Romney Should Stop Playing the Gender Card

by Heather Mac Donald

Ramesh debunks the political assumptions behind the Romney campaign’s craven effort to court the “women’s vote,” but he does not go far enough. Even if the women’s vote existed (Ramesh shows it to be largely a phantom), it would not be a good strategy to pursue it — at least as that pursuing is conventionally done. The distortions inflicted by delusional feminist grievance on this country’s core institutions — from workplaces to universities and the family — is enormous. It is therefore nauseating and infuriating to see the Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee so mindlessly ape the bromides of the feminist Left. That aping may proceed out of rankest political calculation and cynical opportunism, rather than true belief, but by feeding the feminist beast, the Republican strategists are only strengthening its lies and making it harder to combat them when they are directed against mainstream causes. 

Take the effort by the Republican National Committee to exploit a comment by former White House aide Anita Dunn about the allegedly female-unfriendly White House: 

If it weren’t for the president, [the White House] would be in court for a hostile workplace, [Dunn told Ron Suskind]. Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women. 

Republicans are giving credence to such tripe? What’s next — an RNC Title IX lawsuit against Ohio State University for its football program? Sensitivity training for Army drill sergeants? (Oh, wait, we’ve already got those.) Assigned readings for Republican precinct captains from In a Different Voice? The chance that the Obama White House, staffed by eager products of the feminist university, is a hostile workplace for women is exactly zero — as low as the chance that the Bush I, II, or Reagan White Houses were hostile to women. Any Republican who actually believes Dunn’s charge has merely allowed his partisan desire for political victory to silence what should be his core knowledge about the contemporary world. Was former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel too hard-driving? Oh, boo-hoo. Get over it, ladies! If you can’t take the pressure, you don’t belong. Only someone with a chip on her shoulder and a predilection for victimhood would think that an elite work environment such as the White House is “genuinely hostile” to women. Was it fiercely competitive? No doubt. And if feminists are now taking the position that women can’t take intense competitive pressure, that’s certainly a breakthrough for honesty. 

Equally dismaying is the RNC’s embrace of the charge that the Obama White House pays female aides less than male ones. Such disparate pay claims are of course bread and butter to the discrimination bar and are virtually always based on junk social science. But the likelihood that this particular employer — the immaculately “progressive” Obama White House — is discriminating against female employees of equal merit as males is just as crazy as the charge that Walmart, say, discriminates against qualified female employees in its own pay scale. Conservative critics of extortionist feminist legal claims cannot have it both ways — rightly decrying them when directed at free-market employers but embracing them when they are directed against political opponents. 

#more#As for the Romney campaign’s bizarre efforts to put a feminist spin on the recession and subsequent minimal recovery, what in the world are they getting at? First they charged that job losses since Obama took office have disproportionately affected women, now they’re claiming that job growth since the modest recovery began has disproportionately benefited men:

“No amount of spin by the Obama campaign can hide the enormous damage this president has done to American women,” [Romney's press secretary Andrea Saul wrote in an e-mail on Sunday]. “If they move the starting point to the beginning of their so-called recovery, they will find women have benefited from less than one-eighth of the meager job creation. The president should stop making excuses for his failures.”

The problem with these charges is not that they are factually wrong, as the White House claims, but that they are completely misguided. What would it mean for economic policy to pay attention to “gender,” as the Romney campaign apparently thinks it should? Women are undoubtedly overrepresented in government jobs and government-funded jobs, as Ramesh notes. Does that mean that Republicans shouldn’t cut big government? The Keystone Pipeline and other projects dear to the “drill, baby, drill” campaign will undoubtedly benefit male workers more than women. Should we therefore suspend domestic energy production until we figure out a way to shoehorn more women onto drilling rigs? And if the most certain way to make sure that women benefit more from the economic recovery would be to expand government hiring, should Republicans do so? 

Presumably press secretary Andrea Saul is employing a disparate-impact theory of discrimination here (accusing Obama of pursuing allegedly gender-neutral economic policies that nonetheless have a disparate impact on women), as opposed to making a disparate treatment claim (accusing Obama of deliberately discriminating against women in its various stimulus packages). Though who knows, she just may be desperate enough to attribute invidious intent to the Obama economics team. In any case, the Obama White House is already doing enough damage to schools and employers with its reinvigorated disparate-impact discrimination crusades (charging schools, for example, with discriminating against black students in their discipline policies), why are Republicans following the same playbook? 

I thought Republicans did not hesitate to stand up for the value of stay-at-home moms (see the Ann Romney–Hilary Rosen flap). The Romney campaign’s fanatical bean-counting of female jobs sounds like something that would come out of Ms. magazine. 

Romney’s jab at the Augusta National Golf Club for its all-male membership was just as gratuitous as Obama’s similar comment:

If I were a member and if I could run Augusta, which isn’t likely to happen . . . of course I’d have women in Augusta, sure. 

“Of course?” Is there no single American organization left that can be allowed to be all-male? Women have pushed their way into virtually every other institution, how about they now show the grace of the victor and call off the crusade. Granted, a golf club has less transcendent cultural value than the Vienna Philharmonic, say, which was the perennial target of NOW protests for years when it played in the U.S. until it scrapped its century-long tradition of male membership, but the principle of respect for tradition and the right of private association applies no less to Augusta. 

Romney is at his best when speaking from the heart about the power and beauty of the free market. He won me over in a debate with McCain during the last election, when he shot down McCain’s demagoguery about the evil profits of drug companies with the simple observation that pharmaceutical makers were bringing valuable products to market at considerable financial risk to themselves and should be rewarded for their efforts. If women’s votes can’t be won with such core truths, they’re not worth it. Romney should stick to a gender-blind defense of free enterprise, and leave the feminist fever dreams to the Democrats. 

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