Last Friday, I got the opportunity to go see President Obama speak about the role women would be playing in the upcoming election, and I was excited. As a writer, I was excited to be covering such a legitimate event. As a student in DC, I was excited to finally get my token Obama sighting. And as a woman, I was interested to hear what he had to say.
Unfortunately, it being a political campaign speech, he spoke a lot of words but he didn’t say much. He schmoozed about his beautiful wife and daughters. He touched on key words: gender gap, equal pay, and contraception. He said things about hope and change and moving forward without talking much about tangible solutions. In other words, he worked the political stage like a pro.
But one thing he said did stick with me: “Women are not an interest group. Women shouldn’t be treated that way. Women are half this country and half the workforce. They’re 80% of my family if you count my mother-in-law—and I always count my mother-in-law.”
Interesting: “Women are not an interest group.” Meanwhile, the President was speaking at an event hosted by the Women’s Leadership Forum and Women for Obama. The merchandise table down the hall was covered in “Women for Obama” gear (written, of course, in feminine cursive letters).
“Women are not an interest group,” says Obama. But from the looks of it, it sure seems he's acting like they are.
And he’s not alone. Both the Republican and Democratic parties are currently battling it out for “the woman vote” and political strategists are recognizing women as “a key voting bloc.” Their tactics? Deploying their wives.
I’ve got news for you, boys: You’re fighting a losing battle (and not very well, I might add). Trying to secure the “woman vote” is like trying to secure the unicorn vote—it won’t ever happen because it doesn’t exist. No one would ever dream of aiming to win the “male vote.” (Have you ever seen a “Gentlemen for Obama” t-shirt?) That’s because men don’t all vote the same way. And—surprise, surprise—neither do women.
Let’s look at the issues Obama touched on in his speech: more job opportunities for women, equal pay for women, fair healthcare coverage for women, more women going to college. Romney has been quoted saying that the number one concern for women is the economy. Wow guys, this is groundbreaking stuff.
Yes, we want equal opportunity, jobs, fair healthcare, a good education, and the like. Of course we want to live in a country where we can care for ourselves and for our loved ones. You’re going to be hard-pressed to find a woman who disagrees with those politics. But that’s because you’re going to be hard-pressed to find a single person in this country who disagrees with them. We all want the same basic things. It’s how we envision those things playing out in the government that’s wildly different—even amongst women.
I can’t change politics (though I wish I could). Political strategists will continue to compartmentalize and generalize voters because it makes their lives easier. But what I will do is urge you to do your best to look past the politics. Look past the charm and the empty statements (that usually sound really good!) and make sure that you’re getting actual answers to the things that are most important to you. Make sure your voice is heard, not because you represent a bloc of voters, but because you represent you. And your vote is just as important as every other person’s.
And I urge this not as a woman—but as a smart, informed voter. That’s the vote that our presidential candidates really ought to be striving for.
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Photo courtesy of Steve Rhodes.