Now, before I expand on this I want to clarify one thing. It could be easily said that I'm being sexist because I'm attacking a politician's wife. Mitt is the candidate--not Ann, I get that. And it's true that so often politicians' wives face an unfair amount of sexist pressure and scrutiny. However, last night, when Ann threw her arms up and said, "I love WOMEN!!!!!!!" in possibly the most ridiculously Oprah fashion ever, I decided all bets were off. The Romney campaign is using Ann as a supposed access point to female voters (that's not unusual.) Ann is being spun as "like me" and "for me" and "someone who gets me" and because of that, I am going to respond.
As I said, the word that keeps popping up for me in regards to Ann is disingenuous...in other words, I can't shake the feeling that she's being incredibly fake and insincere. There were so many reasons I felt this from her "I love women" declaration while supporting a party/candidate that works against us, to the opening of her speech in which she said love is the most important thing, but then made a snide comment about her marriage being "real." A few things in particular stuck out to me the most.
1) If Ann Romney is supposed to be for women, why is she only talking to a specific subset of them?
I'd like to quote a few sections of her speech...
...And the working moms who love their jobs, but would like to work just a little less to spend more time with the kids, but that is just out of the question with this economy. Or how about that couple who would like to have another child but wonder how they will afford it?
...It's the moms who have always had to work a little harder to make everything right. It's the mom's of this nation, single, married, widowed, who really hold the country together. We're the mothers. We're the wives. We're the grandmothers.You see that? I'll be honest, right there I shut down to her message because I'm not a mom, so she apparently has nothing to say to me as a woman. And mind you, I didn't gloss over a section of the speech where it defined womanhood outside of mothering. Nope. She was very clear about who she was talking to. If you are a mom, then you count. Now, far be it from me to downplay the importance of motherhood--but do we really need more assumptions being made that women = mothers = women?
Motherhood is a role that Ann feels comfortable with so she spoke to that group specifically. And, much like the rest of her speech, this strategic choice was made because it glosses over something insidious: Mitt's policies would actually be really harmful for women. But instead of taking the risk to tackle that criticism head on, she invokes warm, fuzzy feelings of mothering.
2) Why is she talking about poverty like it's something she's experienced first hand?
I mean--I know why. It's because the Romneys are seen as incredibly out of touch with the average person and they are trying to portray her as at least somewhat more "like us." But the truth is that the Romneys have never faced real hardship and they don't really care about the very poor.
In speaking about her early years married to Mitt, she said, "We walked to class together, shared the housekeeping, ate a lot of pasta and Tuna fish...our dining room table was a fold down ironing board in the kitchen. But those were the best days." What? The way she's framing this comes across as something charming, quaint, and everyone should try it at least once (like a trip to the Hamptons, or something.)
The quaintification* of her background is not only insulting to people who face the challenges of real poverty on a daily basis, but it is also false. Her lifestyle then might have been a step down from what she was used to as a the daughter of an extremely successful businessman, but it was, by no means, a truly hard time for them. I mean--they lived off of Mitt's stock options. That's hardly a resource available to this country's millions of poor people who often hold down multiple jobs just to stay a float.
Furthermore, the Romney campaign has been sure to really harp on the story of Ann's paternal grandfather who was a Welsh laborer in the coal mines. At 15, her father with his dad immigrated to the United States where her father later built a business empire. As Ann said in her speech,
Some of you might not know this, but I am the granddaughter of a welsh coal miner...He was determined that his kids get out of the mines. My dad got his first job when he was six years old in a little village in Wales...when he was 15, dad came to America. In our country, he saw hope and an opportunity to escape from poverty. He moved to a small town in the great state of Michigan... There he started a business, one he built by himself, by the way.The purpose of story here is to 1) make us feel connected to her "humble" roots and 2) perpetuate the myth of the American dream. But at the end of the day, all I can think about is how Ann and Mitt both grew up in wealth--why keep trying to posture as someone you are not? It's insultingly transparent.
3) Did she essentially imply that people without their level of success are just jealous haters?
It's true -- it's true that Mitt's been successful at each new challenge he has taken on. You know what, it actually amazes me to see his history of success being attacked ...If the last four years had been more successful, do we really think there would be this attack on Mitt Romney's success? Of course not. Mitt would be the first to tell you that he is the most fortunate man in the world. He had two loving parents who gave him strong values and taught him the value of work. He had the chance to get the education his father never had. But, as his partner on this amazing journey, I can tell you Mitt Romney was not handed success. He built it.Um, seriously? All I'm gonna say is that it's pretty easy to "build" success when you were born into a life that put tools in your hands, had already written you a building permit, and allowed you access to all the wood and nails you could ever need.
So you know what, Ann? No. I don't buy it--any of it.
You see, Ann's stories and anecdotes again and again are intended to appeal to people who otherwise would have no reason to support a republican ticket. She's not talking to people like her (the 1%) because they're already in Mitt's back pocket.
She speaks to women because they need her to. Republican policies are extremely misogynistic, typically favoring programs which don't support working moms, oppose fair pay acts, and cut funding for family planning. She speaks about poverty because they need her to. While Ann's over there talking about her "tough years" or her immigrant father, Mitt's stance on these very topics make similar success stories for other people virtually impossible in the future.
It's incredibly frustrating. But what's more worrisome than hearing such insincerity is the fact that I know, for a fact, there are people eating this up--people whose lives would be negatively impacted on a daily basis by Romney's America,--who will vote republican because of the illusions created here instead of the reality of the policy. It's sad and it scares me. I can only trust that a majority of the people will understand the truth of the situation and that policy speaks louder than words.
*I really love making up words.