Column: A Guide for Women on How to Talk to Republican Congressmen
Last week, House Speaker John Boehner conceded that House Republicans probably need to learn how to speak to women. As a result of the gender gap that plagued GOP candidates and Mitt Romney in the 2012 elections, the National Republican Congressional Committee is now teaching male candidates running against female challengers or incumbents about how to discuss rape, for instance. “Multiple sessions” have evidently been devoted to linguistic skills training. After several years of gaffes ranging from Todd Akin’s efforts to parse “legitimate rape” and Saxby Chambliss’ attempt to blame military sexual assault on “hormones,” even Boehner concedes that there is a need for the men of the GOP to “be a little more sensitive.” A senior House Republican strategist told CNN last week that this extensive training will help GOP men understand how women want to be addressed: “First and foremost what we tell them to do (is) talk about yourself as a husband and a father,” he explained.
The plot further thickened last weekend when Iowa’s Republican Senate candidate Mark Jacobs sat down for a Sunday interview and explained, in a response to a question about the “biggest difference between men and women,” that “I think you have to connect with women on an emotional level. And with a wife of 25 years and an 18-year-old daughter, I’ve had a lot of coaching on that.”
Now, all of this is interesting, as far as it goes, but it really does elide the larger question: Given that Republican congressmen are being trained to talk to women voters as though we are their wives and daughters, what can women voters learn about how to talk to Republican congressmen?
Stop and consider: Maybe the reason the GOP has been so inexpressibly deaf to the wants and needs of women constituents over the past few decades is because we have been attempting to address them as co-workers and colleagues and doctors and bosses and neighbors and friends. When all along, we should have been talking to them in the manner of wives and daughters. Sure, you may balk initially, at the idea of having to importune your own elected representative the way Gloria and Edith once cajoled Archie Bunker. But there are real lessons here, my sisters. And we should learn them and employ them. If we can master the basic skills required in order to Talk to Your Republican Congressman, we may finally be heard on Capitol Hill.
So, for instance, you have perhaps become accustomed to asking your Republican congressman to respect your reproductive choices when it comes to matters of birth control and abortion. You may have been attempting to make logic-based arguments about bodily autonomy and the right to control your own economic and professional destiny. But next time you talk to a male Republican member of Congress, try this one instead: “Daddy? Can I please borrow the keys to my uterus?”
Or let’s say the GOP stands poised to cut funding for food stamps this week, thus ending nutrition aid for 47 million poor people, including 210,000 children’s school meals. As a woman, or even a human, you might want to talk rationally to your Republican congressman about the moral failure or fiscal shortsightedness in allowing the poorest Americans — many of whom are working — to go hungry. But knowing that rational policy arguments from women are apt to fall upon deaf ears, might I suggest the following simple substitution? “Honey? May I have $82.5 billion? There’s a HUGE sale on food stamps at Neiman Marcus this weekend?”
Just imagine that you’d like to have a meaningful conversation about sexual assault in the military, or NSA surveillance, or the judicial vacancy crisis, or the economic recovery, or health policy, or equal pay, or the environment, or any other policy matter that vexes you. It seems clear that marshaling thoughtful analysis, meaningful statistics and good arguments would be a complete and utter waste of your time, given that the men of the GOP are being trained to talk to you like you are still strapped into the Dora the Explorer booster seat behind them. So next time I find myself in conversation with a Republican congressman I am going to bust out a foot stamp, a hair toss, and an “It’s not fair.” Then I will hold my breath. And I am going to repeat those moves over and over until I get my way. Join me?
Ultimately, the enduring lesson for actual human women learning of the new GOP imperative to try to “connect with them at an emotional level” is that spending a lot of time and energy on rational discourse is probably going to be fruitless. You’re going to need to emote more, if you want to be heard, and also probably be preparing a garnish (I like radish roses). So in the runup to the midterm elections, if you find yourselves flummoxed by GOP males and their strange efforts to talk about your feelings while also scanning the newspaper and hoping for a snack, remember that it’s of paramount importance to connect with them on an emotional level. As in: “I feel ... I feel ... I feel like you need to find another job.”
Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate.