The debates are over, early voting has begun, and the election season is drawing to a close.
I think I speak for all Americans when I say, “It’s about damn time.”
Someday when we look back at Election 2012, a few phrases will stand out: Legitimate rape, binders full of women, sluts getting paid to have sex, and “shutting that whole thing down.” Yes, it’s been quite a year for women in politics. (No, I don’t mean female politicians, who still make up only 16.8 percent of Congress.) I mean us regular ladies, who are now firmly in the crosshairs of every candidate for public office. They want our sweet, sweet votes.
Why now? It could be that there’s a general increased awareness of women’s issues around the globe, from sex trafficking to child marriage to domestic abuse. It could be that Republicans’ compact with religious fundamentalists has reached the point where the party is espousing a return to 1950s social mores.
Or it could be that, according to Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics, voter turnout among women was a whopping 5 percent higher than among men. In fact, women have been reliably outvoting men since the 1960s.
In light of that fact, it’s easier to see why vaginas (and the bodies and brains that surround them) are on every politician’s mind. Most of the discourse around women has centered around reproductive rights, with one party almost unilaterally advocating a restriction across the board, from abortion to contraceptives to breast cancer screenings. It has not escaped women’s notice that none of the writers of the proposed vagina-centric laws actually have vaginas of their own. “Regardless of where you fall on the issue, there are four men talking about legislating our bodies,” says Karine Jean-Pierre, a partner in K + K Enterprises (a socially conscious political consulting firm) and the former National Battleground States Deputy Director for President Obama. “D.C. is a male-dominated town, and your vote is how you insert your importance as a woman in their minds.”
Of course, in politics, women are reduced to only a few basic archetypes. “Political campaigns are driven by polls and tend to, for better or worse, speak to the electorate that is going to most influence whether or not they are elected,” Jean-Pierre says. That means that for electoral purposes, all women are moms. Candidates love moms; it’s just about the only thing they can agree on. Not all women actually are moms, of course, but about 80 percent are (according to the National Organization of Women), and many of those that aren’t already moms hope to be one someday, so mom-centered rhetoric rules. Single moms, stay-at-home moms, grizzly moms, tiger moms. Moms are great. What, you single, childless female, you got a problem with momming?
If it feels as if no candidate is speaking to a young, upwardly mobile and/or childless demographic, it’s true. The unfortunate truth, despite what the deluge of political posts on your Facebook wall would have you believe, is that historically, young people do not vote in very high numbers. For most elections, about half of eligible young voters show up. “Voting participation increases with age,” Jean-Pierre says, “So politicians naturally cater their messaging to aging demographics.” Hence the national obsession with Medicare instead of college loan relief. Young people are more likely to feel jaded and cynical about politicians in general, leading to a ‘What’s the point?’ attitude. They’re also less likely to be able to see and understand the direct effects of voting on policy.
The poor experience a similar ennui and dissatisfaction that keeps them away from the polls. “People on the lower end of the income spectrum tend to feel more disenfranchised, which leads to non-participation,” Jean-Pierre says. After all, neither the young nor the poor have lobbying groups like the AARP or the American Bankers Association on Capitol Hill pressing for their interests.
While the newfound fascination with ladyparts is a welcome change from the dudebro conversations of most election cycles, it still doesn’t address what really matters to most women. “Homes where the woman is the single breadwinner and parent have been hit extraordinarily hard and disproportionately,” Jean-Pierre says. “Women already earned less and had to compete more for jobs.” President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009, and the Affordable Care Act went farther than any previous legislation to make healthcare for women and children an affordable reality, but a conversation about how economic policy could bolster women’s participation in the workforce would be a more welcome change. “Women are as affected by the economy as men are, if not more,” she says. “It’s important to know how the candidates are pushing the ball forward in this regard.”
And you? Single or married, mommied or child-free, Republican or Democrat, you and your magic uterus can walk down to your polling place and pull a lever on November 6th. As Jean-Pierre says, “The best way to make them pay attention to you is to vote.”
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