The media has talked a lot about women voters during the course of the Democratic primaries, noting their historic chance to vote for a female nominee, and speculating on their choices.
However, even when female voters have been put in the spotlight as the determining factor in this state or that, little has been said by the media or the candidates on what issues women have at stake in the upcoming general election, or even in their choice between the Democratic candidates.
Democratic candidates are the clear choice for women over the anti-women agenda of the right wing, whose endless attacks on education, health care, reproductive health and community services have disproportionately hurt women at the most basic level. But the media and campaigns have focused almost solely on identity politics. And in a supposedly landmark election in the fight for women’s equality, little has been said to address the demands of women voters in any aspect of campaigning — debates, campaign literature or speeches (unless specifically addressing a women’s organization).
After the New Hampshire primaries, Donna Brazile, a member of the Democratic National Committe, said that Black women would be the determining factor in the upcoming South Carolina vote, questioning whether they would choose a woman or an African American candidate. Like much of the discussion around this election, the votes of African Americans and women, and in this case African American women, were reduced to a question of identity politics, while the concrete demands of that community were not addressed. Their decisions and intentions were labeled for them so broadly that their voices could not be heard.
Hillary Clinton’s fifth largest campaign donor was Emily’s List and female voters represented her margin of victory in New Hampshire and other states. Clinton has addressed women’s issues during her political career. She pushed for availability of emergency contraceptives and advocated for children, recognizing the challenges for women when enough institutional support is not available for children.
Yet she has made few promises to female voters on the issues that affect us most, like poverty wages, the defunding of social institutions, reproductive choices and health, and the high cost of child care.
John Edwards ran an anti-poverty campaign that was successful in bringing attention to the issues of poverty and the importance of unionization, but often in the debates and most publicized speeches he ignored the special demands of both women and racially and nationally oppressed peoples. Women disproportionately experience poverty in this country, with 13 percent of all women, and nearly 25 percent of African American women, living in poverty. Women also hold the majority of low-wage jobs at 59 percent.
Edwards made a strong push for women in his official platform. Yet no one knew about it because he did not address it in his most publicly viewed forums.
Edwards could easily have added a special dimension by addressing the needs of poor women, and all candidates could have fought harder for female voters by addressing women’s needs concretely — rather than leaving our stake in the primary election to symbolism (which the Clinton campaign did offer).
However, while Democratic candidates did not take these issues publicly enough to reach a broad range of female voters, they did address women’s issues when speaking to women’s organizations, showing a certain level of concern and savvy.
For example, in a speech at the National Women’s Law Center, Barack Obama hit the nail on the head, stating, “Women still earn 76 percent of what men do. They receive less in health benefits, less in pensions, less in Social Security. They receive little help for the rising cost of child care. When women go on maternity leave, America is the only country in the industrialized world to let them go unpaid. Many mothers are forced to choose between caring for their child and keeping their job.”
This needed to be brought more publicly to women voters, along with policy proposals that addressed these issues.
Candidates need to proclaim a concrete plan to address the issues of women, like equal pay for equal work, affordable child care, and increasing funding for programs like Head Start.
These issues could have been brought out in the debates.
Instead women casting their votes were reduced in the media to pondering whether or not Hilary cried, or if women could relate to her on a personal level, while no concrete policy changes for women were discussed.
This same mistake cannot be made when it comes to the general election, where women have much more at stake. Instead of counting our vote, but ignoring our demands as voters, the general election must rightfully claim women’s stake in defeating the ultra-right, no matter who the Democratic nominee turns out to be, by forcefully putting forward the needs and demands of women voters.
Docia Buffington (docia@yclusa) is membership coordinator of the Young Communist League.