By now it’s been established that Obama redeemed himself last night. The night’s most effective moment came when Obama scolded Romney for the “offensive” suggestion that his team had played politics with the Libyan attack and then Romney got stuff with a Crowley fact-check when he tried the press the issue. And by now it’s clear that “binders full of women” was last night’s “Big Bird,” lighting up the internet like a Christmas tree—you can check out the best binder memes here.
But for my money the single craziest line wasn’t even the binder line itself but a line wedged right next to it in Romney’s case about women’s equality:
Now one of the reasons I was able to get so many good women to be part of that team was because…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.
So, basically what he’s saying is that in order for women to succeed in the corporate workforce they need more flexible hours so they can get home in time to do the cooking and raise the kids, which are more uniquely female responsibilities than male.
This is hardly a vision of equality—both in work and civic terms. If men are expected to be able to work late because they don’t have the extra burden of housework and child-rearing, men and women will continually be cast into different roles both at work and at home. And if the roles are different, why should the pay be equal? Which is the whole problem the voter asking the question in last night’s debate was addressing.
The reality is that statistically there are more single moms out there than single dads. But on principal whether the parents are single or in couples, heterosexual or homosexual, male or female, we need to look at the question of balancing work and family as a human issue and not a male-female issue. If we can’t take a gender-blind approach to this at a cultural level, then signing all the Lilly Ledbetter bills congress can write won’t change the reality of earnings equality.