Dear Washington Times, Women's Issues ARE Important Issues

If I may nest my points for a moment, 51% of the electorate is not a special interest group, and women’s issues are important issues.

Nov 21, 2012 at 4:30pm | Leave a comment

According to the Washington Times, women voters are simpleminded sheep who can be easily swayed by campaigns exploiting petty fears like access to reproductive health services, and this explains the Obama victory on 6 November. If only 56% of women hadn’t been manipulated by “hope and fear” campaigns orchestrated by evil forces like Planned Parenthood and Emily’s List, women voters would have had a chance at making the right choice for America -- that choice being, of course, Mitt Romney.

I’ve been seeing commentary about this ridiculous editorial fly by on my Twitter feed all morning, and it’s kind of hard to know where to begin to tackle the myriad problems with it. There’s a lot of ridiculing about the language used (“feminists are crowing” and “leftist groups”) and, of course, the lurid illustration that accompanies the editorial. But I’m inclined to look beyond the language -- after all, we on the left use equally vivid language in an attempt to fire up readers -- and into the actual ideas being discussed within the piece.

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Those women voters have always been up to no good. Image credit: Kheel Center, Cornell University.

Assumption one: This election was about birth control

Was it? Maybe partially. Over the last few months, we’ve seen an escalation in attacks on reproductive rights in general in the United States; 2012 really marked a watershed year for legislation, lobbying, and other efforts not just intended to limit access to birth control, but also to abortion and routine health services. This was the year in which a panel of men held a hearing on birth control and no women spoke.

Last year, there was an attack on Planned Parenthood, which -- in addition to providing family planning services -- also offers preventative care, including screening and referrals for cancer. The organization was picked as a target because it’s involved in the provision of birth control and abortion services, and these services are distasteful to many people with politics lying on the right of the spectrum.

Birth control, though, was part of a larger picture that was frightening to anyone, regardless of gender, concerned about gender equality. The picture that was appearing was one in which discrimination against patients on the basis of gender could become a cold reality, and one in which patients with uteruses and accompanying health care needs could have trouble accessing the care they needed. Which, yes, includes birth control, but also includes prenatal care, routine health screening, cancer care, and sexually transmitted infection prevention, screening, and treatment.

And this was bigger than just medical care; the vision of a society in which rights were restricted on the basis of gender was very real for some voters. 

Assumption two: The left is pro-abortion

The left, by and large, is pro-reproductive rights, which does indeed include the right to terminate a pregnancy. And not just pro-reproductive rights, but pro-child, I would argue, because caring about reproductive rights perforce requires caring about children, since they are rather inextricably intertwined with this issue.

To boil down the issue of reproductive health and rights to abortion alone is deeply misleading. The left is also concerned with preventing unwanted pregnancies. And with ensuring that sexual contact occurs with free consent between adults with the capacity to consent to sex. And with prompt and appropriate responses to rape and sexual assault. The left is concerned, for example, with the growing backlog of untested rape kits, and with the terrifying language from the right about victims and survivors of rape and sexual assault.

The left is also concerned with the welfare of children -- not “the unborn” -- but actual living children in need of education and other services. These concerns span the desire to ensure that each child is a wanted and loved child. And the need to ensure that children have access to safe homes and schools, ample food that meets their dietary needs, health care, and other services to grow up happy and healthy.

In 2012, there have been a number of slashes to the very services intended to protect and help children in the US, led primarily by the right. We’ve seen cuts to funding for disability services, including those intended to help disabled children, for example. Other funding cuts and proposals have affected programs that help parents pay for household needs, at a time when many parents are struggling on limited income or unemployment benefits that are rapidly running out. Child poverty in the US is a significant issue, and it's one many people on the left are concerned about.

This is all part of a larger discussion about reproductive rights and government services, and many liberal voters rightly fear that conservatives don't share their values when it comes to supporting the health and welfare of women and children. 

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Image credit: Jennifer Grimes.

Assumption three: Women only care about abortions/birth control/reproductive rights

The editorial made much noise about how “important issues” took a back seat in this election. If I may nest my points for a moment, 51% of the electorate is not a special interest group, and women’s issues are important issues. These include not just reproductive rights, which is not the only women’s issue, but also violence against women, the pay gap, poverty, high unemployment among women (yes, Washington Times!), and racial disparities embedded within the social inequalities faced by women. I'm barely scratching the surface of women's issues with this list. These issues were all considered by women when they researched candidates and ultimately when they went to the polls to cast their votes.

