There’s been lots and lots of talk about Romney’s positions on women, especially his anecdote about seeking out “binders full of women” when appointing people to state positions as governor (which by the way turned out to be false). Frankly, I don’t have time to get into everything Romney has said about women, or his flip flopping and double talk about things like insurance coverage of contraception or whether he would work to outlaw abortion. And frankly, lots of other people out there are addressing these things, so it’s not like I have to. But I do want to touch on a couple of Romney’s comments, one from last night, one from a couple of weeks ago, and a third from a couple of months ago.
Mitt Romney and June Cleaver
The first quote deals with women in the workforce:
“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 being 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.” (source)
This comment really bugs me because it’s so close and yet so far – and also because Romney seems to think that he hits it out of the park when he says this kind of thing, which is telling. In one sense, his comment sounds totally fine. He’s right, moms should be allowed to have flexible hours. I totally agree. But I don’t think that moms need flexible hours because they are moms, and that’s where Romney goes awry. Moms need flexible hours because they are parents. And dads need flexible hours too.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: We need to move away form making this a mom issue and toward making it a parent issue. Only then can we actually achieve equality in the workforce. As it is, male employers look at women with children and assume that they will need extra allowances men won’t need (not that that means they’ll necessarily give those allowances). If we could approach parenting equally – as an equal commitment of both mother and father – then we could move away from this and move in a positive direction. Parents need things like flexible schedules. Both parents, male and female. If I am given allowances, I don’t want it to be because of my gender, I want it to be because I’m a parent, and I want my husband to be given those same allowances as well (of course, the fact that only cis women and trans men can be pregnant or breastfeed does mean there will have to be a few differences early on).
And more and more, families do approach parenting equally. Men and women share the housework and the child rearing. But somehow I don’t feel like Mitt realizes this, perhaps because he’s never experienced it. Instead, he assumes that his female staffer with children needs allowances that he wouldn’t allow a male staffer with children. He assumes that his female staffer needs a flexible schedule because she needs to do mom things like cooking and child care, not because she’s a parent.
As other commenters have suggested, Romney appears to look at his female staffer and see June Cleaver. Well, Mr. Romney, I am not June Cleaver. And nor are the vast majority of women today.
Kids need a stay at home parent…
The second comment of Romney’s that got under my skin was this one, made in the context of a discussion about early childhood education and preparing children for kindergarten:
“It’s an advantage to have two parents, but to have one parent to stay closely connected and at home during those early years of education can be very very important.” (source)
Romney says it is “very very important” to have one parent stay home and not work during a child’s toddler and preschool years. First, kudos to Romney for not saying that it has to be the female parent, but I’m pretty sure he only avoided saying that out of political necessity and not because he really thinks all parents are created equal. I’m pretty sure that when he thinks of a parent being “closely connected and at home,” he’s thinking of a parent with lady parts. But let’s overlook that for a moment. While I’m, like I said above, all for making the stay at home mom issue into a stay at home parent issue, and I’m all for the growing number of stay at home dads, I have a big problem with this idea that a parent has to stay at home for those early years, or else the child is somehow going to be messed up or given the short shrift.
We put Sally in daycare not long after she learned how to walk, and Bobby will start daycare around the same time. I personally don’t think that being in daycare and now preschool has been “second best” for Sally, and Sean agrees with me. We went into the whole daycare thing a bit nervous as both Sean and I had stay at home moms, but Sean told me about six months ago that based on our experience he now thinks of daycare as a positive good rather than a necessary evil, and feels that daycare gives a child more advantages than staying home with a stay at home parent. Now every family and child is different and daycares vary in quality so I would never try to dictate our choices to others, but I can say with absolute confidence that Romney’s comment that having a stay at home parent is necessary and that daycare somehow automatically gives a child a short shrift is bullshit.
There’s another level on which Romney’s comment fails as well. Even though there are more and more and more stay at home dads these days, being a stay at home parent is still seen as more a mom’s responsibility than a dad’s responsibility. If a couple has a child and decides that one of them needs to stay home, their friends and family will generally assume that it will be the mother who will stay home, and it generally will be. So suggesting that kids who don’t have a stay at home parent will be messed up ends up being simply another way to lob guilt at working mothers. Indeed, when I heard this comment it was impossible not to read it as a personal attack. After all, this idea that working mothers are bad for children has a long history, and it is in this cultural context that people hear comments like Romney’s.
…but welfare moms better get a job
As I hear Romney’s comments and compare them to other comments he has made, I’m struck more and more by his classism.
“While I was governor,” Romney said, “85 percent of the people on a form of welfare assistance in my state had no work requirement. I wanted to increase the work requirement. I said, for instance, that even if you have a child two years of age, you need to go to work. And people said, ‘Well that’s heartless,’ and I said ‘No, no, I’m willing to spend more giving daycare to allow those parents to go back to work. It’ll cost the state more providing that daycare, but I want the individuals to have the dignity of work.’” (source)
Reading this statement in which Romney argues that mothers of small children on welfare need the “dignity of work” and should be required to work and put their kids in daycare side by side with his statement that it is “very very important” that one parent “stay closely connected and at home” during a child’s early years is flabbergasting. It simply doesn’t make sense. If everyone needs “the dignity of work,” then why in the world does he place so much importance on having a stay at home parent? And what about Anne Romney? She never had a job outside the home – which is what he’s saying mothers who take welfare need – so was she robbed of “the dignity of work?”
Romney appears to believe that middle and upper class mothers should stay at home with their children but that poor mothers better work. Poor mothers need “the dignity of work,” but middle and upper class mothers don’t. This is so twisted and wrong it’s making my head hurt. Either people – all people – need “the dignity of work,” or Romney’s claim that this is why he wants mothers on welfare to be forced to get jobs is a smokescreen.
I honestly think it makes it worse that Romney is clearly trying, and yet still falling so short on these issues. He intentionally says that a “parent” needs to stay home with the kids, not that mothers need to, and he trumpets the fact that he gave a woman on his staff extra flexibility so that she could go home to cook and care for her children, but he doesn’t realize that he’s still reinforcing the ideas that working mothers are bad for children and should be expected to pull a double shift, both of which are ideas we need to do away with for once and for all. But the fact that Romney thinks he scores when he says these things means he’s really out of touch with the needs and lives of women like me.
There’s also the fact that he can talk about the importance of having two parents and tout the importance of marriage while refusing to allow gay people to marry. Romney is all for families … so long as they’re his “approved” type of families. Gay families don’t count, and as we learned last night he sees single parents as a cause of gun violence. Oh, and families that are on welfare don’t seem to be approved either, so you better not get too poor if you want to be on Romney’s good side. For Romney, the “approved” type of family is the two parent, opposite gender, not-in-poverty family where one parent stays home when the children are small and the lady parent always cook supper. And that’s simply not the reality for my family, or for the vast majority of American families.
The reality is that Mitt Romney comes across as horribly out of touch every time the word “women” comes out of his mouth.
Note: I’d like to invite my readers to use the comments section to discuss not only what I’ve written about here but also to bring up and discuss other statements made by Mitt Romney on women’s issues. Depending on how the discussion goes, I may copy and past some of your comments offering additional Romney quotes and analyses to the bottom of this post.