I think women around the world had their eyes glued to the screen during the Democratic National Convention this year, when Michelle Obama took the stage. I know I did. Regal, ladylike and at the same time incredibly down-to-earth, hearts were drawn to her. The Jackie O of our generation, who skyrocketed J-Crew’s sales, and has proven that she is a woman who walks alongside, rather than behind her husband, she has awed us all with her strength of character and her perfectly coiffed hair and chiseled arms.
Excellence from the eloquent Michelle Obama was not shocking, but I’m not sure what women of the world expected of Ann Romney, who was dubbed by The Stir as “the most-famous stay-at-home mom.” Despite whatever expectations however, Ann turned out to be quite endearing! She invited us to see a softer side of the often-unlikable Mitt and appealed to working moms who simply want to be able to spend more quality time with their children. Faced with the challenging task of winning the female vote for her husband, Ann did well. Whether or not her charm was enough to help female voters overlook the hilarious political gaffes of her husband and his running partner; Paul Ryan, I guess we won’t know for sure until November.
One thing is growing clearer with each passing day however, the female vote will be a determining factor in who wins the US Presidential election this year, and the two major Parties know it.
While the Democrats have held an unsurprisingly steady lead against the Republicans among women, they cannot ignore the women who are “voting with their purses” as Ann Romney has urged them to. These women are the mothers and wives to whom Ann spoke during her speech. They are the middle and upper class women who are more concerned about debt, employment and taxes than about where they will get inexpensive gynecological exams if Planned Parenthood shuts down.
The incumbent’s struggles with the economy are undeniable, and this will continue to be the Republican Party’s main weapon against him in the ongoing political battle. A recent ad paid for by the Romney campaign, turned the tables on the Dems by using their female-focused tactics, and acknowledged the mothers who were concerned about the debt and the unemployment that they would presumably inherit if Obama were granted a second term. Concern about Obama’s economic and fiscal policy decisions have some of these women wondering about their jobs, their taxes and the debt their children will have to pay.
Frankly though, appealing to women on economic grounds, has done very little to whitewash the recent ugliness on the Republicans’ track record with women. The Party is getting to be a tougher and tougher sell with American women, particularly in the wake of Senate Candidate Todd Akin’s galling statements about women’s bodies being capable of shutting down pregnancies from rape and Paul Ryan’s viciously benign euphemism for rape as a “method of conception”that probably pissed off even the most conservative among American women. These foot-in-mouth moments nearly caused irreparable damage to the Republican campaign, making us all wonder – who writes these guys’ speeches?
Asinine, off-the-cuff statements are not the only issues repulsing women voters from the Republican Party this year though. Hardly. In my research, even a non-partisan like myself, was blown away by the recent Republican actions, comments and decisions, that many are calling ‘a war against women’. Akin and Ryan’s comments have just been cherries on the misogynistic cake.
Earlier this year, Republicans went on a crusade to require ultrasounds on women considering abortion. For some time, there was even debate over whether or not these ultrasounds should be invasive, intra-vaginal procedures, requiring the insertion of a penile speculum into a woman’s vagina, regardless of her reasons for wanting an abortion. In theory, the idea was that, a woman could not possibly want to abort her child after undergoing the procedure; in practice it would have been government-authorized rape. Women the world-over were infuriated about this, and rightfully so. In which far off planet, is it acceptable for any government, regardless of party, to mandate rape with a foreign object? Apparently not that far off, according to Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, five states now require women to undergo an ultrasound prior to an abortion, that may use an intra-vaginal speculum. It’s understandably difficult for women to endorse a Party that supports imposing a rape-like process on pregnant women, in order to drive home an ideological point, pun intended.
Most recently, the Republican Party also blocked the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would have hindered employers from paying men more than women doing a similar job. The Party is also seeking to shut down Planned Parenthood, an organization that does not only conduct abortions, but also provides much needed subsidized cancer screenings, PAP smears, contraception and gynecological procedures for thousands of women who are unable to pay for private health-care (perhaps if they were being paid equal wages, they would be able to go to any doctor they wanted to). Though the Party has indicated that they would simply like to see the federal funding for abortion procedures cut, and they recognize the importance of the services Planned Parenthood provides, there’s no denying Romney’s statement in an interview in Missouri, “Planned Parenthood, we’re going to get rid of that.” Romney and his Party have manipulated faith and conservatism as a soapbox on which to stand against reproductive and women’s health issues, and to exact control over women’s bodies and medical practice in an unprecedented way, and in so doing, they have alienated the majority of women – many of whom stand in the middle of far left and far right.
There’s no denying that each party has its flaws, many women are concerned about the economic struggles that have become synonymous with the Obama administration. They are worried about joblessness, increased taxes, and their children’s debt. Several more women however are realizing what they will be challenged with, should the Republican Party pull out ahead. They are apprehensive about the Republicans’ seemingly anti-women’s rights decisions and comments. The debate over abortion is one fraught with ideology and confusion, but surely we can all agree that equal pay for equal work is a laudable women’s right?
Romney has become the laughing stock of journalists and news-reporters. It seems that at every event, he is finding new ways to make us all smack our heads in true Homer Simpson fashion. The Presidential hopeful has proven that he can switch ideologies at the drop of a hat, when it works to his advantage. Romney started off his political career as a moderate, open to pro-choice legislation, but has now adopted an absolutist standpoint in accord with his Party and his Conservative supporters with deep pockets. The man with millions of dollars parked in overseas accounts has campaigned for taxation reform and claims he can relate to the struggles of the American people? Women are wondering how they can trust someone, regardless of his political affiliation, who has proven himself inconsistent, false, and rides on whichever train will take him to his destination.
If anything, the last few months have been indicative of what the world can expect from each Party and candidate’s administration, should they win. Their behavior, actions and voting records speak louder than the din of their pricey campaign ads. Even their wives’ speeches were indicative of two very different types of women, and admittedly, two very different versions of America. I hope women have been paying attention. The time has come for women voters in the United States to no longer simply vote according to Party politics, but rather to weigh what is more important to them, jobs, taxes and economic policy, or the right to their own bodies.
Dominique is a women’s rights activist, social entrepreneur and blogger from Trinidad and Tobago. She completed her Bachelors in Virginia, and then went on to work in the Democratic Republic of Congo with rape-survivors and refugees with a grassroots women’s rights agency. She is passionate about international development and is currently working on independent projects in Haiti and in the DRC. Not particularly political, but observant. Follow her on Twitter @dvplaza. You can check out her blog here: http://dvplaza.wordpress.com