The statement that women only care about abortion was particularly laughable given the illustration, featuring a rather scaremongering graphic imagining “Obamacare abortion on demand.” The graphic would be funny, except for the fact that many conservative politicians vowed to destroy the ACA1 and specifically referenced the idea of abortion on demand in their arguments.

Obviously, many women voters were very concerned about women’s issues because these issues directly affected them and in a very immediate way. They also saw the writing on the wall, noting that 2012 could be a watershed year for women’s rights, and that these rights were under attack. Not just the right to control the timing and spacing of your children (if you want to have them at all), but the right to live as a free and equal member of society. Like all voters, many women were disinclined to vote against what they viewed as their best interests, and it’s clear that at least some women felt Mitt Romney was not in their best interests.

But these weren’t the only issues women voters were concerned with. They thought about the economy, about US foreign policy, about immigration reform, and about environmental issues, among many other things. These, too, were deciding factors in which candidates they wanted to vote for, and they paid attention to the platforms and statements of the candidates. It is, in fact, possible to care about more than one thing at once, even when you are a person with a puny little ladybrain.

Assumption four: Women voters are mindless sheep who can be frightened by “leftist groups”

Women, like, uh, everyone, are pretty smart, independent thinkers. They’re capable of evaluating information, looking at where it came from, and making their own decisions. A lot of women directly contributed to campaigns run by groups like Planned Parenthood to raise awareness about electoral issues they thought were important; and groups like Emily’s List don’t just terrify women voters into casting their lot for Obama -- they also play a vital role in getting more women into office and ensuring that women’s interests are represented in US government.

Many women were terrified during this election cycle because there was a lot at stake, and they didn't need groups like Planned Parenthood to tell them that. They rightly feared escalating attacks not on “reproductive rights,” which the Washington Times put in scare quotes for reasons known only to itself, but women’s rights in general. This was an election year in which rape victims and survivors were dragged through the mud and vilified in the media. This was an election cycle in which women candidates were viciously attacked by male opponents.

This was an election in which sheer naked contempt for women was made abundantly clear, and women, being the smart people that they are, picked up on that. Some of them even decided to make polling booth decisions on the basis of which candidate they thought was most likely to treat them like a human being, but those decisions were also tempered by a consideration over which candidate they felt would be most likely to lead the country in a good direction.

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They even let women work at the polls these days. Image credit: Steve Rhodes.

Assumption five: Women voting for Obama have destroyed the fabric of society.

The editorial claims that voting for Obama will be the death knell of civil liberties and freedoms in the United States, which is a peculiar statement. Under President George W. Bush, the US saw unprecedented attacks on civil liberties, including expansions of FISA and the passage of the PATRIOT Act. The Obama administration by no means has a perfect record on these issues, and I don’t agree with its stance on a number of key civil liberties issues, but I see no evidence that Romney would be any better; Republicans by and large seem to support measures like invasive surveillance, for example.

It’s definitely certain that a Romney administration would have expanded US military action overseas, contributed to the continued militarization of the border, and slashed through the civil rights programs that have been a quiet cornerstone of the Obama administration. DOJ victories for voting rights, disability rights, and other issues would have been short lived under Romney, as illustrated in his platform, public statements, and remarks at debates. It also would have favored big business over individuals, destroyed public welfare programs, and made other policy changes that would have had a profound impact on US society.

I’d argue that civil rights and civil liberties are very important, and one candidate was definitely stronger in this area than the other. Many women voters recognized that as well, and went with the candidate they thought was worthy of their support. It would appear that many men did as well, because this election wasn’t won by an army of women, something the Washington Times seems to have neatly forgotten.

This editorial does get one thing right: the US is an extremely polarized nation. But the blame for that doesn’t lie with voters who exercised thoughtful consideration tempered with immediate concern for their welfare when they went to the polls. We can talk about the nuance and complexities that went into voting decisions, but that's hard to do when you're sweeping women into a big pile of people you think voted on the basis of one issue within a much larger framework. Liberal women weren't brainwashed into voting for Obama, any more than conservatives were tricked into voting for Romney. 

1. Fun fact: Both Rionator, xoJane’s resident conservative feminist, and I, xoJane’s resident pinko commie queer nonfeminist, oppose the ACA, for somewhat different reasons. Let no one say that xoJane doesn’t reach across the aisle! Return