It feels funny to write about “women’s issues.” I’m not even convinced I know exactly what that phrase means. It calls up images of tampon commercials and bra-trashing protests at beauty pageants. But I just finished watching the first night of the Democratic National Convention and it seems clear to me that women are a critically important demographic to the Democratic party and essential to winning the country. As ambivalent as I am to acknowledge this fact, I think we do have special interests and issues that concern us, specifically. And as such, I am not ashamed to say that I ardently support our President and would like to see him re-elected, come November. Both sides in the political sphere have sought to appeal pointedly to women during these conventions and I both appreciate and resent this. A prime example is that the parties scheduled dueling speeches by Ann Romney and Michelle Obama in an attempt to increase the draw of their husbands. On one hand, I think it is quite a statement about the important function of a political wife, that every great man has a woman behind (?) him. But you can also see how this is somehow insulting – Why does she need to be behind him? Why must she be relegated to addressing more domestic issues and talking about feelings? Why do we need a “woman’s touch” to “soften” a man? Why aren’t men allowed to look powerful AND empathic on their own? I have so many of these questions, as I know you do.
I have struggled over the past months to understand how any woman would feel included and respected in the Republican vision for America. I also watched the Republican National Convention and found myself trying to look into the eyes of the women in the audience — as the camera periodically panned to them — to see what I was missing. What allows these women to ignore the way their leaders are working to suppress their very humanity?
Positions on broader issues like healthcare, general economic disparities and the social safety net are certainly applicable to women, but there are ways in which the Republican party is working to drag just us decidedly backward. Here is just one example from this past spring involving a new law in Virginia requiring women seeking abortions to undergo intrusive ultrasounds. The particular cognitive dissonance of supporting a party platform that includes eroding your own reproductive rights seems incredible to me. Not to mention the way that Republican state and national leaders have stood in the way of remedying the 23 cent per dollar gap in pay that women continue to experience.
It’s more than a little surreal that in 2012 we are still and again concerned about an assault on our freedom to make basic health decisions. At the DNC, NARAL Pro-Choice President Nancy Keenan described the stark policy differences between Democrats and Republicans on this issue. In elections past, the Republican platform has been officially against reproductive rights for women, while some less socially conservative members of the party would still quietly note that they were pro-choice. These party members were essentially left to their own devices, especially if it was politically expedient. This year, Republicans have upped the ante and changed the philosophical stance and the actual language of the platform — they are now zealously anti-abortion and make absolutely no exceptions to this, even for rape or the health of the mother. I know a few political pundits who find this development astounding in its signaling of how far right the party has traveled. Quite obviously for us, it is deplorable because it assails the basic rights of women in a way our generation has never seen.
In the world of behavioral assessment, it is widely held that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. For example, in evaluating an individual’s level of imminent dangerousness (either to themselves or others), a heavily weighted factor is always whether that person has engaged in dangerous behavior previously. If the answer is yes, the level of risk is increased and you climb down another branch on the decision tree. Looking back on the past few years of Republican leaders introducing and enacting legislation that chips away at women’s rights, it is imperative that when they simply describe their party as being for and about women, it cannot distract us from the facts on the ground. You can learn more about reproductive rights in each state here.
There are legitimate conversations to be had about how effectively this president has served our country, ways in which Democratic leaders could clean up their act and in what ways many people in many positions of power have let us down. One might disagree with the assessment of history, the economic theories or policy prescriptions of one party or another. But there can be no question which party supports women’s rights. This is not a personal or professional analysis, this is something about which Republicans make no bones — they do not endorse a woman’s right to make her own health decisions and it is right there in their platform.
This is a call to action. This election is going to be close. Make sure you are registered, tell your friends and loved ones and get out there and vote.