Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and the Mystery of the Female Vote
One thing I do hate about being a woman is having to put up with the rather widespread male propensity to tell me how I will vote -- based on nothing more than the piddling fact that I am female.
How absurd this is.
At the moment, this particular pique of mine has settled on an all-knowing line from Michael Savage, who has decided to amp his radio ratings by offering Newt Gingrich $1 million to drop out of the presidential race. Among Mr. Savage’s list of reasons Newt simply cannot possibly win the general election is this gem, gleaned from Savage’s crystal ball, no doubt:
He’s cheated on two wives and left both of them while they were both seriously ill, which will destroy his chances among female voters. [emphasis mine]
Red State editor Erick Erickson shares this view and thinks the women’s vote is in the bag for the anyone-but-Newt candidate.
Notwithstanding the fact that Gingrich’s own daughter, Jackie Gingrich Cushman, has refuted the hospital-bed-divorce-papers myth, there remains plenty of unexplored female-thinking territory in these blanket assumptions.
As a mature woman -- now 60 years old -- I have been married to the same man since 18, am very much the traditionalist, and would seem to be the poster girl for this line of thinking about Gingrich. I must admit that a few months ago, when the well-populated field of Republican candidates was all pristine and preening purely, I wrote that it would pretty much take a cold day in hell to get me to vote for Newt of the infamous Scarlet A.
Of course, that was then.
Republican choices narrowed and Mitt and Newt, barring a sudden rise from another candidate, are apparently the last men still standing.
So, how might the women’s vote go, if the election were today?
I’ll give it a whirl with my own female crystal ball.
I see Mitt Romney and I have a very hard time not thinking Ward Cleaver. Worse 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.
Perhaps it’s a Mormon thing. There will be many women who think so anyway, especially liberal and moderate, non-religious or religious-left women. You can be sure that the Lifetime network will play its Mormon extravaganza The 19th Wife two or three times a week during election season to make sure this point hits home with millions of American women. You can be equally certain that Mitt’s great-grandfather’s role in protecting polygamy from the long arm of U.S. authorities in the late 1880s will be heavily promoted among female voters as well. That the Romneys and mainline Mormons oppose polygamy is a factoid that will most likely be lost on a great many American women before general-election eve.
Which brings us to Newt. In the minds of many commentators, Newt’s scumbag-adulterer past would seem to completely disqualify him as an able contender for the women’s vote. Newt is sure to lose some female votes on this count. However, his public repentance and conversion to Catholicism will be seen by many women as giving him the rudder of stronger faith he may have lacked in his younger years. The forgiveness factor may yet outweigh the Scarlet-A factor in women’s minds when judging the moral fiber of Newt.
Then, there’s this. The marital demographics have shifted mightily. Women today are not as “alike” as they once were.
For every single wife who has been scorned in favor of a mistress, there is a mistress who has walked away with the guy. For every woman who identifies with the former Mrs. Gingrich(s), there is a woman at this very minute setting her sights on a man married to some other woman. According to the latest census figures, there are only 88 unmarried men for every 100 unmarried women. Other women’s husbands are considered fair game in the survival-of-the-fittest marital domain.
Just as many women – perhaps more – will identify with the mistress-made-wife Callista Gingrich as sympathize with the former Mrs. Gingrich. Women are every bit as fallible as men, and in this modern era women might even have the edge on passionate philandering.
The women’s vote is far, far more complicated than the play it’s been given so far.
To think otherwise is simply hiding one’s head in a '50s la-la land bedroom with Ward and June Cleaver chirping happily on a black-and-white-tv set while Barbie and Ken sleep fully clothed in separate beds, safe and sound in patriarchal bliss.
Not many of us real women voters actually live in that world. Only a scant few of us would even want to live there.
Be sure and check out more of Kyle-Anne's analysis of the GOP Primary: