We couldn’t start November, just ahead of the US elections, without looking at the air-time the issues of equal pay and the recognition female breadwinners received at the second presidential debate. During the evening, a question was raised about how each candidate would address the issue of pay equity — “specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn.”
President Obama recounted the problems his grandmother had as a working woman and the glass ceiling. He outlined why the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was one of the first bills he signed into law as president. He specifically discussed how vital female breadwinners are to the economy.
Romney, on the other hand, gave a rambling response that has spawned the “binders full of women” meme that went viral on Twitter and Facebook. As discussed in the Guardian by Tom Meltzer: “The delicious irony is that the phrase was supposed to show us Romney the feminist. Romney explained : ‘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.”
Metzer continued “Instead, he managed to conjure an image confirming every feminist’s worst fears about a Romney presidency; that he views women’s rights in the workplace as business admin; to be punched, filed and popped on a shelf. Worse still, it was irrelevant to the question he’d actually been asked, about pay inequality. And, according to several fact-checkers, untrue. He didn’t ask for a list of suitable female candidates at all. The list was compiled before he even took office. It wasn’t just a gaffe: it was a Freudian slip, a filibuster and a falsehood.
It also wasn’t even the daftest part of his answer. That would have to be this bizarre promise: “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.”
So anxious, they’ll hire women. Subtext: so desperate, they’ll hire anyone. Even you, ladies. The implication being that in Romney’s dream economy employers will grind their teeth and chew their nails until, in a lengthy silence at the tenth tense board meeting, one brave executive tentatively suggests “Guys, I hate to say it, but I think we need to hire people without penises.”
Romney later discusses flexiblity in the workplace, but again showed the simplistic way he thinks about the ‘needs’ of working women. As Morra Aarons-Mele, of Women Online explained in the Huffington Post, “Romney went on to talk about how he believes in greater workplace flexibility for women. “Wow! I thought, are we really talking about workplace flexibility issues in a national debate? But my hopes came crashing down.
Romney said: “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.”
I get what he’s saying — as a working mom myself, I often feel guilty when I can’t be with my kids as much as I’d like or when I’m too busy at work to get home in time to cook dinner. But let’s please not insinuate that women need flexibility so that they can leave work early to go home to cook and clean. “If you’re going to have women in the workforce you need to be more flexible” is akin to saying “If women are going to work in addition to doing the jobs they’re ‘supposed’ to be doing, you need to be more flexible.”
The majority of American families are composed of two breadwinners — two parents who both have paying jobs. Where one parent used to hold a paying job while the other was responsible primarily for the home and family, both parents now work and divvy up childcare and household chores, which can cause conflict between work and home duties. Moms and dads are equally capable of making dinner and getting the kids from school, so why do we need to single out women as needing flexibility?
Flexibility is not a women’s issue — nor should it be. Too often, women enter the workforce and work just as many hours as their husbands, but find themselves still bearing the majority of domestic responsibilities.” Increasingly, men who are contributing domestically are feeling the strain too. I hear this from many of the men with whom I work – they want to be more hands on than their dads were with them and so need flexibility as much as their female partners.
As Aarons-Mele explains: “If we focus only on giving women flexibility, we perpetuate the idea that while women can hold jobs, they are still the ones who should be responsible for taking care of children and home. Cracking the glass ceiling isn’t just about making sure women have opportunities to work and receive equal pay and fair treatment, it’s about women and men taking on equal responsibilities in all areas of life.”