Commentary Human Rights

Vanity Fair Article Reveals Romney Consistent On One Thing: Women Must Bow to the Patriarchy

Jodi Jacobson

While Romney is widely derided for his constantly changing political positions, it seems he is clear on one thing: Patriarchal order.  No matter your situation, your health, your needs, or your aspirations, if you are a woman, you stay in your place, follow the rules and let men make the decisions. When it comes to making sure women play by the patriarchy's rules, at least we know Romney is consistent in one area.

Last night, after dinner was eaten and the homework was done, I had a rare 45 minutes to read newly-arrived magazines before they were a year old and buried under a pile.

And so I picked up the current issue of Vanity Fair to read about Mitt Romney.

And here is what I learned: Though Romney has been a chameleon on many issues, not least of which are women’s rights–changing from a “pro-choice” position when running for office in Massachusetts to a radical anti-choice position now that he is competing for the Republican nomination for President in 2012–he has been utterly and thoroughly consistent in his actions regarding women’s lives and roles within patriarchal systems.

I maintain and have always maintained that no matter your party affiliation, the label “pro-choice” means almost nothing unless you walk the walk. That Romney is a panderer extraordinaire when it comes to the rights and health of women is now indisputably clear: You can’t go from supporting Roe v Wade to supporting a federal law granting fertilized eggs more rights than women without revealing complete disregard for actual living, breathing women.  But what I find most revealing about Romney’s personal “pro-choice” era–the time during which he lived in and was building a political life in Massachusetts–were his actions as a spiritual and religious leader in the Mormon church faced with individual women in need. In the words of one woman, “At a time I needed nurturing and support [from Romney], I got judgment, criticism, prejudicial advice, and rejection.”

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The article by Michael Kranish and Scott Helman focuses largely on Romney’s role in the Mormon Church, and how Romney built his fortune, including the history of his leadership of Bain Capital. I recommend it highly if only for the excellent and in-depth treatment of how Romney amassed a fortune some estimate at close to $1 billion (hard to pin down because he refuses to release his tax returns) and his imperial style of leadership (keep the masses away!!).

But the authors also do an excellent job of looking at Romney’s treatment of women. 

And it is sobering. It reveals a man who is willing to “listen,” but often can not seem to understand nor to muster compassion toward people who are in difficult situations.  Moreover, it reveals a man who saw his role as ensuring strict adherence to the patriarchal doctrines of the Mormon faith even at the risk of women’s lives.  It’s the same old song, just a different denomination now that Romney’s on.

Kranish and Helman explain that Romney, recognized early on within the lay-led Mormon church as a leader, rapidly ascended in Massachusetts, serving as a bishop and then a “stake president” overseeing about a dozen congregations with close to 4,000 members. “Those positions,” write the authors, “amounted to his biggest leadership test yet, exposing him to personal and institutional crises, human tragedies, immigrant cultures, social forces, and organizational challenges that he had never before encountered.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints “is far more than a form of Sunday worship,” they write.  A male-dominated religion in which women women can serve only in certain leadership roles and never as bishops or stake presidents, Mormon theology is also:

[A] code of ethics that frowns on homosexuality, out-of-wedlock births, and abortion and forbids pre-marital sex. It offers a robust, effective social safety net, capable of incredible feats of charity, support, and service, particularly when its own members are in trouble. And it works hard to create community, a built-in network of friends who often share values and a worldview. For many Mormons, the all-encompassing nature of their faith, as an extension of their spiritual lives, is what makes belonging to the church so wonderful, so warm, even as its insularity can set members apart from society.

But, they continue, there is a “rigidity [that] can be difficult to abide for those who love the faith but chafe at its strictures or question its teachings and cultural habits.”

How that rigidity played out in Romney’s leadership is telling. 

For example, as in virtually every other religious tradition based on patriarchal dominance, there are women within the faith who seek a greater role.  Kranish and Helman write:

The portrait of Romney that emerges from those he led and served within the church is of a leader who was pulled between Mormonism’s conservative core views and practices and the demands from some quarters within the Boston stake for a more elastic, more open-minded application of church doctrine. Romney was forced to strike a balance between those local expectations and the dictates out of Salt Lake City. Some believe that he artfully reconciled the two, praising him as an innovative and generous leader who was willing to make accommodations, such as giving women expanded responsibility, and who was always there for church members in times of need. To others, he was the product of a hidebound, patriarchal Mormon culture, inflexible and insensitive in delicate situations and dismissive of those who didn’t share his perspective.

In 1993, for example, Romney was acting as stake president when a group of women seeking greater roles in the church proposed a meeting with him. He at first demurred but ultimately agreed to the meeting. A group of 250 women made roughly 70 suggestions for changes–ranging from letting women speak after men in church to putting changing tables in men’s bathrooms–that would include them more in the life of the church.

Romney was essentially willing to grant any request he couldn’t see a reason to reject. “Pretty much, he said yes to everything that I would have said yes to, and I’m kind of a liberal Mormon,” Sievers said. “I was pretty impressed.”

Ann Romney, the authors note parenthetically, “was not considered to be sympathetic to the agitation of liberal women within the stake. She was invited to social events sponsored by Exponent II [the name of the group seeking change] but did not attend. She was, in the words of one member, understood to be “not that kind of woman.””

But others interviewed found that Romney lacked “the empathy and courage that they had known in other leaders, putting the church first even at times of great personal vulnerability.”

Romney, for example, strongly pressured Pam Hayes, a single mother who became pregnant for a second time, to give her child up to a church adoption agency. As the mother of a single child, the Romneys were at first helpful to Hayes, hiring her to babysit their children and for odd jobs.  But when she became pregnant for the second time, things changed. Romney not only threatened her with excommunication, but also, in Hayes’ eyes, abandoned her as a spiritual leader.

Romney called Hayes one winter day and said he wanted to come over and talk. He arrived at her apartment in Somerville, a dense, largely working-class city just north of Boston. They chitchatted for a few minutes. Then Romney said something about the church’s adoption agency. Hayes initially thought she must have misunderstood. But Romney’s intent became apparent: he was urging her to give up her soon-to-be-born son for adoption, saying that was what the church wanted. Indeed, the church encourages adoption in cases where “a successful marriage is unlikely.”

“Hayes,” write Kranish and Helman, “was deeply insulted.”

She told him she would never surrender her child. “Sure, her life wasn’t exactly the picture of Rockwellian harmony, but she felt she was on a path to stability. In that moment, she also felt intimidated. Here was Romney, who held great power as her church leader and was the head of a wealthy, prominent Belmont family, sitting in her gritty apartment making grave demands.“

And then he says, ‘Well, this is what the church wants you to do, and if you don’t, then you could be excommunicated for failing to follow the leadership of the church,’ ” Hayes recalled. It was a serious threat. At that point Hayes still valued her place within the Mormon Church.

““This is not playing around,” she said. “This is not like ‘You don’t get to take Communion.’ This is like ‘You will not be saved. You will never see the face of God.’ ” Romney would later deny that he had threatened Hayes with excommunication, but Hayes said his message was crystal clear: “Give up your son or give up your God.””

Later, when her son needed surgery and Hayes sought emotional support from the church, Hayes called Romney and asked him to come to the hospital to confer a blessing on her baby. ” Hayes was expecting him. Instead, two people she didn’t know showed up.”

She was crushed. “I needed him,” she said. “It was very significant that he didn’t come.” Sitting there in the hospital, Hayes decided she was finished with the Mormon Church. The decision was easy, yet she made it with a heavy heart. To this day, she remains grateful to Romney and others in the church for all they did for her family. But she shudders at what they were asking her to do in return, especially when she pulls out pictures of Dane, now a 27-year-old electrician in Salt Lake City. “There’s my baby,” she said.

Romney’s lack of compassion is similarly evident in the treatment of a woman whose life was threatened by her sixth pregnancy and who, in any case, was adamant she did not want another child no matter what.

The Mormon Church “allows” abortion–saying it can be “justified”–in cases of rape or incest, when the health of the mother is seriously threatened, or when the fetus will surely not survive beyond birth. But “permission” is not automatically conveyed by the Church even in those circumstances. Such was the case for the woman facing her sixth pregnancy whose doctors discovered a complication with her pregnancy that posed some risk to her life, and whose fetus had a 50 percent chance of survival if born at full-term.

One day in the hospital, her bishop—later identified as Romney… paid her a visit. He told her about his nephew who had Down syndrome and what a blessing it had turned out to be for their family. “As your bishop,” she said he told her, “my concern is with the child.” The woman wrote, “Here I—a baptized, endowed, dedicated worker, and tithe-payer in the church—lay helpless, hurt, and frightened, trying to maintain my psychological equilibrium, and his concern was for the eight-week possibility in my uterus—not for me!”

Romney, it turns out, was not the leader of this woman’s congregation but for some reason felt he needed to weigh in. “The woman told Romney… that her stake president, a doctor, had already told her, ““Of course, you should have this abortion and then recover from the blood clot and take care of the healthy children you already have.””

Romney, she said, fired back, “I don’t believe you. He wouldn’t say that. I’m going to call him.” And then he left. The woman said that she went on to have the abortion and never regretted it. “What I do feel bad about,” she wrote, “is that at a time when I would have appreciated nurturing and support from spiritual leaders and friends, I got judgment, criticism, prejudicial advice, and rejection.”

Romney, according to the article, “would later contend that he couldn’t recall the incident,” but “acknowledged having counseled Mormon women not to have abortions except in exceptional cases, in accordance with church rules.”

The article goes on to describe a third incident involving Judy Dushku, a woman who approached Romney for his blessing in carrying out a religious rite, which he denied her because she was married to a non-Mormon, telling her “‘Well, Judy, I just don’t understand why you stay in the church.’ ”

She asked him whether he wanted her to really answer that question. “And he said, ‘No, actually. I don’t understand it, but I also don’t care. I don’t care why you do. But I can tell you one thing: you’re not my kind of Mormon.’ ” With that, Dushku said, he dismissively signed her recommendation to visit the temple and let her go. Dushku was deeply hurt. Though she and Romney had had their differences, he was still her spiritual leader. She had hoped he would be excited at her yearning to visit the temple. “I’m coming to you as a member of the church, essentially expecting you to say, ‘I’m happy for you,’ ” Dushku said. Instead, “I just felt kicked in the stomach.”

While Romney is widely derided for his constantly changing political positions, it seems he is clear on one thing: Patriarchal order. No matter your situation, your health, your needs, or your aspirations, if you are a woman, you stay in your place, follow the rules and let men make the decisions. At least we know Romney is consistent in one area.

Commentary Economic Justice

The Gender Wage Gap Is Not Women’s Fault, and Here’s the Report That Proves It

Kathleen Geier

The fact is, in every occupation and at every level, women earn less than men doing exactly the same work.

A new report confirms what millions of women already know: that women’s choices are not to blame for the gender wage gap. Instead, researchers at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the progressive think tank that issued the report, say that women’s unequal pay is driven by “discrimination, social norms, and other factors beyond women’s control.”

This finding—that the gender pay gap is caused by structural factors rather than women’s occupational choices—is surprisingly controversial. Indeed, in my years as a journalist covering women’s economic issues, the subject that has been most frustrating for me to write about has been the gender gap. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked as a consultant for EPI, though not on this particular report.) No other economic topic I’ve covered has been more widely misunderstood, or has been so outrageously distorted by misrepresentations, half-truths, and lies.

That’s because, for decades, conservatives have energetically promoted the myth that the gender pay gap does not exist. They’ve done such a bang-up job of it that denying the reality of the gap, like denying the reality of global warming, has become an article of faith on the right. Conservative think tanks like the Independent Women’s Forum and the American Enterprise Institute and right-wing writers at outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Breitbart, and the Daily Caller have denounced the gender pay gap as “a lie,” “not the real story,” “a fairy tale,” “a statistical delusion,” and “the myth that won’t die.” Sadly, it is not only right-wing propagandists who are gender wage gap denialists. Far more moderate types like Slate’s Hanna Rosin and the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson have also claimed that the gender wage gap statistic is misleading and exaggerates disparities in earnings.

