President Obama on Friday showered attention on helping women yet warned in the same motion that they should not be reduced to a uniform political bloc, declaring they are not an interest group and "shouldn't be treated that way."
"When we talk about these issues that primarily impact women, we've got to realize that they are not just women's issues," he said at a White House forum on women and the economy. "They are family issues. They are growth issues. They are issues about American competitiveness. They are issues that impact all of us."
Obama's comments came as women's concerns, and the role women will play in choosing the next president, have taken on intensifying importance. Some Democrats have accused Republicans of waging a "war on women" and have turned national controversies over women's rights into a vehicle for raising campaign cash.
The president has not used that phrase. He appealed for a debate that respected the role and needs of women as a driving economic force.
"There's been a lot of talk about women and women's issues lately, as there should be," Obama said. "But I do think that the conversation has been oversimplified. Women are not some monolithic bloc."
Still, after talking of his commitment to women in personal and policy terms, he offered the political context for his remarks: women and the election. Women have made up a majority of the electorate in each presidential year since 1984, and Obama is seeking to defend and expand a gender gap now working in his favor.
Without naming Republican Mitt Romney, his likely competitor in the presidential race, Obama warned of the perils of giving power to people who would seek to end coverage for preventative care such as mammograms and contraception, or slash college aid that disproportionally helps young women.
"That's what's at stake," Obama said.
The forum focused on the underrepresentation of women in politics and in the fields of science and technology.
The president's rivals fought back Friday, with Republican National Committee co-chairwoman Sharon Day ripping Obama over new jobs report figures that showed the economy adding 121,000 new jobs in March, well below the 200,000 that analysts had predicted.
"Across America, women are feeling the pain of the weak economy -- in the job market and at the kitchen table," Day said in a statement. "President Obama and his fellow Democrats love to say they stand for women, but women can no longer stand the Obama economy. Women deserve better, and in November we will hold him accountable."
The Washington Post contributed to this report.