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Memo to Media: Most Working Women Are Put in a Bind, Not a Binder -- Problem May Be Men Full of Blinders (November 5, 2012)

By Beverly Wettenstein
Huffington Post

Women voters are considered key to the election results. Neither party has a lock on the outcome in one of the tightest races in history. Yet, women's issues were never mentioned in the first presidential debate focusing on domestic topics. In the second presidential debate, Governor Mitt Romney shared an anecdote about making a concerted effort to find women for his cabinet after he was presented with only male candidates. He claimed he went to women's groups and they brought him "whole binders full of women." Alas, social media went into overdrive, creating multiple memes around his remark.

In fact, the Massachusetts Government Appointments Project (MassGAP) issued a statement correcting the timeline of the governor's false narrative. A nonpartisan coalition of over 25 women's organizations, they created a proactive process in 2002 to maximize opportunities for senior women to be considered for key appointments in the state government. Prior to the election, they asked both candidates to make a commitment to their process. Logic dictates if diversity was the governor's mandate, his team would not have initially presented all male candidates.

The problem may be the men were full of blinders -- not recognizing qualified women. The number of senior-level women actually declined during Romney's tenure.

Throughout history, women have had to take the initiative to advance women's rights, including the right to vote. Susan B. Anthony was fined $100.00 for the federal crime of voting in the presidential election of 1872. Eleanor Roosevelt was 36 when she was able to vote for the first time.

Fowl Play: Big Bird, Binders And Bayonets Bait

The Binders meme, perpetuated by the media, was followed by the birth of the Big Bird movement after Governor Romney ruffled feathers and suggested defunding Big Bird and his fellow merry Muppets on PBS. It's not easy being green or yellow on Sesame Street.

Bayonets were mentioned in the third presidential debate, creating another multimedia satirical sensation.

The Big Bird metaphor actually could have shown how Sesame Street mirrors Main Street. Zoe, the first major female Muppet, was introduced in the show's 25th season in 1993. The lack of prominent positive female charter role models subtly influences young children. The absence of female marquee Muppets means few job opportunities for female puppeteers. Miss Piggy has always been played by male puppeteers. Big Bird costumes sold out this Halloween. Will women be sold out on Election Day?

Put The Blame On Meme With The New WMD's: Weapons of Media Distraction

These memes are the new WMD's: Weapons of Media Distraction. Such sound bites are deliberately constructed by professional comedy writers to launch a thousand quips -- and may not be factual. Their intent is to distract from the real issues candidates choose to avoid. Governor Romney's "binders full of women" remark was his consistent non-response to his position on pending gender wage gap legislation.

The message that was lost in the social and mainstream media analysis of the debates was the instrumental role women played in the debates and the election. Three high school students started a campaign on www.Change.org, requesting the Commission on Presidential Debates consider that a woman had not moderated a presidential debate in 20 years. They produced a petition with more than 180,000 supporters. For the first time, two of the four debate moderators were women.

As moderator of the second presidential debate, Candy Crowley, CNN's Chief Political Correspondent and Anchor, was responsible for screening the questions posed by the citizens in the town hall audience. Would a male moderator have chosen the fourth question, asked by a young woman, "In what new ways do you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?" Post-debate, the media did not fact-check the women's data or pursue the equal pay legislation topic, which affects working women and our families. Martha Raddatz, ABC News Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent, moderated the vice presidential debate.

While voting tomorrow, consider how federal regulations have advanced women in the workplace. Until the 1970s, women were basically barred from politics, newsrooms and on TV. The Equal Opportunity Act passed in March 1972. The next month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) included women and minorities in its affirmative action program to TV broadcasting. Suddenly, the networks mandated hiring and promoting women. In 1973, the Supreme Court affirmed the EEOC ruling against sex-segregated Help Wanted ads in newspapers, thus enabling women to apply to jobs previously limited to men and offering better pay and advancement opportunities.

Bar On Women

Can a politician who has no female family members working outside the home relate to the needs of the majority of women in America and our families? According to the latest government reports and the Institute for Women's Policy Research, the gender wage gap for full-time women workers of all races is now 23 percent. Women earn more college and graduate degrees than men. Yet, on average, women earn less than men in almost every occupation. In 2010, full-time white women workers made 77 cents for every dollar earned by white men. The difference was 64 cents for Black/African-Amerian women and 55 cents for Hispanic/Latino women.

Women college graduates are paid 82 cents for every dollar paid to their male peers in their first year out of college, reports the American Association of University Women. They compared apples to apples, controlling for the same age, major, full-time occupation marital status and non-parents. Even with higher GPAs, women made less. Certainly, colleges do not offer tuition discounts for gender. Hence, by earning less income, repaying student loan debt requires a greater percentage of young women's reduced income. For new women college graduates, the apples taste more sour than delicious.

Even high-potential women MBA graduates lag behind men in both job level and salary, starting from their first position post-business school and do not catch up, according to a Catalyst study. Women MBA graduates receive half the job offers of their male counterparts, despite sending out 20 percent more applications. A rich recruiting resource for women executives close to home should have been Romney's alma mater at Harvard Business School. In his 1975 graduating class, women comprised 11 percent of graduates. The HBS women graduates pipeline percentage increased to 25 percent in 1985, 35 percent in 2005 and stands at 39 percent in the class of 2013.

Most women, in fact, are put in a bind -- balancing work and family and home responsibilities -- not in executive candidate binders. The most vulnerable are the PCMs: Pink Collar Moms, who are not college graduates and work lower wage jobs in the service and public sectors. These jobs provide limited or no benefits or job security.

Wanted: More Women And Mothers In Congress And Government

Currently, women hold less than 17 percent of congressional seats: 17 of 100 in the Senate and 73 of 435 in the House. A record 159 women are running for Congress this year: 18 for the Senate and 141 for the House. Only one woman is running for governor -- Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire. Currently, six women serve as governor and two will be retiring.

A politician told Patty Murray she was just "a mom in tennis shoes," which became her campaign slogan. She was elected Washington State's first female senator in 1992, bringing the number of women senators then to six. Murray is now the highest-ranking woman in the Senate.

Congress needs more women and mothers to realistically reflect the U.S. population they represent. According to Women's Policy, Inc. and the Center for American Women and Politics, of the 93 women in Congress, 15 have children under 18. In the Senate, seven of the 17 women have children under 18. Of the 73 women in the House, eight have children under 18. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, 43, made history in 2010, becoming the only member of Congress to give birth twice in office.

It's a sign of the new times when Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House, in 2007, created a room for nursing mothers -- especially considering there was no ladies room near the House voting floor for the 73 female members until 2011. So much for the women's movement and potty parity.

Level The 'Paying' Field. Vote for Agenda, Not Gender.

How are the candidates going to level the "paying" field to ensure women are not shortchanged and earn equal pay for equal work? One indication of how far women have advanced in politics are the races where women oppose each other -- in three Senate races and 11 House races.

Congresswomen have set an example and already leveled the playing field to play ball with each other. The women's softball team is bipartisan. The men play party against party. Members need to work together to break the party gridlock.

Ask candidates how they will vote on equal pay bills. The Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) passed the House but was blocked by the Republicans in the Senate. The PFA bars retaliation against employees for inquiring about salaries and sharing information. (See my post "Ask Candidates How They Will Vote on Equal Pay Bills.")

Ironically, congresswomen who vote against equal pay legislation enjoy the rare privilege of public and equal salaries. Plus, a generous benefits package while in office and in retirement. May I suggest the congresswomen -- and men -- who oppose equal pay for women volunteer to accept 77 percent of their own equal salary in solidarity with the working women they represent?

Women deserve pay parity, not parody in comic binders. Study the candidates' voting records on issues important to working women and our families. Votes do count. Governor Christine Gregoire of Washington State won by 129 votes in 2004.

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