As have many, I have also found myself thinking a lot about Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's "binders full of women" remark made during the Presidential debate this Tuesday, October 16, 2012. Besides the reportedly inherent inaccuracies of his statement, not to mention its characteristically “inelegant” nature, Romney’s remark has been bothering me on a more fundamental level.
The remark was in response to a question from a woman who asked Romney how he would "rectify the inequalities in the workplace" between men and women, specifically the 72 percent that women make of what men make for equal work. Not only was his answer non-responsive to her specific question, it appeared to show an opposite belief on Romney’s part that women are actually incapable of equal work to men in high level positions. Apparently, according to Romney, concessions must be made.
Romney’s answer potentially reveals three inaccurate, and, frankly, archaic beliefs. First: All women qualified to hold high level positions either have children they must take care of, or they would rather be a caretaker/homemaker than hold a high level position. Neither is an absolute: A) not all women have children—some choose a career over having children; B) last time I checked a biology textbook, it takes a man to have a child, so there are a lot of men in high level positions that have children too, so the need or desire for a flexible work schedule is not uniquely a female issue; and C) some women qualified for high level positions who have children also have partners (husbands or wives) who take on the primary childrearing and homemaking responsibilities, thus obviating the need for or want of a flexible work schedule.
Second: No men qualified to hold high level positions would ever want or need a flexible work schedule because they either do not have children or they have wives. See B and C above; and D) the assumption that between a father and mother that only the mother wants or needs a flexible work schedule to care for school-aged children is a tired assumption, and it is high time fathers are given the opportunities for a flexible work schedule in order to spend more time with their children and/or step up to the plate to take on more of that role.
Third: Women are simply not interested in holding high level positions, so it takes a man (like Romney) to coax them into the position by promising flexible work schedules. See A - D above.
Romney’s nonresponsive answer gives rise to more questions than it does to answer the woman’s question. For instance, did the women Romney hire take a salary cut for their flexible work schedule? Was the flexible work schedule offered equally to men and women in Romney’s cabinet? Did they have the same opportunities for advancement while on a flexible work schedule as the men? Were they given fewer chances for real responsibility just because they were on a flexible work schedule? Whenever there is a discussion of women doing equal work for equal pay, or the (very real) glass ceiling in the private sector, inevitably the conversation goes right to women’s childrearing/homemaking responsibilities. Although both issues do overlap in some places, the two are not inextricably tied together.
Receiving equal pay for equal work has nothing to do with whether a woman has children, because men have children too. Pay should be based on ability, not one’s lack of a uterus. And while a flexible work schedule is certainly a welcome alternative, it should not be something offered to, or utilized by, only women. There are plenty of really smart, qualified men who also want an opportunity to play a larger role in their children’s lives (Mitt even advocated “the benefit of having two parents in the home” during the debate), just as there are plenty of really smart, qualified women who should not only be offered the high level job, but who should receive the same pay as their male counterparts.
Apparently, Mitt did not, as he boasted, learn “a great deal” when he staffed his gubernatorial cabinet