Mel Gibson played a chauvinistic advertising executive in the 2000 movie What Women Want who had an accident that gave him the power to hear women’s thoughts and feelings. I don’t have that power, but I am going to speculate on what many women might want in a man--in this election cycle and more broadly.
Again, this is just the humble opinion of one man (and I emphasize man) who grew up with four sisters, has a daughter, two ex-wives, and three sons who have dated a broad variety of women.
Figuring out what women want isn’t just a pastime–it’s absolutely necessary if you want to know the direction of the country, politically and economically. Since the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney has taken a very small overall lead, with the biggest swing among female voters. It is expected that women will make up 54 percent of voters this year; they are two-thirds of swing voters, with a likelihood that 12 million more women will vote than men in November.
It’s true that issues--growing the economy and dealing with social and cultural matters, including providing affordable day care and equal pay and flex time--are important to them. But women, like all voters, also cue in to the type of leader someone might be, and what their personality and communication skills say about them as a man.
I think many women are conflicted on this in their personal life choices as well as in their political leaders. Often women express a desire that they want what has been traditionally called the “Alan Alda man”--someone who’s sensitive and will key into their feelings, listen and not be overly masculine. But often they choose the opposite. Many women think they have to decide between a man who is gentle but weak and one who is strong but mean. When given the choice, women opt more for the John Wayne type.
Many women want to be in a relationship with a man who is clear, strong, kind, knows where he is going, can stand up when confronted, and can make a woman feel protected and safe. They really don’t have a lot of confidence in someone who is passive, unsure, and unwilling to fight the good fight when needed.
Looking at the last debate through this prism for women, Romney came across as strong, assertive, and clear, while President Obama came across as a bit weak and passive. From this presentation--even with the issue landscape favoring Obama--women began to move to Romney.
Is this curable at Tuesday night’s (and next week’s) debates for Obama? Absolutely. If he comes across as clear, action-oriented, and willing to fight on behalf of voters, then these women will begin to move back to Obama and support him as they did a few weeks ago.
Just as it is for many women in understanding what men want from them as they share roles as wives, moms, and workers, the balance required as a man in this modern age--whether in a president or a partner--is equally difficult and confused. One day, men will be comfortable blending Alan Alda and John Wayne into a new archetype integrating strong, kind, gentle, and protective in a way that has both integrity and modern chivalry.
When we as men get better at constructing that model, we’ll be giving women more of what they want as leaders and as men.