Saturday, March 24, 2012


It doesn't surprise me at all that Rick Santorum is getting this kind of reaction from Christian conservative women on the campaign trail, even if it runs counter to some conventional wisdom we were hearing a while ago:

On the Right, Santorum Has Women's Vote

... performers asked each other and the crowd what they liked best about the presidential candidate. Camille Harris, 20, exclaimed into the microphone, "Seven kids! Seven kids!" Turning her attention to Mr. Santorum's youngest, Isabella, born with a genetic disorder, the singer added, "Didn't abort the last one, which is amazing."

Then several women in the crowd called out that Mr. Santorum was a Christian and a "man of faith," and that he was "honest and honorable." Bursting with enthusiasm, one woman said, "He's for life!"

There is no mistaking the bond that Mr. Santorum has with conservative women -- particularly married women -- a group that has formed a core of his support since the primaries began in January. He has handily carried the votes of women in primaries that he has won, including those in Mississippi and Alabama. And where he has lost, in Arizona, South Carolina and Illinois, he has enjoyed a higher level of support among women than men....

"If he can run his household, he can run the country. Amen!" Haley Harris, 18, told the Mandeville crowd.

I was skeptical when I started to read that Santorum had a "woman problem" -- or at least I was skeptical that he had a problem among women on the right. A lot of people on our side assumed he'd start struggling with women as cultural issues came to the fore and his positions on those issues became better known, but that's not true in the GOP -- his approval ratings among Republican and Republican-leaning women have soared recently.

I actually noticed something similar to this four years ago, with regard to Mike Huckabee -- in the early days of the '08 campaign, Huckabee did quite well among women; in a poll conducted just after the '08 election, Huckabee did better among women than among men, and Sarah Palin did better among men than among women.

I'll stick by what I wrote back then:

As for Huckabee, that result fits a widely observed phenomenon -- that women like church (and ministers) more than men do. Here's a blog post by a theology-school professor that invokes fairly recent books with titles such as Why Men Hate Going to Church and The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity, as well as a book written back in the 1970s by Ann Douglas (a professor of mine) called The Feminization of American Culture, which describes how nineteenth-century preachers and women jointly occupied a marginalized sentimental sphere. I did a post a couple of years ago about a group called GodMen, who gathered in evangelical churches and discussed ways of making church more guy-friendly, discussions that were accompanied by the comedy stylings of right-wing comic Brad Stine and a band playing a song called "Testosterone High." ("Forget the ying and the yang/ I'll take the boom and the bang/ Give me another dose of testosterone"). The female skew in churches is a big problem, I gather, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised at Huckabee's numbers in this poll.

Huckabee is a Protestant minister; Santorum just talks like one, even though he's neither a minister nor Protestant. I think the result is the same.

Religious-right women like him because he talks values talk, because he has a large family, and because he makes sure voters know that he and his wife didn't choose abortion when they learned that their daughter would be born with trisomy-18.

Our side's recent talk about Planned Parenthood and contraception has rallied a lot of women in the middle to our side -- at least I hope it has -- but I think it's politicized a lot of right-wing women in exactly the opposite way. They like not being feminist. They like embodying what they think is the exact opposite of what we believe. (For instance, they think we hate them if they're stay-at-home moms.)

I hope that's not true in the center as well, because long after Santorum's campaign is a distant memory, Democrats are going to be trying to win women's votes with talk about choice and contraception and women's health and Planned Parenthood. Will it rally more people than it will alienate? Probably -- it's probably a net gain for our side. But it does really inspire women on the right to oppose Democrats. And right now, Santorum is getting a bit of benefit from that in the primaries.


BH said...

This brings to mind something that has puzzled me. In my ever-more-distant youth in the 60's, spent in a small town in NW Tx (which made it still the 50's in most respects), clergy, churchgoing, & religiosity in general were almost exclusively the concern of women/girls. The few male exceptions were generally regarded as laughable; and this seemed true pretty much regardless of generation (mine or my elders'), cultural affinity (redneck/would-be hipster), or ethnicity (black, brown or white). Now we have Tebow & Tebow-wannabes and, down here anyway, "Cowboy Churches" (a real joke since most actual cowboys of the trail-drive era, at least, were at most religiously apathetic judging by contemporary accounts). I've wondered whether this apparent shift was merely apparent; this post makes me think that it may well be. I have to admit, though, that I preferred it when god-bothering males were openly scorned.

merlallen said...

I preferred it that way, too. I know my dad never went to church at all but made us kids go with our mom. My parents were from Louisiana. And now that I think about it, I don't remember my uncles going to church either.