The gist: If you’re happy about Tuesday night’s victory, thank a woman. Women usually make up about 54 percent of the electorate, and this time they again turned out in higher numbers than men. Unsurprisingly, they also turned out in much higher numbers for Obama than for Romney. Some 55 percent of women voted for the former, while 44 percent chose the latter. Within the subset of women ages 18 to 29 — especially those who attended college during the Bush years, a group that will be voting solidly Democrat for the next 65 years – the numbers skew even more heavily towards Obama.
In other words, the GOP, at least as it now presents itself, doesn’t stand a chance. It didn’t Tuesday, and it won’t in 2016, no matter how deeply its victories cut in the South. Something’s gotta give.
Other contingencies were, of course, also crucial to Obama’s victory. Hispanics (Florida Hispanics too!), LGBTQ voters, youth in general, Black Americans, Asian-Americans, and pro-labor groups handily threw their support behind the president.
This makes Fox News crypt-keeper Charles Krauthammer’s claim that Obama doesn’t have a mandate all the more laughable. To quote Andrew Sullivan during his gleeful appearance on the Colbert Report, “There’s a black man in power who has nothing to lose!”
But here’s the thing about the women’s movement that gets lost sometimes, even on itself. The policies it promotes intersect with the needs of lots of other communities, and not only because of (the obvious) minority women. Health care, reproductive rights, gender equality, and non-discrimination policies are not only about women, though the latter are often implied to be the sole beneficiaries of such legislative gains.
Obama likes to call them “family” issues, but such rhetoric is annoying and offensive because it blatantly discriminates against single and unmarried people. For instance, why do we push for health care for partners in quasi-/post-nuclear-family constructs, instead of advocating for free health care for all? It’s also annoying and plain stupid, since two-thirds of single women voted for Obama both this past Tuesday and in 2008.
Another problem? When referring to “women,” the media tend to default to white, heterosexual, cis women, usually married. It should be noted that Romney captured 56 percent of the white women’s vote and 53 percent of married women’s vote.
So to be a bit more nuanced, these so-called “women’s issues” are often actually the issues of class, labor, and other groups. The right wing’s determination to defund Planned Parenthood earlier this year, for instance, was not just an assault on the aforementioned default woman. Rather, you should see that the campaign spotlighted how Republican legislation often more pointedly affects people of color and low-income communities.
Defunding Planned Parenthood would have disproportionately impacted minority communities, worsening the already abhorrent disparities in healthcare coverage. When Texas tried unsuccessfully (at least as of yesterday) to cut off federal funding to their Women’s Health Program — not just Planned Parenthood, but also those “affiliated” with abortion providers — they were cutting off healthcare to 130,000 people, many of whom were poor Hispanic women.
For black women, the Hyde amendment, accepted by many as a legitimate compromise between left and right, is a slap in the face, another dismissal of the needs of low-income women and women of color. Black women’s strong, often forgotten, commitment to abortion access is, in the words of activist Brenda Joyner, “a feminism which realizes that the issues of reproductive control are broader than just the fight for gender equality. It is a feminism which understands the world simultaneously from race and class as well as gender perspectives.”
Black womanhood is more complex than what the mainstream media refer to as the “women’s movement” given that bodily autonomy and self-determination for a black woman is informed by the history of slavery. For women of color, reproductive rights are synonymous with racial advancement. (Why aren’t women of color more engaged in the pro-choice movement? As Joyner says, “Where was a white middle-class movement when the Hyde Amendment took away Medicaid funding of abortions for poor women?”)
With labor, a voting bloc which often evokes images of blue-collar men working jobs like construction and mining but also includes teachers and nurses and other female-dominated professions, pay equity and the Lily Ledbetter Act are major parts of the fight for immigrants and minorities as they coincide with our sense of what’s fair and why it’s important to promote non-discriminatory policies.
For men, the feminist movement, cited as the driving force behind women’s issues, forces us to reexamine traditional social roles assigned to women and men and thus look at traditional sexual gender roles as well. In many ways, “women’s issues” have given men permission to challenge archetypal notions of masculinity, express emotion, and participate in parenting. (Even David Brooks, in a recent column for the New York Times, wrote of a study demonstrating that men who were ”better at forming relationships” lived longer.)
There is a still a glass ceiling for women, and there is still a stigma attached to heterosexual homemaker dads, despite the changing employment landscape. However, no one really challenges whether these working moms/homemaker dads should/can be parents. The story is different for gay men, who face less acceptance as legitimate parents than their lesbian counterparts. That’s not to say lesbians don’t face discrimination, but reactions to lesbian parents are often less hostile because we tend to view women as primary care-givers. Wrongly, we think male and female parents play different roles, and this ultimately affects LGBTQ rights issues like gay marriage and adoption.
I’m not trying to undermine the contributions of women in this election. A gender gap exists. We blocked a tide of paternalistic, retrograde sexism that threatened to turn the clock Mad Men backward. (When is that show coming back anyway?) But let’s try not to look at these issues of sex and gender so narrowly. “Women’s issues” is often a reductive misnomer.