If you happened to turn on the Republican convention the other night in the middle of Ann Romney's speech, you might've been surprised to hear what sounded like the wife of the Republican presidential candidate coming out of the closet. She screamed, "I love you, women!" And the crowd of presumably conservative Republicans applauded! You may have concluded that the Republican Party has come a long way toward tolerance and respect for all women.
Of course, that was not the case. Her speech, an effort to court women voters, seemed like something from the Leave It To Beaver era. She was clearly alluding to the "wife who stays at home with the children, the husband who goes to work and is not very involved with the kids" kind of family. She told us that it's the mothers who hold the family -- and the country -- together. "It's the moms who always have to work a little harder, to make everything right."
What about the dads? Nobody at the convention seemed to care about fathers not being viewed as particularly necessary. To them, the important thing was to get the message out that Republicans think that women are just great.
It didn't matter to the people there that she didn't talk much about working mothers, or specifically about families in which the husband stays home and the wife goes to work. No, her comments were about what I'm sure many conservatives embrace as the "traditional" roles of men and women. Perhaps that was an accurate reflection of American families -- in 1957.
This attitude is quite consistent with the Republican platform and positions on gender issues. Republicans can be against things like paying for birth control for women and legislation that would ensure equal pay in the workplace because those positions come from values from that bygone era that they want to revert to.
The convention may have avoided Hurricane Isaac, but the storm that they can't get away from is the one caused by Missouri Congressman Todd Akin. When he talked about "legitimate rape" and a woman being able to avoid getting pregnant just by "shutting down" if she wants to, even most conservative Republicans thought he went too far.
The goofy concept that women can just will themselves to avoid pregnancy is a pretty appealing theory. Not only would this render abortions unnecessary, but women wouldn't need to use birth control, either. They could just let their bodies decide if they want to get pregnant or not. And if this works for pregnancy, what about the common cold? If women just concentrated a little harder, you'd never see them sniffle again.
Akin was pressured into an apology, and he gave one. Sort of. He said, "The mistake I made was in the words I said, not in the heart I hold." I wonder what the proper words would have been for "legitimate rape" and a woman's body "shutting down" to avoid pregnancy.
I guess it was the wording, not his sentiments that outraged so many Republicans, because a great number of his Republican brothers and sisters share his opinions. The vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, and many Republicans agree with Akin that rape does not justify abortion. They are entitled to this opinion. However, I don't understand why they think it's okay to get the government involved in making their opinion the law.
Because of the reaction to Akin and to Mitt Romney's low polling numbers among women, there has been a great effort to show the country that Republicans really do like "the ladies." However, they've also created some confusion. Since Akin's comments, Republicans have gone out of their way to say how wonderful women are. They are extraordinary human beings capable of far more things than their male counterparts. Yet, if they are so special to the point that, as Ann Romney said, "women hold the country together," why can't they be trusted to make their own decisions about their bodies?