I spent a half-hour yesterday cutting and pasting the presidential debate transcript into Word and then using the search function to look for the term “women.” When the ABC transcript came up empty, I tried the CNN one. When that also returned no results, I decided to change my search parameters to “woman”—i.e., singular. Booyah! I got four, count ’em, four hits! All four were in anecdotes about a “woman I met…”
Perplexed, I went to recheck the debate schedule. Maybe there wasn’t any mention because a future debate was dedicating time to the topic? Nope. Economics and foreign policy are where these debates are headed.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who noticed. My e-mail inbox is full of outreaches from women’s groups who note that Romney’s extreme positions were neither defended or challenged. From stalwart NARAL to new on-line group UltraViolet, women’s groups are once again left to point out that women were left out of the debate.
To be honest, I am annoyed as I write. Women are 52 percent of the population, so dedicating one section of one debate to “women’s issues” would be absurd. But the complete absence of discussion about the enhanced barriers women face in a bad economy is staggering. The economic and social well-being of women is integral to that of the country, and highlighting this, and forcing Romney to defend his regressive policies on everything from choice to the economic fairness for women is not only good political strategy, it would start to open up a real conversation about closing the gap on gender-based inequality. How hard is it to go from anecdote to analysis?
Here are these four women the candidates met along the campaign trail that merited mention in Wednesday’s debate:
The Unemployed Woman—Mitt Romney spoke of an Ohio woman who had been out of work for six months. Accordingly to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national average time of unemployment is almost eleven months, so this woman was faring OK among her peers. But she’s right to be concerned. Women continue to recover from the recession more slowly than men, largely due to the loss of public sector jobs. The private sector has added 3.5 million jobs since the recovery started, but only 28.8 percent of those have gone to women, and they are likely to be paid seventy-seven cents per the dollar for their male counterparts. The Romney/Ryan “jobs” plan would result in millions more jobs lost, the bulk in the public sector. Even if Unemployed Woman was able to buck the trend and get a private sector job, she shouldn’t expect to be paid like the boys in the office, since Romney refuses to confirm his support for equal pay.
The Foreclosed Woman—Romney met a woman in Nevada facing foreclosure after her husband lost his job. Foreclosed Woman is probably not alone, but she’s going to have a challenge organizing a meet-up. Gender-based foreclosure stats are extremely hard to come by, as I learned after asking several organizations leading on this issue for a breakdown. What we do know is that predatory lenders pushed subprime mortgages on women at a much higher rate than on men, despite women’s having a generally higher foreclosure rate. African-American women fared the worst; they were 236 percent more likely to receive a subprime mortgage than white men. Neither candidate have a serious plan to deal with the human and economic impact of the record foreclosures, but given Romney’s stance on regulation and allegiance to trickle-down economics, it’s safe to assume he would let the banks run amok and certainly principal reduction would become a distant dream.