role of women

Give Romney a Break

Although the Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates last for 90 minutes, the tendency of the media, both professional and social, is to single out a sound bite as if it is the only thing worth remembering. As if one sound bite, however clever, is a sufficient reason to vote for someone, or a misspoken comment sufficient reason not to. That would be true only if the sound bite actually had meaning, such as indicating a policy or unmasking a candidate’s true position.

In one sense the candidates, themselves, are to blame with their incessant need to seem cleverer than their opponents, waiting for that precise moment to spring a well-rehearsed “zinger”. Even worse, the candidates’ desire to pander to the voters leaves everyone hoping for a glaring error. In truth, no candidate has ever waffled as much or pandered as much as Mitt Romney. That reality is probably the source of so many of his misstatements. Still, that does not mean that each error should be turned into ridicule.

For example, in last Tuesday’s town hall debate, Romney dodged the question of equal pay for women, refusing to indicate whether or not he supported the Lilly Ledbetter Act. Instead, he referenced his time as Governor of Massachusetts, and spoke of creating flexible hours for one female employee so that she could go home and fix dinner. In the aftermath, he has been skewered by pundits with the claim that he does not respect the equality of women; that he possesses a 1950’s mentality on the role of women in society.

That accusation is supported by the fact that there were no women in positions of authority at Bain Capital when Romney ran the company. The accusation is intensified in Romney’s implication that he did not know of any qualified women to work in Massachusetts’ government. Many commentators have suggested that Mitt Romney has a problem with women, but that is exactly where he deserves a break. It is not his fault.

Most people do not want to address the real issue. However, before I address it let me point out that I have written in the past that a person’s religion should not determine his or her fitness for office. Nonetheless, it must be noted that Mitt Romney is a Mormon. Like many religions, including the Christian Faith, Mormons have a checkered history when it comes to women.

Time for full disclosure: I am a Catholic and my own Church has not always had a stellar position on women. Women are denied priesthood in the Catholic Church—a position I disagree with and find theologically untenable. On the other hand, many women hold significant positions of authority in the Church. Throughout history women have been some of the Catholic Church’s finest theologians, mystics and missionaries.

The position of the Mormon Church, however, is “woman’s primary place is in the home, where she is to rear children and abide by the righteous counsel of her husband.” That is more than just patriarchal. It is not quite as demeaning or obnoxious as the phrase “barefoot and pregnant,” but it is not far behind.

To be fair, women may also serve as missionaries in the Mormon Church. It is rare, and unlike the men, women are “not invited” to serve, but they are “welcome.” In the rare case of women missionaries, they are accepted only if they have no immediate marriage prospects. Even then it is expected that missionary work will make them better wives and mothers—their true mission in life.

The Mormon Church is driven by the belief that a woman’s place is in the home. So the real question for Mitt Romney is whether he truly respects the role of women in the work place or in government. Does he respect the opinion, decision and work of women legislators, or if he is merely pandering to win election. Now there’s a thought! But I digress.

Mitt Romney is understandably committed to and proud of his faith. As President Obama put it at the end of the debate: “I believe that Mitt Romney is a good man. He loves his family and cares for his faith.” Indeed. But the President’s esteem also misses the mark.

Romney appears to have that blind commitment to faith that does not permit him to question any tenets of his church, no matter how absurd or out of touch. That blind commitment that does not permit him to seek changes in church theology. That blind commitment that does not permit him to think for himself. That blind commitment that enables him to believe men are superior to women.

Mitt Romney does, indeed, have a problem with women, but it is not his fault.