According to the most recent figures available from the Census Bureau, for every dollar a man makes, a woman makes only 79 cents, a statistic that has barely budged in a decade. And that’s just the gap for women overall; for most women of color, it’s considerably larger. Black women earn only 61 percent of what non-Hispanic white men make, and Latinas earn only 55 percent as much. In a recent survey, U.S. women identified the pay gap as their biggest workplace concern. Yet gender wage gap denialists of a variety of political stripes contend that gender gap statistic—which measures the difference in median annual earnings between men and women who work full-time, year-round—is inaccurate because it does not compare the pay of men and women doing the same work. They argue that when researchers control for traits like experience, type of work, education, and the like, the gender gap evaporates like breath on a window. In short, the denialists frame the gender pay gap as the product not of sexist discrimination, but of women’s freely made choices.

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The EPI study’s co-author, economist Elise Gould, said in an interview with Rewire that she and her colleagues realized the need for the new report when an earlier paper generated controversy on social media. That study had uncovered an “unadjusted”—meaning that it did not control for differences in workplace and personal characteristics—$4 an hour gender wage gap among recent college graduates. Gould said she found this pay disparity “astounding”: “You’re looking at two groups of people, men and women, with virtually the same amount of experience, and yet their wages are so different.” But critics on Twitter, she said, claimed that the wage gap simply reflected the fact that women were choosing lower-paid jobs. “So we wanted to take out this one idea of occupational choice and look at that,” Gould said.

Gould and her co-author Jessica Schieder highlight two important findings in their EPI report. One is that, even within occupations, and even after controlling for observable factors such as education and work experience, the gender wage gap remains stubbornly persistent. As Gould told me, “If you take a man and a woman sitting side by side in a cubicle, doing the same exact job with the same amount of experience and the same amount of education, on average, the man is still going to be paid more than the woman.”

The EPI report cites the work of Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, who looked at the relative weight in the overall wage gap of gender-based pay differences within occupations versus those between occupations. She found that while gender pay disparities between different occupations explain 32 percent of the gap, pay differences within the same occupation account for far more—68 percent, or more than twice as much. In other words, even if we saw equal numbers of men and women in every profession, two-thirds of the gender wage gap would still remain.

And yes, female-dominated professions pay less, but the reasons why are difficult to untangle. It’s a chicken-and-egg phenomenon, the EPI report explains, raising the question: Are women disproportionately nudged into low-status, low-wage occupations, or do these occupations pay low wages simply because it is women who are doing the work?

Historically, “women’s work” has always paid poorly. As scholars such as Paula England have shown, occupations that involve care work, for example, are associated with a wage penalty, even after controlling for other factors. But it’s not only care work that is systematically devalued. So, too, is work in other fields where women workers are a majority—even professions that were not initially dominated by women. The EPI study notes that when more women became park rangers, for example, overall pay in that occupation declined. Conversely, as computer programming became increasingly male-dominated, wages in that sector began to soar.

The second major point that Gould and Schieder emphasize is that a woman’s occupational choice does not occur in a vacuum. It is powerfully shaped by forces like discrimination and social norms. “By the time a woman earns her first dollar, her occupational choice is the culmination of years of education, guidance by mentors, parental expectations, hiring practices, and widespread norms and expectations about work/family balance,” Gould told Rewire. One study cited by Gould and Schieder found that in states where traditional attitudes about gender are more prevalent, girls tend to score higher in reading and lower in math, relative to boys. It’s one of many findings demonstrating that cultural attitudes wield a potent influence on women’s achievement. (Unfortunately, the EPI study does not address racism, xenophobia, or other types of bias that, like sexism, shape individuals’ work choices.)

