Unless you've been living under a rock, you've heard Romney's doozy about his "binders full of women" from which to select qualified "folks" for his gubernatorial cabinet posts. Reactions were swift, angry and pretty snarky, spawning caricatures, a Facebook page and even a Twitter hashtag. His comment was awkward, politically tone deaf and worse, misleading.
Still, much of the reaction has been over-hyped and even silly, detracting from discussions of the meatier issues facing women and families and how the next President will tackle them.
Moments after his "binders" blunder came another exchange that was far more deserving of outcry and indignation. It reveals, yet again, Romney's antiquated view of women and highlights a simple fact: He just doesn't get it.
Here's the line that should be causing a dustup. Speaking about his female chief of staff, Romney said the following. (Emphasis added)
I recognized that if you're going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said: 'I can't be here until 7 or 8 o'clock at night. I need to be able to get home at 5 o'clock so I can be there for making dinner for my kids and be with them when they get home from school.' So we said fine. Let's have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you."
Let's take a closer look, shall we? First, the opener: "If you're going to have women in the workforce..." Seriously, Mitt, "if"? Women in the workforce are a fact. It's not an "if" or some recent occurrence that has the potential to be undone. His phrasing smacks of something straight out of bygone era, when "women entering the workplace," was even something to be debated. The workforce is not some large establishment that we've hastily or covertly infiltrated. In fact, when has there ever been a time when we don't "have women in the workforce" in some significant capacity?
On to "making dinner." Now, an employee's desire to be home for her kids at dinner and bedtime is entirely reasonable. But here's the problem. This desire has nothing inherently to do with being female. The "flexible schedule" Romney concludes that his employee needs should be something offered to all parents who seek that evening time with their families. By implication, Romney is saying that it's women who need the professional flexibility to cook for kids, tuck them in and generally "be home with them" in the evening. Are these duties not within the purview of the father as well?
Again Mr. Romney, you simply do not get it. Your comments reveal your worldview and for women, it's just offensive. Consider the facts:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up nearly half of the U.S. labor force. In 2011, women further comprised 51.4% of management, professional and related positions. The labor force participation rate for parents with children under the age of 18 was 70.8% for women. We are not some negligible contingent requiring special consideration. We are the workforce. It must work for all of us.
What do working women really need? Equal pay. President Obama's first piece of signed legislation was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 1999. Mr. Romney, do you support equal pay for women? The question remains unanswered beyond a campaign spokesman's claim that as president, Romney "would not repeal the law." We do know that Romney opposed the bill while it was being debated. Wow.
So Mitt, as women bear (at least) half the workload in this country, climb up into the ranks of Fortune 500 leadership, assume more board directorships and yes, even cabinet posts, you still question whether we deserve equal pay? Your view of women in the workforce is outdated and inaccurate at best, demeaning and dangerous at worst. The fictional world of Mad Men is something of the past. With perspectives like yours, "mad women" should be our future.