The XX Factor

Virginia Governor-Elect Robert McDonnell and Women

The turning point for the Virginia governor’s race came in August, when the Washington Post published a copy of Republican Robert McDonnell’s master’s thesis , in which he argued that working women were detrimental to America, among other retrograde points. McDonnell’s genius in the campaign was to instantly focus the debate on whether or not he thinks women should be able to work (which, of course, he does) and thus obscure every other way in which his policies are, in fact, retrograde and bad for women.

McDonnell quickly quashed worries about him with these two videos, one of his daughter , who had served in Iraq, and the other of women state officials who had worked for him or were appointed by him. Unlike in the attack videos made by his opponent Creigh Deeds, these women were actual people who gave their names and occupations. The point conveyed, effectively, was that of course McDonnell appreciates working women. But it’s a pretty fringe right-wing minority these days who doesn’t. Among even the most conservative Christians, the argument is over whether women should work when their children are very young, not whether they should work at all.

What got lost in all this is McDonnell’s general patriarchal approach to legislating. Many of his policies and speeches convey an attitude of needing to protect the fairer species from her worst self. Throughout his career he’s supported many variations of restrictions on abortion, covenant marriage, and no-fault divorce. In these videos, the women talk a lot about how tough he is on sexual predators and domestic violence. “He protects women,” is how his daughter puts it. These days conservative politicians seem to like having women around the office; Bush had plenty, probably more than Obama does. But it does not seem to change their views on anything substantive that would affect women outside the handful on their payroll.