As Big Bird was the takeaway from the first presidential debate, “binders full of women” was the takeaway from the second. Many people have had funny things to say in response – although none will top this piece of Internet awesome. But let’s get serious today. Last night was the first debate in which women’s issues were a centerpiece, and as much as it kills me to admit this, there are still such things as “women’s issues” in 2012. But let’s go through them all:
Pay equity: The audience member who brought this up asked what each candidate would do to close the wage gap; neither answered. President Obama talked about what he had done, namely the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which gave women more room to sue for equal pay, which isn’t really the same thing. Former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) didn’t address the wage gap at all. I guarantee that if a woman with a libertarian streak were onstage that night, she would have encouraged women to negotiate for higher salaries and stop relying on legislation.
Female recruiting: Ah, yes, here comes the Pander Express once again! You might consider it “progress” that Romney brought up the idea of actively seeking out more female hires and didn’t make a meritocratic counter-argument, which I would have done. But his claim that all those binders actually led to more female hires are dubious, depending on your standards. In any event, not only is this irrelevant to the pay equity question, but it sounds uncomfortably like “Some of my best friends are black.”
Flexible hours: This is where Romney hooked me. The federal government’s freedom to incentivize this is limited, but flextime, along with on-site child care and improved parental leave, are excellent ways to make all parents pursue positions with greater responsibility. The challenge is paying for these without irritating their co-workers who aren’t parents. But at least someone is thinking about these things.
Contraception: Of course, having this provided by employers might offset any of the above-noted irritation. On this, Obama has infinitely more credibility. Did you immediately think “flip-flop” when you heard Romney say “Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives” on Tuesday? You’re not alone. To be fair, though, if elected to the presidency, I don’t expect that Romney would make a concerted effort to restrict contraceptive access. But what about the people he appoints?
Romney won on women’s issues with me solely because he mentioned things I’ve been screaming about for years. But his win would have been more meaningful if he brought it around to this theme: “The government can only do so much to level the playing field for women and men. The women I know don’t need them to do more.”