This is not how you show that you understand women

Polls have repeatedly shown a significant gender gap in American politics: Specifically, Republicans have a problem winning over women voters.  As such, the party is on a constant quest to show that they understand women and can address their problems.

One way NOT to do that: Have legislators photographed reading women’s magazines and say that you understand women.

Last Thursday, Michigan reporter Jake Neher tweeted this picture, taken of Michigan State Representative’s on the floor of the Michigan House of Representative:

Neher also said that Representative Pettalia repeatedly joked, “Don’t say we don’t understand women,” implying, of course, that all you need to do to understand women is read women’s fashion magazines.

Michigan Democrats responded with this tweet:

They also sent out a series of other tweets related to the incident, using it as a club to hammer Republicans on women’s issues:

In a statement, Representative Petallia said the picture was a joke had been taken out of context:

During a short break on the House floor, Republican Rep. Gail Haines, a leading advocate on women’s issues in the Legislature, gave some of us magazines to read and asked to take our photo with them.

There are two ways to look at this issue.  First, let’s say that Representative Petallia actually was being serious (which, honestly, I doubt, simply because I cannot imagine anyone is that ignorant).  In that case, the Representative and Michigan GOP has problems larger than twitter – they have serious, serious judgement issues and should probably be allowed no where near a voting booth.

The more likely explanation is that the picture was meant as a joke.  If that’s true, it’s just as bad.

Why?  Because Twitter doesn’t provide any sense of context.  After all, you can only cram so much information into 140 characters, and the picture here is more damning than any words could ever explain. Given all of the problems that Republicans have connecting with women, why on earth would these Representatives think it was good to joke that reading fashion magazines somehow equates to an adequate understanding of the very significant issues that women face?  What did they think was funny about this?  And, most importantly, why the heck would they allow a reporter to take that picture, knowing full well that it could (and did) go viral in a millisecond?

A real lesson here is about the power of social media.  The Representatives should never have allowed themselves to be put in a position in which they could be photographed being so callous towards women.  They handed Democrats an opportunity to berate them on an issue, and this is in a state that currently has a competitive Governor and Senate election.  For elected officials, remember this lesson, and don’t put yourself in a photograph in which you and your party can be so easily criticized.

What do you think – do I have this right?  Let me know in the comments!

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