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New Look at Mitt Romney's Time as Mormon Leader Shows He's Always Been Bad for Women

While Romney is widely derided for his constantly changing political positions, it seems he is clear on one thing: Patriarchal order.

Photo Credit: AFP


Last night, after dinner was eaten and the homework was done, I had a rare 45 minutes to read newly-arrived magazines before they were a year old and buried under a pile.

And so I picked up the current issue of  Vanity Fair to read about Mitt Romney.

And here is what I learned: Though Romney has been a chameleon on many issues, not least of which are women's rights--changing from a "pro-choice" position when running for office in Massachusetts to a radical anti-choice position now that he is competing for the Republican nomination for President in 2012--he has been utterly and thoroughly consistent in his actions regarding women's lives and roles within patriarchal systems.

I maintain and have always maintained that no matter your party affiliation, the label "pro-choice" means almost nothing unless you walk the walk. That Romney is a panderer extraordinaire when it comes to the rights and health of women is now indisputably clear: You can't go from supporting Roe v Wade to supporting a federal law granting fertilized eggs more rights than women without revealing complete disregard for actual living, breathing women.  But what I find most revealing about Romney's personal "pro-choice" era--the time during which he lived in and was building a political life in Massachusetts--were his actions as a spiritual and religious leader in the Mormon church faced with individual women in need. In the words of one woman, "At a time I needed nurturing and support [from Romney], I got judgment, criticism, prejudicial advice, and rejection.”

The article by Michael Kranish and Scott Helman focuses largely on Romney's role in the Mormon Church, and how Romney built his fortune, including the history of his leadership of Bain Capital. I recommend it highly if only for the excellent and in-depth treatment of how Romney amassed a fortune some estimate at close to $1 billion (hard to pin down because he refuses to release his tax returns) and his imperial style of leadership (keep the masses away!!).

But the authors also do an excellent job of looking at Romney's treatment of women. 

And it is sobering. It reveals a man who is willing to "listen," but often can not seem to understand nor to muster compassion toward people who are in difficult situations.  Moreover, it reveals a man who saw his role as ensuring strict adherence to the patriarchal doctrines of the Mormon faith even at the risk of women's lives.  It's the same old song, just a different denomination now that Romney's on.

Kranish and Helman explain that Romney, recognized early on within the lay-led Mormon church as a leader, rapidly ascended in Massachusetts, serving as a bishop and then a "stake president" overseeing about a dozen congregations with close to 4,000 members. "Those positions," write the authors, "amounted to his biggest leadership test yet, exposing him to personal and institutional crises, human tragedies, immigrant cultures, social forces, and organizational challenges that he had never before encountered."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints "is far more than a form of Sunday worship," they write.  A male-dominated religion in which women women can serve only in certain leadership roles and never as bishops or stake presidents, Mormon theology is also:

[A] code of ethics that frowns on homosexuality, out-of-wedlock births, and abortion and forbids pre-marital sex. It offers a robust, effective social safety net, capable of incredible feats of charity, support, and service, particularly when its own members are in trouble. And it works hard to create community, a built-in network of friends who often share values and a worldview. For many Mormons, the all-encompassing nature of their faith, as an extension of their spiritual lives, is what makes belonging to the church so wonderful, so warm, even as its insularity can set members apart from society.

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