Romney debate answer on women reveals mindset

During the second presidential debate, Mitt Romney tried to appeal to women when asked a question on pay equity. His response was one of the more laughable of the night.

Romney said he was dismayed, after being elected governor of Massachusetts, that his staff was failing to put forward any names of women for his cabinet. He said he insisted that they find some suitable female nominees, and so they brought him “binders full of women.”

I wonder about the lack of creativity and diversity among the insiders he gathered in 2002 who supposedly couldn’t find qualified women in Boston — an intellectual and cultural mecca. The concept of women in leadership seems to have been utterly incomprehensible to them. Will that frat-boy sensibility prevail in a Romney presidency?

And anyway, the question he was asked was about pay equity in the workplace, not about diversity on his staff.

In 2011, full-time working women in the United States typically earned just 77 percent of what men earned, according to a study by the American Association of University Women. It’s better than when the Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963, but the gap is still hurting families.

“In typical married households, women’s incomes accounted for 36 percent of total family income in 2008,” the association reports. “About one-third of employed mothers are the sole breadwinners for their families.”

Reduced pay for women can lead to a variety of problems for families with children, including substandard housing, malnutrition and fewer educational opportunities.

Romney was out of touch because he has never had to deal with the consequences of gender inequality. This is not solely because he’s a man, but because he’s a man of considerable means whose mind has been fixated on shareholder value.

Romney makes it sound as if co-founding Bain Capital was akin to opening a mom-and-pop candy company in a tiny kitchen in South Boston. The relationship between Bain Capital and Bain Co. would be analogous to an already wealthy and influential group of male partners starting a candy company with the assistance of Hershey. If he closed Bain Capital, a step considered early in the firm’s infancy, Romney would not have been sleeping at a shelter, clipping coupons, collecting cans and shopping at Goodwill.

By contrast, women who work out of necessity find themselves not in a binder but in a bind. When bad business decisions happen, they’re not fortunate enough to fall back on lunches at the Harvard Club or playing a brisk round of golf for career advancement.

Romney failed to give a good answer to the pay equity question because he has never faced what many American women across the spectrum know to be the truth: The glass ceiling is intact, there is still a pay gap and the uterus is the target of employment policies and decisions in meeting rooms, locker rooms and Capitol Hill.

Romney needs a new binder, not filled with women but with compassionate policies toward women.

Fred McKissack Jr. is a former Progressive magazine editor and editorial writer who lives in Fort Wayne, Ind. He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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