Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) speaks during a hearing on implementation of the Affordable Care Act before the House Energy and Commerce Committee October 24, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Renee Ellmers, context, and ‘a woman’s level’

Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) found herself in an awkward spot yesterday when a report surfaced quoting the congresswoman making some very controversial comments about women. At a forum on Republican “messaging,” Ellmers reportedly said that men “talk about things on a much higher level,” so GOP officials should “bring it down to a woman’s level.”
Soon after, the North Carolinian’s office complained that Ellmers’ comments had been “taken completely out of context” by “a liberal woman reporter.”
The latter point was plainly untrue. The original report was published by the Washington Examiner, a conservative outlet, and written by Ashe Schow, a Republican and former Heritage Foundation staffer. Ellmers’ office may not have liked Schow’s report, but to dismiss her as “a liberal woman reporter” was wrong.
But what about the former? It seems like a knowable thing – either Ellmers was “taken completely out of context” or she wasn’t. With this in mind, Schow published a second report late yesterday with an audio clip and a lengthy transcript.
“Especially moms, you know we balance so many different things, you know. Or school. Think about what many of you are doing, you know, you’re trying to maintain that job, you know, you’ve got to be moving up in your career. All these different things are coming in at the same time.
“Men do tend to talk about things on a much higher level. You know, one of the things that has always been one of my frustrations and I speak about this all the time – many of my male colleagues, when they go to the House floor, you know, they’ve got some pie chart or graph behind them and they’re talking about trillions of dollars and, you know, how the debt is awful and, you know, we all agree with that.
“But by starting off that discussion that way, we’ve already turned people away. Because it’s like ‘that doesn’t affect my life, I don’t understand how that affects my life.’”
From there, Ellmers said Republicans need to be “engaging individuals on their level,” adding that GOP men should “bring it down to a woman’s level.”
Does this context make the quote less offensive? Well, it depends.
Ellmers’ point seemed to be about accessibility. Men, she argued, speak on a “higher” level, meaning they’re using rhetoric and charts that don’t resonate with women. Republicans, the argument goes, should “bring it down to a woman’s level,” which for Ellmers, apparently means a level in which policy ideas are presented in practical, less abstract terms.
Ideally, she seemed to be arguing, Republicans should talk to women about issues in a way that helps make clear how they affect their daily lives.
Whether or not one finds this persuasive is obviously a subjective question. Even taking the most charitable approach possible, it’s hardly unreasonable to think plenty of women are persuaded by charts, and plenty of men might also want to hear about issues in less abstract terms. 
It’s unclear what, if anything, Ellmers’ Democratic critics might try to do with this story, but it wouldn’t come as too big a surprise if plenty of voters from her North Carolina district ask the lawmaker to clarify some of her thoughts on the subject.

War On Women and Women in Politics

Renee Ellmers, context, and 'a woman's level'