Grace Ross: The Women’s Vote—Can’t Live Without It
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
When Attorney General Coakley ran against Scott Brown in the special election for what was then known as Ted Kennedy’s seat, the part of her presumed victory was that she was a woman and these days, the women’s vote is central to winning an election. Similarly, folks depended on the women’s vote in the Elizabeth Warren-Scott Brown match up two years later.
The thing is that the women’s vote is much more complicated than political strategists – who too often these days take our votes in general for granted – understand.
Just in the last several years, the women’s vote has become such a clear-cut basis of the vote.
Folks who haven’t kept up with the complexity and diversity of the women voting population in our state have mistakenly assumed that you could fall back on old, what might now be referred to as “feminist issues”.
The feminist definition of women’s issues for any of us who actually lived through those discussions has for a long time been dominated by progressive white middle or upper middle class women – it has been these defining issues that have been the visible surface to the general public. That has meant that many of the issues that primarily impact women’s lives have been peripheral or on the margin of that visible agenda.
Without including and understanding those seemingly marginal issues much of the women’s vote is mysterious to political strategists. Coakley assumed that her position on choice and her work on children’s issues would win her the vote without much thought. Elizabeth Warren who was much more aggressive in speaking to and trying to organize the women’s vote, still failed to garner significant percentage of the women’s vote that geographically might be identified, for instance, in the outlying areas around Worcester.
Political strategists have mistakenly assumed that the reason that these ex-urban women voters are relatively unreachable on women’s issues is both because they’ve mistakenly narrowly defined what women’s issues are and/or they have assumed that the vast majority of those women are simply doing what their husbands tell them to do in the voting booth.
What did they get wrong?
As regular people, we know that women, most women, work and make less money than men. All the statistics show it; even for the same jobs women make less. Two things can level that playing field public policy changes or labor contracts at work.
Many women stand on the shoulders financially of their parents who made good wages because of being union members.
Women’s economic future is also often tied to the economic future of their partners because of that same wage disparity. Our lives are far more dependent on how well our children can function in school, access to daycare and all of the social policy components that impact families which women remain still primarily responsible for.
Access to education can have a bigger impact on women’s wages and as they live longer than men issues like social security and Medicare become even more important.
Similarly, when wages are low since women tend to have the lowest wage paying jobs and when work benefits are crummy, women tend to have the crummiest work benefits, all of those issues become central to women’s lives. Funnily enough foreclosures have also harmed women more than men so that can be an issue that women voters are more concerned about.
Obviously, violence against women is unfortunately central to all women’s lives. Domestic violence has only increased with the bad economy.
The traditionally thought of women’s issues like reproductive freedom and the environment and peace remain critical in women’s lives; however, for the vast majority of women, they tend to have more meaning at home.
Are our youth killing each other in the streets? Are we getting sick from plastic components in our water? Is the food we eat poisoned by pesticides or hyped up on antibiotics? And the price of household goods – when we are the ones balancing the budget—often matter to us more.
It is true at this point that you can’t win without the women’s vote, but it’s equally true that you can’t win the women’s vote without understanding what it is.
It’s time for not only policy experts to pay attention to the policies that impact women’s lives the most, but it’s time for those who seek to garner our vote to understand who we are: not the headlines of the concerns of women with the most privilege, but the underlying story of the majority of us.
Candidates and their staff need to pay attention to those of us whose lives are often more invisible and whose voices and votes need to be lifted up. Watch who paid attention on November 5th, 2013.
Grace Ross is the author of Main Street Smarts.
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