Guest Post: Thoughts on Ann Romney’s Speech?

by Emily U

(Emily U is casual observer of politics who enjoys reading, writing, knitting, and cooking when it’s not 5 pm and her kids are whining.  She is a university administrator and sometimes lecturer in biology, and she’s one of those mothers Ann Romney mentioned in her speech who would love to spend less time at work and more time at home!)

I just finished watching Ann Romney’s speech from the Republican National Convention, and read Ruth Marcus’ opinion of it at the Washington Post.  I’d would love to know what Exponent readers think of both of them.  Marcus says Ann Romney’s speech was a “patronizing pander to women.”  Marcus naturally looks at the speech in context of Romney’s party, which has a gender gap when it comes to women voters.  But as a Mormon I’m looking at the speech in the context of Romney’s religion, which is one deeply rooted in traditional gender roles.  To me Romney sounded like a mission president’s wife giving a “women are incredible” talk in Stake Conference.  The whole thing just sounded so (sadly) familiar.

What was your take on the speech?  Is Marcus’ critique apt?  Do you think it was a calculated attempt to win women voters?  Or was it really the only kind of speech we could expect from a traditional Mormon woman?  Do you think it would resonate with women you know, or would they see it as inadvertently demeaning, as Marcus did?

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13 Responses

  1. lyn says:

    I found Marcus’ critique of Ann Romney’s speech quite relevant. In a marriage where gender roles are tightly defined, I’m sure that Ann’s speech makes sense to them. It’s the mothers. all the time. I don’t know that Ann would be capable of making any other kind of speech.

    But my marriage doesn’t look like that. And my husband takes offense when there is the assumption that he doesn’t actively raise his children – we give and take and rebalance all the time so that everyone in the family reaches their goals.

    I get tired of the men bashing – the part about “that love so deep only a mother can fathom it — the love we have for our children and our children’s children” Men have the priesthood. Women have the love so deep the men can’t touch it. We don’t have to degrade the men to celebrate the women.

  2. MB says:

    I listened to it. It struck me at the time as a regular national convention sort of speech.

    If you listen almost all of the speakers speak in energetic superlatives and in absolutes. So do the delegates when on the floor. How many times we hear “the great state of (fill in the blank)”!

    And generally, speeches at the conventions are meant to make certain subsets of voters feel more connected to the candidate. So, in both party conventions you will find things like religious leaders focused on religiously oriented voters and their strengths, labor representatives speaking in terms of connection to labor concerns, business people extolling the virtues of businesses and the candidate’s concern for people who own them, various members of different ethnicities painting portraits of the concerns and strength of their people and how the candidate relates to that, etc., etc. etc. It’s been that way as far back as I can remember and continues so because it seems to work. Anne’s speech was aimed at the mother-sister-wife-grandmother constituency and did so in the usual political style.

    There may have been some phraseology that sounded familiar to LDS women who have listened to church leaders, both male and female, in the past, but I think that’s probably just because it’s the kind of phraseology that Anne feels comfortable with.

    Do I think that it was pander? No more than any of the other pandering that is found pretty universally in speeches in both parties’ conventions. Would I have liked it to have had more substance? I’d like all of the convention speeches to have more substance. But convention speeches are mostly pep talks aimed at particular groups of voters.

    There’s a very interesting analysis of speeches given by presidential candidate spouses at national conventions over the past 20 years at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of public affairs web site. It finds that the only speech given by a presidential candidate’s wife at a convention that had more references to women, families and children than Anne’s was Hilary Clinton’s in 1996. I think that’s really interesting.

    The article is here:

  3. Risa says:

    I thought it was typical candidate wife’s speech.

    I long for a day when the spouse of the Presidential nominee who speaks at either convention is the husband and not the wife.

  4. Emily U says:

    Pandering has an implication of being inauthentic, and I don’t think Ann Romney was inauthentic at all. So I wouldn’t call her speech simply an attempt to garner some votes. Although of course it also had that aspect like all convention speeches do, as MB so nicely said.

    I was struck by the frequency and enthusiasm with which she patted women on the back. I expected some of that, but it was off-scale, in my opinion. I apologize for getting a little partisan here, but the Romneys are in a party that wants to reduce the safety net for poor families many of whom are headed by single women, that wants to reduce women’s ability to make reproductive choices, and that has historically opposed much legislation designed to help women. So apparently they need a rah-rah-rah “women are so much more awesome at men at certain things” speech.

    Likewise the Church has no women in centralized leadership positions, no women with budgetary control or oversight, I could go on. So we get rah-rah-rah “women are so incredible” talks.

    And it’s not just Mormons. I’ve read essays from people of other conservative religions (particularly at Patheos) that follow the same pattern. Systemic, institutionalized, devaluing of women seems to go hand in hand with over-the-top praise of their feminine virtues. I would so much rather be matter-of-factly treated simply as another human being than ever hear another word of gratuitous praise about how awesome women are.

