Last time I checked, Barack and Michelle Obama were in a loving, committed relationship, but apparently one of his "girlfriends" has recently emerged from the woodwork. The GOP's women-focused "Dating Profile" ad compares Obama to a bad boyfriend, and American women to a dissatisfied girlfriend whose trust has been broken. "In 2008 I fell in love," says the woman in the ad. "His online profile made him seem so perfect. Smart, handsome, charming, articulate, all the right values. I trusted him. But by 2012 our relationship was in trouble."
The woman then proceeds to laundry list Obama's missteps over the years, likening the NSA's spying on citizens to rifling through her text messages, and the expanding national debt to her boyfriend's frivolous spending. She concludes by saying, "I know I'm stuck with Barack for two more years. I get that. But I'm not stuck with his friends. I'm looking for someone who gets that this isn't about him, it's about us."
Bleh. The whole thing is so nauseatingly cliché. Of course the intent of the ad, which was commissioned by Americans for Shared Prosperity, is to dissuade voters from supporting Democratic candidates in the upcoming midterm elections. But I can't see it having any effect other than pushing away female voters.
For starters, equating women's issues with those of a dissatisfied girlfriend is entirely reductive. It suggests that women can only understand politics as it pertains to romance or sex. It gets my blood boiling to think about the brainstorming meeting for this ad (which, by the way, was funded by John Jordan, the same person whose company is responsible for this degrading "Blurred Lines" parody). I can picture a bunch of white men sitting in a room, struggling to find an idea that would present the information in a way "that would interest women."
Even the issues discussed in the video are reduced to only those that women might traditionally find appealing: privacy, birth control, and spending. No mention of international relations, immigration, or the military. But I'm prepared to give the GOP a free pass on this because it is only a minute-long ad. What I'm not prepared to overlook is how much this ad divides the gender gap by stereotyping women and relationships. Who is this woman in the video, the one sitting in her home alone, clad in pearls and a pink button-down? We know nothing about her other than the fact that she appears to be defined by her hetero-normative relationship. The modern woman is so much more than this person we see on the screen — she's not sitting at home complaining about how her boyfriend can't handle the issues, she's going out there and solving them herself.
Unfortunately for the GOP, they seem to think that they've thrown us a bone with this ad. In an interview with Politico, for instance, John Jordan says that the “purpose of this [ad] is to treat women voters more like adults than either the Democrats or Republicans have.” But depicting a woman on screen, whining about how she's "stuck" with her sucky boyfriend doesn't seem very adult to me.
And that's the other issue — why is this woman "stuck"? We know that in terms of the real-life analogy, we're saddled with Obama for the next two years. But that doesn't justify generating an image of a woman who's trapped in a relationship. Strong women don't respond to men who treat them poorly and neglect their needs by staying in a relationship. They have to courage to seize the kind of relationship they deserve.
Clearly, then, the GOP is either failing to target strong women (big mistake), or misinformed as to what constitutes a strong woman. And it's not the first time. A 2012 ad from the Republican National Committee encouraged women to "break up with Obama" by featuring a dinner conversation between a woman and a cardboard cutout of the president in which she tells him "it's not me, it's you."
Then, in early 2014, the College Republican National Committee aired an ad in Virginia and Michigan called "The Candidate" in which a woman has to choose between a Republican and Democratic suitor à la The Bachelorette.
Using dating scenarios to target female voters, therefore, seems to be a growing trend among conservatives. Even members of the Republican Party, however, understand that this is a flawed tactic. Katie Packer Gage, the former deputy campaign manager for Mitt Romney, recently tweeted her outrage at the GOP's new ad:
Gage's tweet offers further proof that support for this ad is not a matter of partisanship, it's a serious feminist issue, and women should respond accordingly. In light of Emma Watson's recent speech at the UN, we must take this ad as yet another opportunity to speak out against sexism and support the feminist cause. And although the GOP may be inclined to believe that women care more about relationships than they do politics, as women we're inclined to prove them wrong.