Week in Review

Women and the Battle for Votes in 2012

Mallory Huard ’13

This week, claims from Republican candidate Mitt Romney about working women in the United States have sparked great controversy as the fight for female votes in the 2012 presidential election heats up. When the center of attention of the Republican primaries shifted to women’s issues like reproductive rights, candidate Rick Santorum and pundit Rush Limbaugh took stances that pushed many independent women voters to side with President Obama. In November, it is likely that women will make up 53 percent of the electorate, making them important voters in the election and the current focus in Romney vs. Obama. In an effort to swing female voters away from Obama, Romney asserted that 92.3 percent of the jobs lost during Obama’s presidency were held by women.

According to PolitiFact, a non-partisan fact checking organization, these claims are “mostly false.” Because the economic recession began more than a year before Obama came to office, this statistic ignores the bigger picture. The first wave of job cuts hit male-dominated fields like construction and manufacturing. Later, state budget cut-backs meant that educators, who are mostly women, were among the next to lose their jobs. Overall, male and female workers have suffered equal losses in the recession. On Sunday morning, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner fired back at Romney by saying this figure is “misleading and ridiculous” when he appeared on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Republicans also pounced on a comment from Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen who said that Romney’s wife, Ann, had “never worked a day in her life.” While Rosen was scolded by Obama and his chief strategists, Republicans took Rosen’s statement to show that Democrats are prejudiced against stay-at-home mothers. Romney said that he believes all mothers were working women even if they have no employment outside the home. With his new campaign slogan “Moms drive the economy” appearing on bumper stickers, Romney hopes to appeal to mothers for whom being a mother is their only job. However, his stance on women who do not work outside the home has not always been so clear-cut. When Romney was governor, he increased the work requirements of welfare assistance recipients (called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF in Massachusetts) so that individuals would understand the “dignity of work.” For those signing up for TANF,  mostly poor mothers, being a stay-at-home mom did not fill the work requirement. Bill Clinton signed this policy into national law as well in 1996. This law has seen some success because the number of single mothers living in poverty is lower than ever before and labor participation has increased.

Despite the successes of this legislation, TANF, Social Security, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics all do not officially consider parenting work. After Rosen’s comment, Ann Romney tweeted that raising five boys at home was “hard work.” But for poor mothers, parenting is not enough work. Many have called into question the types of stay-at-home moms that Romney really cares about and others see it as another example of the candidate’s inconsistency. Whether or not parenting is considered “work” is not the most important issue; it is the role that women have in the 2012 election that is of concern.

While the 2008 election represented monumental progress for female candidates, the current election produced no major female potentials. However, women will play an important role this November when it comes to the polls. Furthermore, Romney’s controversial statement about women and unemployment also shows marked improvement from the debates around reproductive rights that dominated the Republican primaries. For women to be taken seriously as economic contributors and voters is important in this election and the four years to come.