Parental expectations also play a key role in shaping women’s occupational choices. Research reflected in the EPI study shows that parents are more likely to expect their sons to enter male-dominated science, technology, engineering, and math (often called STEM) fields, as opposed to their daughters. This expectation holds even when their daughters score just as well in math.

Another factor is the culture in male-dominated industries, which can be a huge turn-off to women, especially women of color. In one study of women working in science and technology, Latinas and Black women reported that they were often mistaken for janitors—something that none of the white women in the study had experienced. Another found that 52 percent of highly qualified women working in science and technology ended up leaving those fields, driven out by “hostile work environments and extreme job pressures.”

Among those pressures are excessively long hours, which make it difficult to balance careers with unpaid care work, for which women are disproportionately responsible. Goldin’s research, Gould said, shows that “in jobs that have more temporal flexibility instead of inflexibility and long hours, you do see a smaller gender wage gap.” Women pharmacists, for example, enjoy relatively high pay and a narrow wage gap, which Goldin has linked to flexible work schedules and a professional culture that enables work/life balance. By contrast, the gender pay gap is widest in highest-paying fields such as finance, which disproportionately reward those able to work brutally long hours and be on call 24/7.

Fortunately, remedies for the gender wage gap are at hand. Gould said that strong enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, greater wage transparency (which can be achieved through unions and collective bargaining), and more flexible workplace policies would all help to alleviate gender-based pay inequities. Additional solutions include raising the minimum wage, which would significantly boost the pay of the millions of women disproportionately concentrated in the low-wage sector, and enacting paid family leave, a policy that would be a boon for women struggling to combine work and family. All of these issues are looming increasingly large in our national politics.

But in order to advance these policies, it’s vital to debunk the right’s shameless, decades-long disinformation campaign about the gender gap. The fact is, in every occupation and at every level, women earn less than men doing exactly the same work. The right alleges that the official gender pay gap figure exaggerates the role of discrimination. But even statistics that adjust for occupation and other factors can, in the words of the EPI study, “radically understate the potential for gender discrimination to suppress women’s earnings.”

Contrary to conservatives’ claims, women did not choose to be paid consistently less than men for work that is every bit as valuable to society. But with the right set of policies, we can reverse the tide and bring about some measure of economic justice to the hard-working women of the United States.

News Politics

Tim Kaine Changes Position on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back the Hyde Amendment's ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate, has promised to stand with nominee Hillary Clinton in opposing the Hyde Amendment, a ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, told CNN’s State of the Union Sunday that Kaine “has said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment,” according to the network’s transcript.

“Voters can be 100 percent confident that Tim Kaine is going to fight to protect a woman’s right to choose,” Mook said.

The commitment to opposing Hyde was “made privately,” Clinton spokesperson Jesse Ferguson later clarified to CNN’s Edward Mejia Davis.

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Kaine’s stated support for ending the federal ban on abortion funding is a reversal on the issue for the Virginia senator. Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard  that he had not “been informed” that this year’s Democratic Party platform included a call for repealing the Hyde Amendment. He said he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

Repealing the Hyde Amendment has been an issue for Democrats on the campaign trail this election cycle. Speaking at a campaign rally in New Hampshire in January, Clinton denounced Hyde, noting that it made it “harder for low-income women to exercise their full rights.”

Clinton called the federal ban on abortion funding “hard to justify” when asked about it later that month at the Brown and Black Presidential Forum, adding that “the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.”

Clinton’s campaign told Rewire during her 2008 run for president that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

The Democratic Party on Monday codified its commitment to opposing Hyde, as well as the Helms Amendment’s ban on foreign assistance funds being used for abortion care. 

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back Hyde’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.

When asked about whether the president supported the repeal of Hyde during the White House press briefing Tuesday, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said he did not “believe we have changed our position on the Hyde Amendment.”

When pushed by a reporter to address if the administration is “not necessarily on board” with the Democratic platform’s call to repeal Hyde, Schultz said that the administration has “a longstanding view on this and I don’t have any changes in our position to announce today.”