By now much hay has been made about Mitt Romney’s response about pay equity for women in this Tuesday’s debate. I’m going to make some more!
Throughout this discussion, I’ll be drawing directly from the official transcripts posted on the Commission on Presidential Debates’ website.
The question, posed first to Obama was “In what new ways do you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?” The President answered, and then Crowley followed up with: “Governor Romney, pay equity for women?”
What followed was nothing short of fascinating. It included lies, evasions, condescension and anachronisms. Let’s dig in.
Romney began his response with an anecdote having nothing to do with pay equity and which by most accounts was at best an exaggeration and at worst an outright lie.
An important topic, and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men.
And I — and I went to my staff, and I said, “How come all the people for these jobs are — are all men.” They said, “Well, these are the people that have the qualifications.” And I said, “Well, gosh, can’t we — can’t we find some — some women that are also qualified?”
And — and so we — we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet.
I went to a number of women’s groups and said, “Can you help us find folks,” and they brought us whole binders full of women.
Yes, this was the now infamous “binders full of women” line that exploded all over the Internet. But that isn’t the most important part. He wasn’t being honest! By his account, Romney was a hero, specifically seeking out qualified female candidates for his cabinet. The truth is, the process of placing females in his administration was begun even before the election, by a group known called Massachusetts Government Appointments Project (MassGAP). MassGAP was formed to address the shortage of women in high-ranking government positions in the state, and they reached out to both candidates prior to the election. The binders full of women were real, though.
“There were actual binders involved,” Levin [chairperson of MassGAP at the time] said. “Big binders. They were big. It was before stuff was done, like it is now, electronically.”
Romney appointed his incoming (female) lieutenant governor Kerry Healey to work with the group, and he did make an effort to hire more women. In the beginning he increased the number of women in high-ranking positions. But by the end of his term, that number fell below what it was before he took office.
Moving on, Romney continued:
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.
Oh, boy. “…if we’re going to have women in the workforce…”. Umm, if? I thought having women in the workforce has been pretty much established for decades now. OK, so if we’re going to have women in the workforce, we need to be more flexible, because they need to get home to take care of their kids and cook dinner for their husbands. Right. I watched an episode of Mad Men (from season 1) the next day, and it occurred to me that Mitt Romney seems to be living in the wrong decade.
I’m not knocking a flexible schedule, but it’s nowhere close to an answer to the question, and the idea that only women need it, so they can take care of their kids and husbands, is anachronistic. This New York Times editorial asks some good follow up questions for Mitt:
Flexibility is a good policy. But what if a woman had wanted to go home to study Spanish? Or rebuild an old car? Or spend time with her lesbian partner? Would Mr. Romney have been flexible about that? Or if a man wanted similar treatment?
True equality is not satisfied by allowing the little lady to go home early and tend to her children.
Even worse, by implying that women can’t work as much as men and require more concessions (in terms of flexibility), he could be construed as tacitly condoning pay inequity!
Still not having answered the question, Romney continues:
We’re going to have to have employers in the new economy, in the economy I’m going to bring to play, that are going to be so anxious to get good workers they’re going to be anxious to hire women.
What we can do to help young women and women of all ages is to have a strong economy, so strong that employers that are looking to find good employees and bringing them into their workforce and adapting to a flexible work schedule that gives women opportunities that they would otherwise not be able to afford.
What’s he saying, exactly? Only he knows (if he even knows) but here’s my interpretation: The Romney economy (Romconomy?) is going to be so gosh-darned strong that there will so many jobs that employers won’t be able to find enough men to fill them. They’ll have to be flexible and hire some ladies. They won’t have a choice! What are these “opportunities they would otherwise not be able to afford”? Your guess is as good as mine.
All this rambling might make sense if the question was about the employment rate for women. But it wasn’t. In fact, if we look at the statistics from the BLS, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for women (aged 20+) in September 2012 is lower than that for men! It’s 7.0% for women compared to 7.3% for men! Granted, there are fewer women in the workforce than men (59.2% compared to 72.9%) but much (not all) of that is by choice. My point is that Romney seems to be addressing female unemployment, which is not an issue any more than it is for men. In fact, the unemployment rate for women has been lower than for men throughout the entirety of President Obama’s term (chart).
When prompted, he wraps up with “I’m going to help women in America get good work by getting a stronger economy and by supporting women in the workforce.” And the question of pay equity goes unanswered while he shares his very progressive views (for the 1960s) on women in the workplace.
So getting absolutely nothing about fair pay in his response, what can we get about his feelings on the subject from other sources? We’re wading into some muddy waters here.
Initially, after the debate a top Romney adviser, Ed Gillespie stated: “The governor would not repeal the Lilly Ledbetter Act. He was opposed to it at the time. He would not repeal it.” (Referring to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act–the first bill President Obama signed into law–that extended the statute of limitations for filing an equal-pay lawsuit to 180 days after each paycheck, rather than from the first occurrence.)
Later the campaign sent a statement correcting Gillespie’s previous statement: “I was wrong when I said last night Governor Romney opposed the Lily Ledbetter act. He never weighed in on it. As President, he would not seek to repeal it.” And in fact there is no record of Romney taking a stance on the act. The official opinion is thus no opinion, publicly. Last night MSNBC was playing a recording of a phone call from April in which a reporter asks a Romney rep about Lilly Ledbetter. After a significant pause, the response was “We’ll get back to you on that.” Hours later they did, stating only that Romney would not seek to repeal the act as president.
Romney has also failed to weigh in, despite numerous requests for him to do so, on the Paycheck Fairness Act that the President supports, and which is being blocked by Republicans in the Senate. The campaign will only state that Romney supports “pay equity for women”. Whether he truly supports legally enforcing it or as just some sort of Utopian ideal remains a mystery to this day.
Getting personal, my parents got divorced when I was quite young, after which I was raised first by my mom, then by my mom and step dad. I didn’t really appreciate my step dad for a long time (we now get along great, even though he and my mother have since divorced) so I was basically a mamma’s boy. I spent a lot of time with my mom and her friends, and even now have at least as many female friends as male. This has helped make me a fierce supporter of gender equality. It’s a topic that is near and dear to me, and I can’t sit quietly while candidate Romney spouts the kind of nonsense he did Tuesday night, while taking no substantive position on equality at all.
All we got from him during this debate were untruths, outdated (and condescending) notions of women in the workplace and nebulous promises to create more jobs for everyone, including women. Is that what we want from a president in 2012? Gosh, no.
BTW, while researching this post I came across this one (“Five reasons Mitt flunked with women during Tuesday’s debate“) by Derrick Clifton. He hits on some of the same things I did, and a couple I didn’t get to, including the bizarro single parents leads to gun violence claim, and Romney’s disrespect for moderate Candy Crowley. It’s worth a read if you aren’t already worn out (sorry, I know I’m verbose…).