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Mitt Romney’s three-ring faux pas might have gotten all the attention during last week's presidential debate, but it was hardly the most insensitive of his statements regarding women. To me, the worst was the second part of his response to audience member Katherine Fenton’s question, “In what new ways do you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?”
Romney first replied with the “binders full of women” comment, which is why folks could barely register (over the deafening tweeting) what he said next:
"I recognized that if you're going to have women in the workforce, that sometimes they 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 seven or eight at night. I need to be able to get home at five 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.’”
So Romney’s the type of guy who’s cool with letting a woman leave work two hours early to cook for her kids. And yes, that sounds likes a swell quality in a boss. But considering that, as president, Romney would be the boss of relatively few women, who cares what time he’d let them leave? And anyway, who really wants to work in a place where the women are allowed to leave early so they can mince garlic and dice tomatoes and brown onions? (If I left work at five I could roll out fresh pasta, too, but that’s not the point.)
How about letting the men leave at five to cook dinner for the kids? How about letting the men leave at five to cook dinner for the wives (or the husbands)? Better yet, how about this?
As for the not quite totally true fact that women earn 77 (not 72) cents for every dollar a man does: by Romney’s logic, it’s not the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that’s the solution. (It appears he’s not crazy about that particular piece of legislation.) Romney's solution to women earning less—and yes, I know I’m taking a bit of a leap here—is to expect them to work a little less. You know, so they can cook dinner.
As much as I love leaving work to cook dinner (mise en place is the closest I get to Zen meditation), I lean a little less toward the Anne-Marie Slaughter school of thought on the matter (“one of the advantages of being a woman in power was that I could help change the norms by deliberately talking about my children and my desire to have a balanced life”) than the Hillary Clinton one (“I can't stand whining”).
Regardless, I would never begrudge anyone who wants to cut out a little early to make dinner for the kids. I would, however, begrudge anyone who thinks that leaving work to make dinner for the kids is a women’s issue. It’s not. It’s a parents’ issue.
Read more from Debate Week, this week's Variations on a Theme: