Some months before the presidential election, my funny feminist friend Gina Barreca wanted to discuss how and why Mitt Romney was going to lose because he creeps out single women. I lectured her about the perils of prognostication in a fickle political landscape, and told her I’d be happy to talk to her after the election, but only in the unlikely eventuality that Romney clearly lost entirely because he creeped out single women. Hi, Gina.
Gene: He lost two to one among unmarried women!
Gina: And it’s a huge demographic, a quarter of the electorate. Flip that to a mere 50-50 — if single women were merely tepid about him — and Romney wins decisively, as I was prepared to tell you three months ago in a scoop of national proportions, but, no, some men never listen, such as you and Mitt Romney, which is exactly why he lost.
Gene: The big issues were abortion and contraceptives.
Gina: That was the public face of the big issue. The real big issue is that Mitt Romney is a terrible, terrible date, and single women, who are forced into the perpetual ghastly state of potential date appraisal, sensed that immediately.
Gene: He is rich, handsome and genteel!
Gina: Yep, he is the guy your mom sets you up with. He looks fine on paper. And he cleans up real good. When he’s wearing a tux, no one would mistake him for a waiter. And he’s solid. You’ll never get called up in the middle of the night because he’s drunk. So, yeah, Ma approves. And you go out with him, and then you have to spend an agonizing hour trying to explain to her why it didn’t work and never will, and she is disappointed in you, and you cry. I would sooner go out with Gilbert Gottfried.
Gina: Danny DeVito.Alan Greenspan.Flounder, from “Animal House.” Marcus Bachmann,Michele’s verrry suspiciously gay-hating husband, who at least would dance with me. I would sooner go out with Mr. Dithers, Dagwood’s boss. I’d sooner work for Mr. Dithers.
Gene: He kicks people in the rump!
Gina: At least he’s in touch with his emotions. I’d take him over Romney in the conference room and the bedroom. All you had to do was watch Romney discussing “binders full of women,” and you understood, intuitively, where women stood with him: We’re a category of thing to be held in containers and accessed when needed, roughly the same as pistachio nuts or lock washers. Romney is the guy who takes you out to his club, because he’s comfortable there. Then he either orders for you or tells you what’s good and then gets petulant if you don’t order it, because he’s already TOLD you what’s good, and it’s the chateaubriand, it is NOT the pasta primavera. He’ll be chummy with the maitre d’ — he respects status — but abusive to the busboy. With you, he’ll be extremely chivalrous. He will pull out your chair. He will elaborately walk to the passenger side door, open it, seat you and close the door before getting behind the wheel, even if time is short.
Gene: What’s wrong with good manners?
Gina: Nothing, but chivalry is the opposite of good manners. It’s infantilizing. It’s contempt masquerading as politeness. The chivalrous guy is establishing roles; he is the protector, you are Limoges. Your job is to let him be masterful. In my experience, when you are standing on a pedestal, there’s not much room to move around. That’s by design.
Gene: I’m fine with all this, but I would like to observe that this entire line of analysis — reducing the girl vote into a matter of romantic preference — is not entirely consistent with rigorous feminism.
Gina: I know. You’ll get letters. But don’t underestimate our seriousness of purpose. I can tell you, for example, who the single woman’s dream date is going to be for 2016.
Gina: Elizabeth Warren.