It was recently revealed that Republicans, presumably in a desperate attempt to resuscitate their “autopsy” after the 2012 election, have been coaching male candidates about how to run against women in elections. The details of the trainings, as reported by Politico, are rather sparse. So it’s up to the rest of us to use our imaginations. Don’t mind if I do…
Thus, below, is my informed rendering of what we might imagine Republican operatives are coaching other Republicans to do or not do in the future to avoid such disasters as Todd Akin, Trent Franks and Saxby Chambliss. And then, because I like to be helpful, I’ve also offered my suggestions for what such operatives might teach GOP candidates instead.
What they’re probably coaching: “Just say rape, not legitimate rape.”
What they should be coaching: Don’t minimize rape. Ever. Don’t defend or try and justify the acts of rapists. Ever. In fact, to be on the safe side, don’t ever talk about rape. Because if you need coaching on how to talk about rape, it’s probably a sign you shouldn’t be talking about it. At all. But what you should do is talk about the scourge of violence against women. Yes, you can use the word “scourge” since you’re an old white guy. And you can talk about how we need to make sure that domestic violence shelters and community health clinics and rape crisis centers and special police units and courts are adequately funded. For added measure, you can also support laws that make sure women who have been sexually assaulted have information about and access to emergency contraception—and for added measure, support access to emergency contraception in general. Because just because a woman didn’t report a rape to a hospital or the police doesn’t mean she was not sexually assaulted and may need access to emergency contraception. Then again, per above, you really should stay away from the details….
What they’re probably coaching: “Try and sound empathetic and respectful.”
What they should be coaching: Actually be empathetic and respectful. Don’t just say you support women, put your policies where your rhetoric (barely) is. Think dealing with an unplanned pregnancy is a difficult choice? Sometimes yes, sometimes no, sometimes it’s complicated—but either way, what makes it really a “difficult choice” is not having any choices about what to do with your pregnancy and your own body. You, Mr. Republican candidate sir, wouldn’t know this—you don’t have a womb, that’s why you’re in this training. So instead of trying to feign compassion for something you don’t actually understand (and don’t actually seem to have compassion for), as they taught you in kindergarten, show don’t tell. Don’t just talk about your commitment to women and their choices, show your concrete support with concrete policies that let women make their own reproductive health decisions instead of you.
What they’re probably coaching: “Talk about pocketbook issues, not social issues.”
What they should be coaching: Stop trying to impose your narrow, personal moral beliefs on others through legislation and then you might actually have some credibility to say that you care about more than just social issues. Plus if you stop trying to cram your moral rectitude down the throats of voters, you might just stop turning off the (incidentally growing) swath of the electorate who are socially liberal, including most women voters. Instead, sure, focus on jobs and the economy. But even there, you might want to pay attention to what voters (including the “takers” in your red states) actually want—and therefore not hang your cuts to food stamps and public education like a decorative albatross around your sagging neck. Instead, you should support expanded access to higher education and, heck, while you're at it, equal pay measures—to do something about the fact that women still earn $0.77 for every dollar earned by a man. Heck, talk about how that inequality is immoral and women voters will love you!
What they’re probably coaching:“Treat women voters and colleagues with respect.”
What they should be coaching: Actually respect women. You can’t fake this one, guys. When conservatives call a private citizen a “slut” or a courageous female elected official “Abortion Barbie”, even the women who live in the caves with you are reminded of all the nasty names and catcalls they’ve ever endured just for being born with breasts. If you disagree with a woman, do so respectfully—leave out the personal insults and slander. Speaking of respect, it helps to assume that your voters and colleagues of the female persuasion are as smart and informed as your male voters. So, and I’m just spit-balling here, but don’t offer to mansplain the federal budget to your new lady colleague in the United States Senate. Generally speaking, treat women with the same respect you treat men. Or at least the same respect you treat men who own successful businesses, who are mostly white and well-educated. Don’t treat women like fast food workers or folks on unemployment benefits. Or maybe start respecting those folks too… Hey, at least the good news here is, like your approval ratings, you almost have nowhere to go but up.
For more tips, you might check out this awesome TED talk on “emotional correctness” in political discourse. Or check out the #HowToTalkToWomen hashtag on Twitter. Or if you know anyone under 60, have them show you… In the meantime, if you have any questions, don’t bother raising your hand or anything, just interrupt. I mean, can’t teach an old dog too many new tricks, can ya? And we’ll look forward to our next programs—“How To Pretend Like You Have Black Friends” and “How To Mask Your Homophobia With A Dash Of Metrosexual Style”.