That Mitt Romney, when he became governor of Massachusetts, did not know a sufficient number of women leaders in business and politics to appoint women he knew or knew about to positions in the state government is troublesome, says Mary Ann Dzuback, PhD, director of the Program in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.
It is also not surprising, she says. “He worked in a field in which women have struggled for decades to rise above the glass ceiling. The world of finance can be a brutal world for women, particularly if they do not have strong mentors in the work place. Gov. Romney did not have the opportunity to know women as equal colleagues in his world of business.
“The women with whom he most frequently interacted up to that point were women in his personal life — his wife, mother, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren, as well as women of his faith. As governor, he was approached by a women’s group to accept their suggestions for women to serve in Massachusetts government; this was not an initiative of his own.”
Dzuback says Romney’s insularity is deeply problematic for someone who claims to understand women and their lives, experiences, and needs.“Women make up more than half the nation’s population, an increasing proportion of the work force, more than half of college graduates, and head the majority of single-parent households. His assertion of fitness for the presidency, when he has no real grasp of women’s struggles outside his own religious acquaintance and social class, is also troublesome.
“His reference to ‘women in binders’ is a clear sign of his disconnectedness from working with real women leaders as equals in public life. He named only a single woman he worked with and glossed over the fact that many left by the end of his governorship,” she says.
And don’t buy Romney’s argument for flexible work places to accommodate workers’ multiple commitments, she says. “That would be laudable, except that he only used that term in reference to women who claimed to need time to cook and care for their families.
“Did men express these needs as well? Would he have granted such flexibility at Bain? Does he believe American corporations and small businesses should develop flexible work schedules? If so, why haven’t they already done so on a large scale? Would he be willing to use regulatory policies as a means to encourage companies to do so?”
Finally, Dzuback says Romney’s tone deafness to the poor and struggling working-class individuals and families belies his claim to understand the populations most deeply affected by reduced local and state government assistance, cutbacks in federal support for unemployment and medical care, and reductions in wages and hours by businesses in the U.S.
“He has never had to worry a day in his life about economic survival — for himself, his children, or the women in his family. He does not know what it means to need a temporary safety net to help individuals and families deal with economic, medical, and environmental circumstances beyond their control.
“In short, he has no training, preparation, or experience with real economic need and basic survival assistance, no way of identifying with the women who do at one point or another in their lives,” Dzuback says.
Read Dzuback’s comments on key women’s issues in this election.
Editor’s note: Dzuback is available for taped and live-remote interviews via the university’s broadcast studio, which is equipped with high-definition, broadcast-quality audio (ISDN) and video (vyvx) transmission lines.