You’ve probably seen this bumper sticker before.
Given the hubbub over Ann Romney and Michelle Obama, amongst many others, I propose an amendment. “Election 2012 Is the Radical Notion That Women Are Voters.”
1) “Women voters will be crucial in this election.”
Seriously, with all the references to women voters flying around on the internet today, you would think that we lived in a three-party system: Democrats, Republicans, and women. If this is true, I registered with the wrong party.
I understand that the Obama campaign is counting on women’s votes, and that the Romney campaign is trying to win those votes as well. Honestly, I’m flattered, really I am. Isn’t it nice that we get to have “ladies nights” at the RNC and the DNC. How kind.
But seriously, I don’t get how this is news. More women than men have been registered to vote since 1964. Women voters have turned out more than men have since 1980, when 59.4% of registered women cast ballots in comparison to 59.1% of men. In fact, we had this exact same discussion regarding women voters in 2008. That’s because women vote.
I’m not saying there aren’t differences in the way men and women tend to vote. In the ‘80s and particularly throughout the ‘90s, the “woman block” emerged as its own entity to be observed, studied, analyzed, and campaigned to. But these differences are not directly the result of gender. I don’t make the call about who to vote for with my uterus.
(Just for reference, Googling “men voters” results mostly in stories about the fact that more women vote than men, in addition to The League of Men Voters, which is a fascinating thing in and of itself.)
If you want to talk about women this election season, don’t just talk about their votes, and how women can be won or wooed – please also talk about the fact that women will be, and have been, impacting our political landscape long before and long after the presidential election season.
Firstly, I think it’s foolish to perpetuate the social issue/economic issue dichotomy.
Social issues have economic implications. We knew that already, and we know it now. See, for example, the heated debate about the “real costs” of birth control. Birth control — and who does or doesn’t pay for it, and how they do or don’t pay for it, because it’s actually not free yet — is an economic issue as well as a social one. That’s why researchers have framed pregnancy prevention measures in terms of savings to taxpayers. That’s why federal funding for Planned Parenthood has arisen as a controversial issue in many states, including Texas.
There are plenty of other examples I could give: immigration reform, marriage equality, abortion, the gender wage gap, education, child care … the list goes on. Social issues are not removed from the sphere of economics, and economic policies have social implications.
Secondly, it frustrates me to no end to hear broad generalizations (forgive the terrible pun) like these. Women care about different things. We have said this before; we will say it again.
I am not saying that you can’t observe political trends across gender lines, because you clearly can (see my point about the woman voting block above). But we should not act as though women don’t already have political preferences. Many women belong to political parties before the election season starts. (In fact, according to a recent Gallup poll, women are generally more likely to be Democrats.) Women are not political tabula rasas; we come to every election season with issues we care about and stances on policies, leaders, and the state of our nation.
Thirdly, the implication of these statements tends to be that women somehow cannot care about more than one thing at a time, that one issue has to trump all others. I can’t help but notice that there are no articles touting the headline, “Men Voters Consider Bank Accounts, Prostates in Election.”
All this talk of “what women voters want” sounds like a political update of that terrible Mel Gibson movie.
Every time I read a headline like this one, what goes through my head is this exchange between Hermia and Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “We cannot fight for love, as men may do. We should be wooed, and were not made to woo.”
I know that the word “woo” is used widely in elections, and not necessarily in a gendered way. And I do understand that Michelle Obama and Ann Romney spoke to testify to their respective husbands’ character, and the value of doing so. I must say, I was genuinely moved by both their speeches.
And further, I don’t want to be wooed – I want to be convinced.