Do Women Need Wooing by Candidates?

Friday, October 19th, 2012

My students and I have been following the presidential campaign and doing research work. Many students are dropping, which has been the norm for many years. (I always ask why but never can come up with a good answer.) Some are “getting into it” and learning a lot about the political theater and the ups and downs of dependency news cycles. Many students are rushing into views without first examining what the research says about issues. In the early portions of the course, students are expected to develop a fairly reasonable description of points of view on an issue and to evaluate those views against standards. This is alien to many of them, who see persuasive writing as mainly about supporting their position with cherry picked evidence that supports that view only. I’m after understanding the varieties of views on an issue and then proceeding into position taking once the lay of the land appears.

Which is why I raise the issue of this panel at The Guardian, which really doesn’t help unpack an issue. It aims to provide “advice” to Mitt Romney on making appeals to women using the language of enticement, that is: to woo.

Here’s Jill Filipovic’s advice:”To appeal to women voters, Romney needs to talk to women like we’re people with rational political interests, and knock off the condescension.”

The problem I have with the subject of the panel is that the objective seems to appeal to condescension in the first place. Why would women need to be wooed by a candidate, since “to woo” in Old English would imply “affective bending” or the kind of behavior given to infatuated people not to people who serious about differentiating ideas.

In argumentation we have a good idea of the notion of an appeal as a form of support. We don’t think of appeals as evidence but as a means of developing an ethical image or mutual relationship. If people have a sense of compassion, they, for example, should be concerning for poor children. And, so, one would appeal to the compassion of an audience when asking for donations. The obverse proves the approach, as one would not appeal to an audience’s sense of selfishness for the same outcome.

One phenomenon that happens in politics is the need for people to give candidates advice. They even want to write their speeches for them. The ability to appeal to people should not require wooing, however.

Cheri Jacobus has a different take:

So excuse me if I find the question posed as a bit biased since it is President Obama who needs to change his tune with women. Whatever Mitt Romney is doing to move women to his side, he should keep doing it! He is leading in the popular vote 52% to 45%, and for the first time in this campaign, now leads in the electoral college.

Jacobus view asserts that the subject of concern can be neutral or unbiased. If the subject had been “how can Obama woo women” then we’d still suffer from the original problem and then suffer from a second: the fallacy of the one-sided coin.


2 responses to “Do Women Need Wooing by Candidates?”

  1. Interesting stuff, Steve. It seems like you could use these questions of “appeals” and really understanding positions as an opportunity to teach or expose you students to the age old list of fallacies. Political theater teamed with research might be an entertaining way to uncover poor logic and argumentative structure…

    or maybe this is what you are already doing?

  2. Steve says:

    This is certainly the intent. The problem is where to start.