Should People Talk to Women Differently?”, suggested that the problem is conservatives do not know how to engage women, and need to learn to talk to them differently than they do men. Joy asked astutely (and humorously), “Differently HOW? Like mention chocolate and pink?” Now there is a chance that you are reading this article because “chocolate” was in the title, and that itself might answer Joy’s question. But, setting that aside, I would argue that the issue is not that what the conservative politicians talk about, but how they talk about it.
Liberal politicians say the conservative “woman problem” is due to their approach to “women’s issues” like contraception, abortion, etc., things that Mary discussed last week. There are two immediate problems with this argument. First, supporting abortion on demand and so forth is counter-productive to fixing the “women problem” because it alienates most conservative Americans including self-identifying conservative women. Second, the liberal argument boils down to: “Women vote for us because we provide them free contraception and empowerment.” This is an agenda-cloaked way of saying: “Women vote for politicians who give them stuff they want (sex, in this case) and make them feel good about themselves.” If that were true, then I would suggest that conservatives save time by handing out bars of chocolate when they talk to women. Of course, some women and men vote for the politician who can promise them free stuff, but those are not the people conservative politicians are criticized for failing to reach.
In her Essays on Women, Edith Stein made the straightforward and profound argument that men and women have psychological differences in how they approach the world. Simply stated, just as there are different physical requirements for motherhood than there are for fatherhood, so too, there are different psychological requirements for motherhood. For the same reason that women have biological differences from men, they also have psychological differences. Women are more intuitive then men; they are more concrete thinkers than abstract thinkers; as Stein says beautifully, “Woman naturally seeks to embrace that which is living, personal, and whole.” The conservative “woman problem” is a result of not framing political issues in a way which corresponds to women’s natural psychological strengths.
I will offer a concrete example of what I mean. Yesterday, with irritating frequency, the music on Pandora Radio was interrupted by a political commercial sponsored by the Democratic Party of Virginia attacking conservative Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a candidate for Virginia state Governor. A female voice narrated, “Ken Cuccinelli wants to overturn Roe v. Wade in Virginia, banning all abortions, even in cases of incest and rape. Ken Cuccinelli, he’s focused on his own agenda, not on us.” My initial thought was that the Democratic Party must have been recycling their old Mitt Romney ads because I had a strong case of déjà vu. But secondly, beyond the female voice and “women’s issues” focus, this political commercial was written for women. Think about it. The commercial spot is personal. It engages the listener herself as a person. Ken Cuccinelli is the one with the agenda, the one who does not care about people. And not just people in general, but us, people like you and me. If the same commercial was rewritten in the style of conservative politicians, it would probably sound like this: “Ken Cuccinelli wants to overturn Roe v. Wade in Virginia, banning all abortions. He doesn’t care about the taxpayer dollars wasted on raising disabled children or how this will result in overcrowding in the public schools of lower-income areas.” Notice how the focus of the commercial has changed. It is no longer personal; it is an abstract argument that requires you to associate yourself with either the impersonal group of taxpayers, or lower-income families using the public school system.
This is the crux of the conservative “woman problem.” The issue is not that politicians like Ken Cuccinelli oppose abortion. Most conservative women oppose abortion! Gallup polls reveal a nearly equal split in the number of pro-life and pro-choice women in America.The issue is that conservative politicians say, “President Obama’s health care plan will cost millions of taxpayers’ dollars and dramatically increase government regulation of medical care” more frequently than they say, “President Obama’s health care plan will hurt you and your family by limiting the availability and quality of your medical care, and it will cost you and other Americans millions of dollars.” The first one is not going to engage women as readily as the second. It is not what they say. It is how they say it.
I want to clarify that this is not to say women cannot engage in abstract arguments. They can, and they do. However, more often than not, women will reduce an abstract problem to concrete circumstances to solve it. And psychologically speaking, the more powerful argument to a woman will be concrete and personal. If conservatives want to engage women voters, they need to enhance the psychological appeal of their platforms. The other option, I suppose, is to pass out bars of chocolate.