Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – Do women and men “think differently?” Do they process policy issues like health care or workers’ compensation differently?
No hard and fast answers to those questions were dictated at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs’ “Policy to Share” conference -- yet the event organizer’s premise was that most women assess issues based on their perception, understanding and other factors distinguishable from male counterparts.
Karma Robinson, a vice president at the free market “think tank,” commented, “I don’t believe women ‘think’ differently, but I do believe which issues drive decisions about policy are different for women than for men. So, I believe how you talk about issues and what issues are addressed can have an impact in reaching women who are voters.”
She credited Mo Anderson, an Oklahoma City activist and OCPA donor, for the conference’s original vision, and for the desire to involve Star Parker and Kate Obenshain, two pillars of contemporary conservatism, in the discussion.
Conference attendees, in Robinson’s words, sought “a fresh approach to female-focused policy.” Hundreds of women and a few men came to the event, which Robinson said is part of a process of discernment on how best to advance ideas of personal and economic liberty in the Obama era.
Robinson reflected, “All the things that arose during the conference are things we talk about every day at OCPA. The purpose of calling women together to focus on these issues is to better understand how policy decisions affect women -- as mothers, wives, sisters, grandmothers and aunts. Women are centered on family.”
Robinson said the event flowed naturally from “the policy discussion internally at OCPA and, in terms of the future, a focus on how to develop messages and themes in a way that is attractive or compelling to women.”
The OCPA executive named a couple of specifics: “Analysis shows that women make most of the health care decisions for families, so it’s important to present a discussion about health care policy in such a way that it correlates to the family budget.”
She continued, “Workers compensation is another example. A woman impacted by this issue wants for herself or her loved one to get the treatment they need, get well from the injury and then get back to work. Delay in any one of those steps presents particular issues to a woman and to her family.
“The stress from being off work for a long time, whether for the woman or her loved one, is terribly high. So, a woman is looking for a workers’ comp process in which there is a positive direction or momentum.
“Beyond those two examples, I found compelling many of the things that Star Parker talked about. You know, the choices a woman makes always have consequences. Star has pointed out there are so many women who makes choices and the impact of government programs is dependency; that dependency can affect your freedom rather than lead to a better life.”
Tina Korbe Dzursian, an OCPA research associate, said the focus presented both challenges and rewards for organizers: “In general, there is a visceral conservative reaction against ‘identify politics,’ and in some ways I share that. The truth is that it has sometimes been effective. And, it is undeniably effective to package messages for various audiences. It works.”
Dzursian, who was M.C. for panel discussions at the conference, continued, “Men and women are different, yet the issues they care about are not that different. The way they process issues and think about them are sometimes distinct. The way I put it is that women care about issues for different reasons than men.
So that was the idea of the conference. In any case, every single person cares about issues for their own set of reasons. Each person is going to have a different way of processing what they’re hearing and seeing, when they make decisions about policy issues.”
Dzursian, a multi-issue conservative like Robinson, told CapitolBeatOK, “this process can help lead to more personal-oriented presentation of issues. A particular policy will affect different people in different ways. That’s what we’re seeking to address, whether a woman is single, married, worried about community, family, or work, or focused on all of the major issues.”