What Women Really Want in the Workplace

Politicians need to stop guessing what women want, and just ask—and then listen to the answer.

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Mitt Romney gestures while speaking at campaign stop at Avon Lake High School in Ohio.

What do women want? And why do they act the way they do?

These are not difficult or rational questions. The true question is, why is it that we're in the 21st century and politicians and so-called scientific researchers are still pondering these questions as though women are some exotic, mute species that must be diagnosed?

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

The most recent offense comes from a CNN story—quickly scrubbed—reporting on a University of  Texas San Antonio study on how women's menstrual cycles affect the way they vote. Said the now-removed CNN post:

While the campaigns eagerly pursue female voters, there's something that may raise the chances for both presidential candidates that's totally out of their control: women's ovulation cycles. Here's how [researcher] Durante explains this: When women are ovulating, they "feel sexier," and therefore lean more toward liberal attitudes on abortion and marriage equality. Married women have the same hormones firing, but tend to take the opposite viewpoint on these issues, she says.

It's absurd to think that women universally "feel sexier" during ovulation (and if they do, it's probably more because that's the point where most women feel thinnest), but even more ridiculous to suggest this has anything to do with voting. Even if the statistics were true, there's no cause-and-effect relationship established. If anything, it's a mere statistical correlation, and one driven by a (wrong and offensive) default view that men are the control group of rationality, and whatever women do that deviates from that must be explained away as some sort of irrational deviation. The underlying assumption in many of these so-called studies—including all the ones about how women dress more attractively during ovulation to attract a mate during peak baby-making time (again, gentlemen, not so much—women I know dress for the occasion, for themselves, and for other women before they dress for men)—is that a woman's real job is to find a mate and produce children. How convenient that the insulting thesis supports de facto policies that keep women in less prestigious jobs, paying them less for their work.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Mitt Romney.]

Then we have Mitt Romney, observing during a debate that one of the things he learned when he was staffing his gubernatorial office was that he needed to be "flexible" for the females. Said Romney:

I recognized that if you're going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school.

She said, I can't be here until 7 or 8 o'clock at night. I need to be able to get home at 5 o'clock so I can be there for making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school. So we said fine. Let's have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.

[Take the U.S. News Poll: Can Women Have it All?]

This is what Romney thinks women want in the workplace—"flexibility?" We all want flexibility—men and women—but it obscures an important point. Here's what women want first in the workplace: money and power. The same as the men. Really, it's a pretty simple equation. Opining that women are some special class needing "flexibility" so they can be home in time to make dinner for their husbands and kids is just another way of saying that home-making is a woman's real job, even if it's another thing she does in addition to working. It puts her husband's job above hers, and gives license to every employer to treat women as less valuable—and thus, less compensated and promoted—in the workforce. And what about all those women who aren't married and presumably don't have wifely tasks? Well, they're ruled by their hormones instead, if we are to believe the utter piece of garbage produced by the University of Texas.

It's been quite some time since one of the original misogynist scientists, Sigmund Freud, asked, "What do women want?" It's the 21st century. Candidates and researchers could just ask—and maybe listen to the answer.

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