The facts are pretty surprising.
Controversy over women’s issues in the 2012 presidential campaign exploded this week when Mitt Romney claimed that Obama is engaging in a “War on Women” –the same term Obama has leveled at Romney for controversial statements about Planned Parenthood, the GOP’s perception by female voters, etc.
A recent Gallup Poll revealed that Obama leads by 18 points among female voters in swing states, and a Washington Post/ABC News Poll found that most voters (regardless of gender) trusted Obama more with handling “women’s issues.”
But what is a “women’s issue” in a presidential campaign? As a woman, I reject the notion that issues like abortion and the morning after pill are exclusively ”women’s issues.” I reject even more the notion that these are the only issues women care about, and that all women voters are somehow mysteriously pro-choice and vote the same. (I myself am pro-choice, but I most definitely do not consider my many close female friends who are not pro-choice to be any less a “friend to women.”)
The question of “who is waging the war on women” certainly concerns traditionally categorized “women’s issues,” but I was pleased to see the Romney campaign broaden the conversation this week. Here is a quick run through of recent events:
Obama originally claimed Romney engaged in a “War on Women” citing several reasons:
- Romney’s continued pledge to pull all federal funding for Planned Parenthood once in office. Not only does Planned Parenthood provide abortion services, it provides cancer screenings and other health services.
- Romney’s stance that religious institutions need not be forced to provide abortion or contraceptive services in their health insurance plans.
- Romney’s current pro-life stance (in spite of being pro-choice as governor of MA)
Additionally, the Obama campaign jumped all over Romney’s response (or lack of) response when questioned about the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which is designed to facilitate worker’s lawsuits over gender-based pay disparities. But as far as I can tell, the Romney campaign just declined to take a divisive stance on it because they probably weren’t familiar with the act itself. All his policy director said was “We’ll get back to you on that” , and Romney has been quoted saying he supports pay equity.
In response to the Obama campaign, Romney retaliated by highlighting several key economic statistics, arguing that “92% of jobs lost during the recession belonged to women” –An astounding statistic that not surprisingly has garnered a lot of inquiry into its methodology. Because of this, Romney argued that the economic policies adopted by the Obama administration “turned the clock back 20 years on women.”
Equally surprising this week were recent records by the Washington Free Beacon revealing a pay disparity in the Obama White House, based off numbers provided by an annual report. The article concludes that female colleagues make on average less than their male colleagues–a whopping 18% less, as it turns out (M $71,000 per annum; F $60,000). However, the article does not say whether these averages were taken from women and men in comparable positions.
…And this is not to mention the true icing on the cake for this whole mess–Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen arguing on Anderson Cooper 360 that Ann Romney “actually never worked a day in her life”
I applaud the Romney campaign for broadening the conversation about which issues “affect women,” and showing leadership to critically look at how women fared during the last administration. Looking ahead, I am interested to see how 2012 voters view each party’s commitment to “women’s issues,” regardless of their gender.