Note To Candidates: 'Woman' Does Not Equal 'Mom'

By reducing all parents to mothers, and all women to mothers, candidates diminish and dismiss us, even as they are heaping us with praise.
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Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney addresses delegates before speaking at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney addresses delegates before speaking at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

In his speech to the Republican convention last night, Mitt Romney used some version of the word "mom" 14 times.

That was one more time than he said the word "Obama" or "future" and ten more times than the word "economy."

Even more striking than how often we came up was the reverence he had for us. "I knew that her job as a mom was harder than mine," he said of his wife, Ann. "And I knew without question, that her job as a mom was a lot more important than mine."

The speech dripped with such reverence for women who have children that one of the most popular tweets last night was this one from @dweinberger.

Coming as it did the night after Paul Ryan's own ode to motherhood ("to this day, my mom is my role model") which, in turn, came the day after Ann Romney's ("It's the moms who always have to work a little harder, to make everything right), mothers can feel pretty smug in their own importance this quadrennial cycle.

Hold on, you say, haven't mothers always been a group wooed by politicians? Why else have they spent all those decades kissing babies?

Yes. But this year feels different. A word count alone hints at what's changed. John McCain used the word "mother" twice in his acceptance speech four years ago and didn't use "mom" once. George W. Bush thanked his own mother, briefly, in 2004, then only used the word once or twice again. Sarah Palin's official acceptance speech included only three "moms," though she famously added a fourth with her off-the-prompter comment about hockey moms and lipstick. Obama, at his last convention, didn't say "mom" at all.

But this is a good thing, right? A reflection of politicians' long overdue realization that mothers deserve consideration and attention?

It would be good if it were true. As has long been the case, both parties this year know that they cannot win without women. And their embrace of mom-without-the-apple-pie is just the latest example of campaigns reducing us to shorthand rather than addressing all of our dimensions. The elder George Bush did it in 1988, choosing the handsome Dan Quayle to appeal to the ladies (after Walter Mondale arguably chose Geraldine Ferraro for a version of the same reason four years earlier). John McCain did it with Palin last time around, assuming we would vote for one of our own.

But those choices, patronizing to women as they might have been, were decidedly less direct than the ones we saw in Tampa this past week. In earlier years, candidates assured us that they liked women, or were attractive to women, or were women. Now they are turning the lens and telling women that we ourselves are wonderful -- mostly because we are moms.

In part what rankles is their overuse of the shorthand, nickname version -- mom, not mother. When I hear it, I sense tones of "honey" or "dear." Add to that the fact that the March of the Moms through political rhetoric nowadays eliminates men -- including many of the men giving these speeches -- from the equation. Parents = mothers. It is interesting that candidates have chosen this tack now, because it is several years behind the Zeitgeist, at a time when men are steadily becoming more invested in their identities as dad.

But mostly what makes me want to snap back at my TV during these odes to motherhood is the corollary calculation that women = mothers. By reducing the votes of all women to those of a subset, by assuming the concerns we share (or don't) are exclusively about children, candidates diminish and dismiss us. They assume that just by praising us as parents we won't notice that they haven't mentioned what they plan to DO for us, as parents, or as women.

We have noticed. And we vote.

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