Women who are eager to be First Lady of the United States and take active roles in their husbands’ campaigns are inevitably thrown in the spot light. Ann Romney’s push back the other day against Hilary Rosen’s remark about her “never worked a day,” and her grotesque display of a burning desire for power and Ms. Rosen’s desperate attempt to save her own skin reminded me of what was said about another woman who, too, was eager to become First Lady during the last presidential race.
During a presidential campaign rally in 2008 organized by a local Democrat (I don’t remember the town or who organized that rally), then-candidate Obama quipped in a show of appreciation, “You know, Mr. so and so (the organizer) and I have one thing in common: we both marry up.” The crowd laughed and cheered to that “humorous” remark that apparently expressed the speaker’s humility and admiration for women. Then Obama went on to say how wonderful Michelle and the organizer’s wife both were. I disagreed with the crowd back then and I still disagree now. Rather than humility and admiration for women, a remark such as this actually is arrogant and disrespectful because it patronizes women. Imagine what it would sound like if a female candidate said something like that about her husband. I don’t think it would be far-fetched to say that, if then-candidate Hillary Clinton had said, “You know, by marrying Bill I married up,” people would most likely had thought Bill Clinton was a chauvinist pig and what a pathetic woman Hillary was. And this remark would have been all over the media and her campaign would have been over the following day. By the same token, when a man refers to his wife as “my boss,” “the higher power,” or “the better half,” he is perceived as a nice gentleman who respects his wife. And if a woman should use one of those terms to refer to her husband, people would think she needed to be liberated from her dominating husband.
True gender equality means that a person should be judged based on their merit, irrespective of sex. However, it is reasonable to believe that, when a man states that his wife is superior to himself, using words like “marry up,” boss, the higher power, the better half, he is assuming, and rightly so, that the statement will resonate with the listeners, male and female alike, in a general way. Furthermore, this statement implies that the wife is superior to the husband because she is a woman. Since the male speaker has inappropriately introduced gender into the picture, who is to say he is not actually thinking in his head that men are superior to women, so men can, out of generosity, laugh at this ironic remark?
Some may argue that, due to the ugly history of oppression of women at the hands of men, saying the wife is the boss, higher power or better half is humorous and respectful of women, whereas referring to the husband as one of those things would be adding insult to injury. To me, however, verbally elevating women above men is patronizing, and those men who patronize women, contrary to their words, must not think women are their equals.
Ann Romney, the woman in the Romney campaign who aspires to be First Lady, stresses, “Mitt Romney is a person that admires women and listens to them, and I am grateful that he listens to me.” At this point, I withhold judgment on Mitt Romney’s attitude toward gender equality; yet I find Mrs. Romney’s statement awkward because I cannot relate to it. While all our close friends know that I listen to my wife like no one else can, (albeit not 100 percent of the time), my wife, who has no reason to twist the fact, would tell you, “Eric Mao doesn’t admire or listen to all women, as he doesn’t admire or listen to all men, and I am annoyed by him not listening to me.”
As it has become clear that Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee for president challenging Obama, the gap between these two men’s popularity among women voters has become a hot topic. As someone whose wife is a feminist, I see the media coverage and the ploys both campaigns are using to vie for women’s support are insulting to women’s intelligence. Moreover, what saddens me is that many key figures in both campaigns and the media are women.