Around the 1992 election, like the political junkie-in-training I was, I walked around my grade-school wearing campaign buttons featuring the dynamic duo of Jewish female California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, plus new First Lady Hillary Clinton. It was the Year of the Woman, a historic moment for women in politics — and a backlash to the Anita Hill fiasco — that hasn’t been replicated since.
Last night’s election may be remembered as a similarly banner moment, an example of, as social media would quaintly put it, “revenge of the ladyparts.”
The story of last night begins with resounding defeats for some of the most extreme and obnoxious anti-women Tea Party type candidates: Todd “legitimate rape” Akin, Richard “God’s Will” Mourdoch, Joe “abortion is never necessary to save the life of the mother” Walsh and more. Even the shell-shocked folks on Fox News acknowledged that a lot of these races had been the GOP’s to lose, and the candidates’ outmoded, offensive — but deeply revealing — beliefs about gender, abortion and rape lost it for them.
But the losses for (“team rape”)[http://jezebel.com/5958480/team-rape-lost-big-last-night] were women’s gains. This widely-circulating photoset shows a montage of some of the amazing women who were elected or re-elected last night — 19, possibly 20 women in the Senate, a new high.
Last night’s Foreign Policy debate was all about swing — the candidates taking final swings at each other and aiming for the hearts and minds of swing voters. And conventional polling wisdom tells us who the most important “swing voters” are, particularly for the President: that’s right, the women.
For President Obama, this is a major opportunity to hone in on the group that may be most important to his election: women. As pointed out by Ron Brownstein, one of the nation’s best students of the interplay of politics and demography, Obama can win the election if he wins over more college-educated women in the Southeast and more non-college educated women in the upper Midwest. He has already made strong inroads with both, but needs a little more heft.
Obama’s best way to do that is to convince women that he will not only protect our security but he will keep us out of war. He has argued in the past that he is doing just that by getting bin Laden and by extracting the U.S. from Iraq and Afghanistan.
There’s a reason for that: Nate Silver noted this week that a particularly pronounced “gender gap” has emerged this year: “if only women voted, President Obama would be on track for a landslide re-election [but] if only men voted, Mr. Obama would be biding his time until a crushing defeat at the hands of Mitt Romney.”
While everyone is up in arms about Romney’s “binders full of women” comment (which I found awkward, but ultimately inoffensive), they are overlooking the big issue that was left out of the debate on how to get rid inequality in the workplace. I am talking about maternity leave and affordable childcare.
Between Obama and Romney, they brought up pay discrimination, affirmative action for women (the “binders”), and flexible work schedules as ways to make workplaces more hospitable to women and rectify the fact that women earn 72 cents for every dollar men earn. They even talked about contraception and healthcare as having an effect on the income gap. But neither of them in their declarations of support for women in the workplace even hinted towards that pesky little issue of having and caring for children, which is one of the biggest handicaps for working gals.
Why is maternity and parental leave, or the lack of it, not part of the national conversation? It is not as though there are no consequences to the United States’ dismal support for new parents. I am getting sick of explaining this dismal support over and over again, but clearly it bears repeating.
Out of 178 industrialized countries in the world, the United States is one of three that does not guarantee paid maternal leave. The other two are Papa New Guinea and Swaziland. If you work for a company with 50 employees or more, you are guaranteed three months of unpaid leave. That is the best our country will do for you.
According to the National Association of Mothers’ Centers, in 2011 only 11% of private sector workers and 17% of public workers reported being offered paid leave by their employer. Considering that the majority of families are now dual-earner households, this is a real problem, not just for women but for the whole household.
After watching two long debates in which the only “women’s issue” raised was in the context of two men’s faith, I had little hope going into last night’s town hall.
And wow, was I surprised. The evening felt like all women, all the time.
A strong, enthusiastic and even charming Barack Obama emerged out of whatever metaphysical funk was keeping him down last time (maybe he had some of what Joe Biden was having?). Of his own volition, he referred to his support of — and his opponents’ threatened cuts to — Planned Parenthood not once, twice or three times, but four times at least. As I jokingly tweeted, no one would have ever suspected “Planned Parenthood” to be the reference that got viewers engaged in a debate drinking game sloshed!
And Obama also got passionate talking about the women’s issue nearest to his heart, women’s pay equity, describing the women in his family working hard and the glass ceiling his grandmother hit. In fact, by framing everything from contraception and abortion to the pay gap in terms of the economy and family values, he was as animated speaking about reproductive rights as I’ve ever heard him.
After an entire first Presidential debate that ignored women’s issues, and a second debate that ignored them until the very last minute, election-watchers concerned about the future of our uteri were getting quite antsy. No mention up to that point of LGBT issues, reproductive rights, equal pay for equal work, childcare, or even education.
And then, at long last, the question came up: How does your shared Catholic religion inform your feeling on abortion?
The phenomenal, trailblazing job of moderating that Martha Raddatz had done up until that point came to a shuddering halt. The religious framing of the question bugged a lot of viewers who expressed their frustration last night and today.
Robin Marty wrote: