The Republican National Convention Hopes You Like Watching Women Give Speeches

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Aug. 28 2012 3:16 PM

It's Ladies Night at the RNC. Will Women Care?

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Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) prepares to speak tonight. Will she convince women to vote Romney?

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

It’s ladies' night at the Republican National Convention, as Jezebel points out—nearly half of tonight’s many, many speakers will be women. We'll hear from Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the highest ranking Republican woman in the House, and a politician so womanly she has babies while in office. Utah congressional candidate Mia Love has a speech about “The America I Know” and an accompanying video. Ann Romney will speak so Alyssa can ignore her. Hispanic industrial upholstery mogul Sher Valenzuela, who wants to be lieutenant governor in Delaware, will give a speech on the night's theme of “We Built This,” which is a little awkward because her company has accepted $17 million in government loans and contracts. Governors Nikki Haley and Mary Fallin will speak, and that’s not the whole list.

So how badly is the GOP doing with womenfolk, who happen to comprise a majority of voters? Pretty badly. Again, most voters are women. Registered women who lean toward a candidate favor Obama by 10 points in a recent CBS poll, and a poll of single women favors Obama 72 percent to 26 percent. No wonder Republicans want us all to get married.

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Whether you think tonight’s lady parade will help alleviate this long-standing gender gap depends on why you think the gap exists in the first place. If the core Republican vision—bootstraps, church, personal responsibility—strikes women as an exclusively male one, church-going self-made Mia Love might make that vision suddenly relevant to sympathetically minded women.  If mothers hear Paul Ryan yammering about shared sacrifice in the face of mounting federal debt and think that’s easy for him to say, maybe Cathy McMorris Rodgers is harder to discount. “We built this” would be a powerful theme even if it weren’t based on an Obama quote taken out of context. Love’s parents immigrated with "$10 in their pockets." McMorris Rodgers was the first in her family to get a college degree and she is going to want you to know that Washington didn’t help her get it. Countless little girls dream of being industrial upholstery moguls, and Valenzuela turned that dream into a reality, probably due to some combination of grit, patriotism, and the free-enterprise system. If women find Horatio Alger stories more persuasive when they come from other women, the Romney campaign should be leaning on Love, McMorris Rodgers, and Valenzuela (loans aside) until November.

That’s a big if. It’s not as if when a man talks about lower taxes I can’t imagine my life with lower taxes. And as we know, just waving around a random lady does not tend to work. It’s hard to be sure, but Sarah Palin probably hurt rather than helped McCain in 2008. She’s the Republican woman with the most name recognition, and she will decidedly not be speaking tonight. 

Correction, Aug. 28, 2012: The original version of this post called McMorris Rodgers the highest ranking Republican in the House, and also misstated the amount of money Valenzuela's company accepted from government loans and contracts.

Kerry Howley's work has appeared in the Paris Review, Bookforum, and the New York Times Magazine. She is currently finishing a book about consensual violence, ecstatic experience, and the body.

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