Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and the Mystery of the Female Vote

I see Mitt Romney and I have a very hard time not thinking Ward CleaverWorse yet, I look at Mitt Romney’s poster-boy-for-50s-American-husband character type and can’t shake the thought that he is a walking, talking version of a male Stepford Wife.

Which is not to say that Ward (or even an imaginary Stepford Husband) did not possess some good qualities. In all the years I spent as a child watching America’s beloved Leave It To Beaver I don’t recall seeing Ward raise his voice, much less lose his temper. No, he was the quintessential metro-sexual before there was such a word. He was as mild-mannered and cerebral as Romney. Ward was the consummate modern husband of his era, not nearly so Wall-Street rich, but every bit as devoted and as perfect the family man as Mitt.

This type of man certainly appeals to a great many women. He seems safe. He seems utterly morality-bound. He seems predictable. He seems so devoted to polite manners that he would rather be boiled in oil than embarrass you. He comes off as a team player in all regards, always willing to lay down his own interests like a doormat in pursuit of common goals. He would never be confused with John Wayne -- too macho in a trigger-happy world.

There is much to like about Mitt. And I can guarantee you that there will be many women who will vote for him in the Republican primaries on these safe-bet factors alone. Women are known to be somewhat risk-averse and we do tend to crave security.

On the other hand, I can also guarantee you that there will be many other women who are as revolted by Mitt’s too-nice-to-be-true guy appeal as are attracted to it. For all his wonderful assets, Romney comes across to many women as an animated version of the Ken doll they played with as children.

Real women have known too many real men to identify with a plastic-patriarchy just because it’s dressed up in monogamous garb -- we outgrew being Barbie when we hit our teens. If Newt’s adulterous past poses a risk to women’s need to protect monogamy, Romney’s Father Knows Best aura poses a return-to-patriarchy threat that sends chills up the spines of most modern women.

Anyone who believes that modern Republican women are not feminists needs to get out more amongst us. We vehemently reject the one-size-fits-all 50s version of marriage and family. Sarah Palin, of the moose-hunting, sharp-shooting, long-distance-running, career-for-me-too brand, is not a conservative female icon for nothing. In Palin’s genuine feminism, of the “we can have it all without hating our wombs or our men” variety, there is no room for Ward Cleaver. And a Stepford husband has about as much appeal as a Ken doll in all his neutered glory.

We Boomer conservative feminists have spent the last 40 years or so of our lives re-creating marriage for the 21st century. Many, many of us have lost first and even second marriages in this treacherous endeavor. We’ve cast off many Ward Cleavers in the process, as they failed to make the leap from unquestioned, staid breadwinner to full partner in all marital facets. For every man who has left a wife for a mistress, there is a wife who has left a husband unwilling to change with changing times and changing demands. Many women have also run off with their lovers.

For some reason, this is a reality nearly impossible to grasp for some of our male conservative spokespeople. It isn’t just men who leave women; women also leave men.

And I dare say you simply will not find a handful of modern women – either conservative or liberal – who steadfastly believe that the institution of marriage can be saved by reverting to the '50s model, seemingly so perfectly represented by Mr. and Mrs. Mitt Romney. Marital fidelity is indeed sacrosanct to nearly all women, but so now is equality and role-sharing. While there may be small pockets of fundamentalist religious women who still believe a woman’s place is only in the home, these numbers are melting faster than a popsicle in the August sun. Even full-time, conservative, female homemakers today have marriages that bare scant patriarchal resemblance to their mothers’ and grandmothers’ unions.

And for all the good points about the Romney marriage, it comes across to many women as a throwback to a time they have fought madly to escape.