Ghosts of binders past – The unbindable electorate

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by Adison Marshall

The debates this year left me slightly disturbed, and not just about the threat of poverty on Sesame Street. I’m concerned with the way in which women were presented during all three of the debates. I have on occasion been accused of being a “crazy liberal Feminazi,” but that’s mostly because I spend my time pointing out the obvious to my (clearly tactful and kind) male friends. You really don’t have to look or listen very hard at all to see that we live in a patriarchy, and this is painfully clear in our boys’ club politics.

During the first debate, not one single “women’s issue” (healthcare, abortion, pay gap, etc.) was explicitly addressed. However, women were thrown a bone: Every one of the examples of the hard-workin,’ blue blooded Americans that both candidates met on the campaign trail were women. Let that sink in. Every. Single. One. Think I’m exaggerating? Check out the transcript.

That’s truly offensive, if you think about it. Not a single women-specific issue was addressed, and yet President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney spoke about the women they had met during the last few months, expecting to garner the votes of more than half the electorate.

I realize that the candidates are trying to reach as broad a demographic as possible with these debates. I understand that the state of the economy has a salience which no other issue has. I realize that the future of Medicare and Social Security are huge concerns in the face of the Affordable Care Act. And finally, I realize that Democrats have traditionally “owned” women’s issues, and with so many other issues to clarify and defend their position on, it’s not as beneficial to spend time on a cause and demographic they so clearly have already secured.

That being said, failing to address women while simultaneously tryingto sway us through blatant pandering — that’s low. And I thought it couldn’t get worse. Surely, Obama and Romney will realize they’ve neglected to talk about issues that affect more than half of the electorate and will get to us next time.

Lo and behold, during the next debate, there was a question specifically about the pay gap. Finally, my issues were addressed — and address them the President did. He attributed his upbringing to strong women. He mentioned the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and, ending with a bang on, the proposition that more accessible higher education for everyone is the best way out of this.

Then came one of the most offensive things Romney could’ve possibly said. As governor of Massachusetts, not only did he have to search for women who were qualified enough to serve in his cabinet, but these people were reduced to pages in binders for his staff to search through. What’s more, his female hires needed special privileges in order to be functional parts of the workplace. Poor Romney had to deal with the burden of allowing these qualified binder women to work a full-time job but also raise multiple children.

Meanwhile, Romney has no qualms using women’s presence on his staff as something to point to and say, “The University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states, and concluded that (Massachusetts) had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.”

Romney also dodged the pay gap question with some flaky response about a strong economy being the only way in which employers can look for good employees and allow them the flexible work schedule they need. A strong economy would be good for job creation? The problem is that’s only tangentially related to the pay gap and the all-too-real glass ceiling.

The President then addressed healthcare for working women, a strong subject for him because the Affordable Care Act provides comprehensive health care coverage for women. Over the summer, women began to receive coverage for well-woman visits; screenings for gestational diabetes, domestic violence screening and counseling, contraceptive methods, breast feeding support, supplies, and counseling, HPV testing, STI counseling, and HIV screening and testing. Romney’s said that he would like to defund Planned Parenthood.

At this point, it’s fairly obvious which candidate I voted for. But I’m from the South, so I know, deeply respect, and am related to as many Republican women as Democratic women. I understand not agreeing with the Democratic Party on economic policy or social issues.

But that’s not my point. Women are underrepresented in the government. Policies that directly affect women’s everyday existence are created and voted on by men who couldn’t possibly — and most times don’t make an effort to — understand these policies’ effects on women’s lives.

Women’s underrepresentation also means that on the occasion that we are thought of, it’s as just another demographic to be easily won by a few personal stories or by the ghosts of binders past.

Where are we left, as American women, when one party can claim that the other is waging a war on women and that this accusation can actually hold a lot of water? Where are we left when a significant portion of our elected officials don’t believe that all rape is by definition forcible? Where are we left when a serious presidential contender is dodging questions about the pay gap?

The important thing is not to stand behind party lines and shout at each other. The important thing is where and how women are represented. Should we feel obligated to vote for the party that is championing women’s rights, even when some of us completely disagree with that party’s economic policies? We make up more than half of this country’s electorate, and the fact that I would even dream of asking that question shows how pitifully we are underrepresented in our national government.

I’m not being reductionist. I’m not arguing that a woman is just her health concerns or that she is just the pay gap. That’s the opposite of my point, which is that as women we have to stay informed not only about the state of the economy and foreign policy issues, but that we have a responsibility to be informed about the whole other set of things that falls under the banner of “women’s issues.” We have to be so vigilant because the boys in the club only consider us every four years when they are seeking our votes.

Despite how we vote, we have an obligation to be aware and to form an actual opinion on the policies and policymakers who are so quick to write us off. If we don’t, how can we ever hope to be adequately represented?

 

photo by the US Embassy New Zealand: http://www.flickr.com/photos/us_embassy_newzealand/6268495186/