    My husband didn’t like it either – he’s very tired of hearing that he’s less able to love and care for others because he’s male.

  5. Janna says:

    I am a Democrat through and through, but I greatly appreciated a few things about Ann’s speech:

    1) She spoke like a real person, and not in “Primary voice.”
    2) She acknowledged that women in the workforce have to work harder to be noticed than men.

    The problem is that she states, over and over, that motherhood is the most important thing. Ever. And for always. People who believe that society does not value mothers need to wake up. No one is saying mothers are unimportant. For Pete’s sake, a national holiday celebrates mothers. Everyone loves mothers and thinks that what they contribute to society is valuable, if not priceless. When athletes are interviewed on television after the touchdown or volleyball spike, they say, “Hi, mom!” Moms are the best. Of course they are.

    Now. Let’s actually start talking about the issues…

    • Naismith says:

      “People who believe that society does not value mothers need to wake up.”

      If you had wanted to say that YOU think society values mothers, that would be fine. But to claim that some of us who do not feel that value are asleep, well..let me just explain a little of what I see.

      I will “wake up” when the career that most resembles mothering, childcare, is paid well instead of being a barely minimum wage job, even for those with training in early childhood education.

      If everyone values the work of mothers, then why can’t I put that down on my resume when applying for a job? But the university where I am employed only counts paid labor, not volunteer work or parenting.

      When I was a soldier and returned to civilian life, I got all kinds of benefits, from a college education to the mortgage on our house to a preference in hiring. If we truly value the work of mothers, why do we not (as Anna Quindlen has suggested) have a similar program for mothers, to help them re-enter the workforce when their parenting days are over?

      If we valued the work of mothers, all mothers, I think the US would offer a childcare tax credit not only for parents who are employed for pay, but also for parents who put their children in childcare while they they care for another family members, a special needs child or elder.

      Why is there a tax credit for fuel-efficient cars but not for mothers who breastfeed for a year, since that is best for baby and better for the environment?

      Why do we USAmerican not offer more extensive maternity leaves as is found in Western European countries?

      If we truly value the work of mothers, why isn’t it mandated that parents have the right to attend university part-time in order to be home with their school-aged children after school, rather than being forced to go full-time?

      I will “wake up” when such policies are changed.

      To cite Mother’s Day as an example of the respect that we have for mothers is laughable, since it is on a Sunday, and thus costs little. Why do the revered men get Monday holidays for which people actually get a day off of employment?

      I am sure that a lot of this depends on where we live and who we talk to, so I would not presume to say anything about those who see it differently. I am glad for you if all is well where you are.

    • Janna says:

      Naismith – Your point about the profession most closely resembling motherhood, childcare, being one of the least paid is a great point. I agree with you on that.

  6. CG says:

    Mrs. Romney’s speech was a rallying cry for mothers who probably feel undervalued. She was speaking truths SHE knows. Isn’t that what every politician does? We have a slight advantage over others in interpreting her words because we know her knowledge comes from a very Gospel-oriented perspective, and we understand that- we’ve learned those same lessons, spoken that same language. I think Ann was very aware of her audience- Christian conservatives who believe in the gender roles she does. Pandering? No. Just keenly aware of the voters who are in love with her husband- SAHMs and the conservatives who see family AS the most important issue.

  7. April says:

    I think Ann accomplished the goal of the speech, which I assume was to brag about her husband in ways that he couldn’t brag about himself without appearing conceited, and to make him seem more normal by looking way, way back into their past to a time when the two of them had a grocery budget. I think the speech was intentionally light on policy because it was more important to her husband’s campaign that she make the kind of speech she did, not because she wouldn’t be capable of less fluffy stuff.

    That said, I noticed that right after her ‘women are incredible” moment, she went into her only story about any specific person other than Mitt, and it was about her grandfather…who was a single parent? Well, probably not, but he may as well have been, from the story. I thought it ironic that after all that vague praise of women as a general group, her specific example was about the tangible, financial accomplishments of her family patriarch, making the role of her family matriarch invisible.

    With regards to the Marcus piece, once again, someone points out that Ann Romney is different than a typical stay-at-home mom because unlike most stay-at-home moms, she needn’t worry about money. I see Romney as different from other stay-at-home moms in other ways that no one ever mentions. Most of the stay-at-home moms I know are giving up more than just money; they are giving up the opportunities for professional development and civic involvement that a career outside the home could offer them. To many women, these sacrifices are more difficult than the monetary sacrifice. Did Romney have to make these kinds of sacrifices? As a state’s first lady, and then as the wife of a presidential candidate, she has always had opportunities for meaningful, professional work (even if technically unpaid), a staff to help her accomplish this kind of work, and opportunities to make her voice heard outside the confines of her own home, such as through nationally televised speeches like this one.

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