Renee Ellmers (AP/Sara D. Davis)

GOP's pathetic new outreach plan: Bring policy talk "down to a woman’s level"

Want to win women voters? Forget shifting course on the minimum wage or reproductive rights. Just dumb things down!


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Katie McDonough
July 15, 2014 9:19PM (UTC)

It's hard to keep track of the number of memos and strategy sessions the Republican Party has now dedicated to attracting (or at least not repelling en masse) women voters who aren't white, wealthy and married, but apparently there was another such meeting held last week. As Ashe Schow at the Washington Examiner reports, members of the Republican Study Committee got together on Friday to discuss women voters, and concluded that bringing policy discussions "down to a woman's level" was the solution to all the GOP's problems. (Not mentioned as possible solutions, though in line with the new strategy: Talking very slowly, not making any sudden movements, offering tiny cupcakes to reward midterm election turnout.)

“Men do tend to talk about things on a much higher level,” Renee Ellmers explained. “Many of my male colleagues, when they go to the House floor, you know, they’ve got some pie chart or graph behind them and they’re talking about trillions of dollars and how, you know, the debt is awful and, you know, we all agree with that.

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“We need our male colleagues to understand that if you can bring it down to a woman’s level and what everything that she is balancing in her life -- that’s the way to go,” she concluded.

Now it goes without saying that this statement is offensive on its face. Women can read charts and graphs, for one thing. Ellmers and her colleagues in the GOP should know this (or at least be media trained enough to pretend to know this), since pointing out that women are lawmakers and small-business owners and veterinarians seems to be the canned response they offer to all questions about workplace discrimination or structural barrier to women's full participation in society. And while the point about discussing issues honestly and in real terms is well taken, Ellmers' suggestion that it's just women who need this kind of framing is insulting -- and incorrect. Storytelling does make for compelling policy narratives, but women and men translate abstract political ideas based on their experiences. Which is why Ellmers' view is equally reductive in its framing of men, since she is alleging that they can't relate to actual people or things in their own lives -- only numbers. (Her statement is also an overly generous read on the intellectual capacities of her male colleagues in the House, but whatever.)

But what's more striking here is that this isn't an isolated statement; it's the fundamental way that the GOP frames gender in 2014. They may talk a good game about what women care about -- the economy, jobs, education -- but their policy positions and constantly regurgitated talking points reveal time and again that the GOP views women's role as in the home, their greatest contributions as those made in the service of family. This is why women like Ellmer argue that women (read: mothers) can only understand the federal budget through their management of the family purse, rather than just picking up a newspaper and reading and interpreting information -- abstract and personal -- like anyone else.

If Ellmers and the GOP really want to communicate about policy ideas with an eye toward women's experiences, there are a few things to keep in mind.

One in three women in the United States is living in or on the verge of poverty. Many of them are mothers. Black and Latina women -- the women the GOP fails hardest with -- face particularly high rates of poverty. Trans women -- overwhelmingly trans women of color -- are also disproportionally likely to live in poverty at some point in their lifetimes. These are some of the reasons women care about jobs and the economy. The other reason? The human capacity for empathy, the ability that women -- and men -- have to think and care about issues that may not directly impact them.

And two out of every three minimum wage workers are women, which is one of the reasons women care about the minimum wage. The other reason? The human capacity for empathy, the ability that women -- and men -- have to think and care about issues that may not directly impact them.  

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Women are also statistically more likely than men to lack the forms of accepted identification now required to vote in states with restrictive voting laws in place. Women over the age of 65 -- who outnumber men over the age of 65 -- are also less likely to have an acceptable form of ID. The same problem exists for college women -- the up-and-coming Beyoncé voters -- since women are more likely than men to be enrolled in college. Students who attend out-of-state universities but have an ID from their home state will also be hurt by these laws. These are some of the reasons women care about voting rights. The other reason? Yeah, it's that whole thinking and empathy thing.

But the GOP is wildly out of step with the public on these issues -- and so many others. (I haven't even touched reproductive rights here, but let's agree that it's a real mess.) This is precisely why the women voters they need so desperately to survive pretty much hate their guts, statistically speaking. Because they can read and understand charts, and their comprehension is equally strong when it comes to clueless Republicans who imply they're not all that smart.


Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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