Between Biden’s “unhinged” laugh and Romney’s stab at Big Bird, the 2012 presidential debates have been a boon for political comedians. Among the various gaffes, Mitt Romney’s comment about his “binders of women” has inspired countless commentaries in traditional and social media. Yet, for all the buzz, Romney’s actual answer about pay equity for women went largely unscrutinized.
In his response, Romney makes two points. One, he cites his cabinet-staffing experience as evidence for creating workplace equity for women, claiming that he was able to recruit women based on his flexible work plans which allowed mothers to go home at 5pm to make dinner for their children. Two, he claims that the road to work and pay equity for women lies in an economy so strong that employers would be “anxious” to hire women.
There is something fundamentally wrong about this vision. One, the answer to workplace equity for women is not to create a labour demand so high that women must work, but it is to create an environment where women are desired no matter what the demand. Women should be just as desirable as men in every economic condition, not just in ones where they are needed as “surplus”. Women are not substitutes.
Two, the answer to workplace equity for women is not to give women differential treatment for being mothers – it is about giving women equal treatment for being parents. Work-life balance should not be “special treatment” for women; it should be a gender-neutral policy, such as the one enacted by Sweden.
Romney’s comment about his “binders of women” not only exposes his blasé attitude towards the issue, but it makes one wonder if he even understands it at all. Does he really understand it if he phrased the urgency in terms of “making dinner”?