The Republican Convention's 'Daddy Knows Best' Message to Women

The GOP's message to women at the Republican National Convention was one of applauding women for supporting men in their careers, not for their own accomplishments.

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Ann Romney, wife of U.S. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, waves as she walks up to the podium during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012.

The whole idea of a "women's vote" is in itself a bit patronizing, since it suggests that having the same set of reproductive organs makes more than half the population think exactly alike. It's a stronger argument to make this year, since the control women have over their reproductive states is very much at issue, and at a time when many women thought the whole question was settled decades ago.

But equally insulting is the father-knows-best depiction at the Republican National Convention of women as family accessories, a sort of permanent and unpaid support staff for the men who hold the jobs and control commerce and public policy.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

Ann Romney, while truly the injection of warmth the Romney-Ryan ticket needs, declared "I love you women!" during her convention speech. It was kind of her, but for what does she love them so much? Her address talked about the mothers, the grandmothers, the sisters, the daughters that serve as the backbone of society. All of the descriptions were relational, paying no attention to the (paltry number of) female CEOs and athletes and political leaders, both actual and aspirational. Rep. Paul Ryan talked about how much his mother sacrificed (for him, her son). New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie talked about the words of wisdom his mother had delivered in raising him. The thanks are always welcome, but the underlying message was this: Women, your job is to serve as incubators and child-rearers while we run the governments and economies of the world. The fact that women do, indeed, work for pay (although less pay, on average, than men in the same jobs) was largely ignored by the main speakers, who lauded women while making virtually no mention of such issues as equal pay and the right to control the size and timing of their families.

[The 12 Most Memorable Political Convention Speeches.]

This was even more remarkable when one considers that one of the best—arguably, the standout—speaker of the convention was former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Surely, her worldview is at odds with those of many, if not most, Democrats, including a lot of women. But it's not about gender; Rice is brilliant, accomplished, and has an inspiring personal story. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez was also a highlight. So why did the headline male speakers laud women for their volunteer work supporting the men's careers?

Women hold a wide range of political views, and Republicans have an opportunity to collect more female support with a fiscally conservative message. But even conservative women, and women who choose to stay home with their families, want to be treated with basic respect and offered equal opportunity and treatment. A big ol' Hallmark card isn't going to cut it.

  • Read the U.S. News Debate: Was the Republican Convention a Success for Romney?
  • Read Mary Kate Cary: Ann Romney Wins Hearts, Chris Christie Wins Minds
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