out on Day 2 of the general election.
What I call the Role/Reboot is happening -- has been happening -- and we are now watching as these seismic shifts in gender roles in the home and workplace collide with politics and public policy. Though we've seen many, many hateful attacks on women from the right, the left is not totally blameless. Yesterday, CNN commentator and Democrat Hilary Rosen waded into the muck by suggesting that Ann Romney "had not worked a day in her life" because she had opted stay home to take care of her kids, instead of holding a paying job. Ann Romney, in recent weeks, has made a number of comments regarding women's support of her husband and women's concerns about the economy (as opposed to reproductive issues). Rosen posited that Romney was not qualified to make these claims because of her of her lack of work experience.
Underlying every single argument about women in this election is the issue of class. Ann Romney, the privileged mother of five versus women who "have" to work for pay. Being the wife of a public figure, a corporate king, is a full time job. Add five children into the mix, and you're exhausted. All of a sudden, we're not talking about policies that greatly impact women -- we're fighting about the value of the many different kinds of work women do. We're dragging each other down. And now we're giving the right the perfect opportunity to further implement policies that harm women while the news cycle is focused on whether or not Ann Romney's work as a stay-at-home mom qualifies as a "real" job.
Earlier this week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker quietly repealed the 2009 Equal Pay Enforcement Act, which allowed individuals to pursue damages from employers via the state courts. The Act protected against pay discrimination based not only on gender, but on sexual orientation, age, race, ability, and religious affiliation as well. One outspoken advocate for repeal of the act is Wisconsin state senator Glenn Grothman. Grothman reports that "money is more important to men" because men have families they must provide for. Regardless, he argues there is no wage gap, that the 77 cents women earn for every dollar men make is just bad math. His source? Ann Coulter.
The next day, Mitt Romney staffers on a conference call argued that Republican policies aren't hurting women -- it's President Obama's policies that are doing the damage. According to the campaign, 92% of the jobs lost during the recession have been jobs women held -- and this is Obama's fault for not fixing the economy. When asked for specifics, not one staffer could give a straight answer. When asked about Romney's position on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act -- the first piece of legislation President Obama signed in 2009, which aids women seeking damages for pay discrimination -- an unnamed campaign staffer on the call said he'd have to get back to them.
Last week, I argued that the Republican War on Women isn't just about sexual health; it's about economic issues that happen to encompass sexual health. Access to birth control isn't just about whether or not your pharmacy carries it; it's about whether or not you can afford it. As the president said last week to the White House Council on Women and Girls, these "aren't just women's issues. They are family issues: they are economic issues; they are growth issues. They are issues about American economic competitiveness. They are issues that affect all of us." These issues are also issues gender roles that are shifting so quickly we can barely keep up.