There are more women in the U.S. than men. While I gave up on understanding why we use the electoral college in the third millenium long ago, this "more women" point seems to matter where this year's election is concerned. The town hall debate was the primary staging ground for the two candidates differing opinions on women, and I'd suggest that the differing opinions on women is really driven by the foundational differences in conservative and liberal ideals.
Let's look at Obama's primary point on the issue, a delightful anecdote about his single grandmother, Lily Ledbetter (jk):
"I was raised by a single mom who had to put herself through school while looking after two kids. And she worked hard every day and made a lot of sacrifices to make sure we got everything we needed. ... And she worked her way up to become a vice president of a local bank, but she hit the glass ceiling. She trained people who would end up becoming her bosses during the course of her career. ... the first bill I signed was something called the Lily Ledbetter bill. And it's named after this amazing woman who had been doing the same job as a man for years, found out that she was getting paid less, and the Supreme Court said that she couldn't bring suit because she should have found about it earlier, whereas she had no way of finding out about it. So we fixed that."
Now let's look at Mitt Romney's primary point, which also uses an anecdotal lead in to his larger point:
"My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said, I can't be here until 7 or 8 o'clock at night. I need to be able to get home at 5 o'clock so I can be there for making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school. So we said fine. Let's have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you. ... women have lost 580,000 jobs. That's the net of what's happened in the last four years ...What we can do to help young women and women of all ages is to have a strong economy, so strong that employers that are looking to find good employees and bringing them into their workforce and adapting to a flexible work schedule that gives women opportunities that they would otherwise not be able to afford. ... And an economy with 7.8% unemployment is not a real strong economy. An economy that has 23 million people looking for work is not a strong economy."
In a nutshell, Obama believes that women can be given better jobs and pay equality through legislation, the "more government" option. Romney believes that a strong performing economy will provide better job opportunities for women, a biproduct of "less government" principles he previously said he'd apply to businesses. It's worth noting that neither candidate really answered the original question of how they would rectify the inequality in gender pay (because they're not each individual woman's boss), but they both gave us incite to their methodologies for problem-solving.
I don't think my "amateur chauvinist" humor in my bio is going to help my credibility here, but Romney seems much closer to perceiving the reality of the world we live in, which is the first step to affecting positive change. Emphasis on "positive."
Men and women both have children, but the sad reality of our world is that over 80% of those single parents are women, and those kids require care and time. With such high divorce rates, this is a significant issue. You risk a lot more than a dog pooping on your rug if you ignore a child's needs so that you can wrap up a busy Thursday in the office. The initial thought is that these single mothers need equal pay as much as anyone, but first you have to get your job. If an employer is interviewing between similar qualifications in a single, 27-year-old bachelor versus a single, 27-year-old mother of two, the very real odds are on less complications from the bachelor than from the mother. Doing the work for $10K less annually because you'll work a 35-hour week to have time for the kids is great leverage to get the job. Is this scenario always true? Of course not. With 8% unemployment, there will be far more competition than one, single, similarly-qualified man.
Let's say our lady in question already has the job. It sounds nice for Obama to say that he'll force equal pay if the woman does the same work as a man, but if I was a business owner, I'd just tell my male employees, "Sorry, I have to cut your pay by 25% because our company is crashing." They'd never know about the closed-door meeting where I was told, "cut all the male salaries so they make the same as Janice. Blame it on whatever you want. If they'd rather quit, bring in that bachelor with similar qualifications at the same rate as Janice. I hear he's still looking because he can't find work with unemployment at 8%." Nope, they'd never know about that kind of meeting. Because those kind of meetings are so unrealistic.
A strong economy makes strong companies that can look out for their employees. Strong legislation creates companies that look out for themselves over their employees. For one final thought on whether or not more legislation is the answer to women's equality, I'd like to point out these quick stats on the 112th congress:
House = 326 men, 76 women
Senate = 83 men, 17 women
I'd suggest less government is women's most realistic option for improvement. If you think you're living in a world where women and men are treated equally, then why would you want legislation changing that? If you believe you live in a world where men and women aren't treated equally, why would you trust Washington to fix that?