Two Generations Dissect Election 2012 and What’s Next for Women’s Rights
By Gloria Feldt on November 08, 2012
On election night, journalism major Maegan Vazquez joined about one hundred fellow New York University students over the beer soaked floorboards of Brad’s, a popular site for locals and college 20-somethings alike. Keenly interested in politics, she's been writing a terrific weekly column for my Heartfeldt Blog, titled “The Young Politica.”
Across town, I chatted with a couple dozen men and women at my friend Loretta’s Upper East Side apartment. As guests slipped into spaces on the elegant couch and chairs, like the old game of Sardines, each sighed, “I’m so nervous about the outcome of this election.”
The pundits had us convinced that what turned out to be a rout would be a cliffhanger.
Maegan and I e-mailed back and forth about our thoughts and feelings.
I quipped that every 20 years, whether we need it or not, we get a “Year of the Woman.”
Women were angry enough in 1992 to vote in record numbers. We’d watched Anita Hill being insulted by the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee when she claimed then U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her. Twin assaults on Roe v Wade, Webster v Reproductive Health Services and Planned Parenthood v Casey had brought icy shivers of fear that the reproductive rights hard-won by second wave feminists like me were in mortal danger.
Four pro-choice women were elected to the Senate—a record!—and women won 22 of 24 open Congressional seats that year, when pro-choice Bill Clinton was elected to his first term.
Enter 2012’s Republican War on Women
Again, there were a succession of high profile insults. To name a few:
- 30-year-old Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke was denied the chance to speak about why contraceptives should be covered by insurance, and was rewarded by being called a slut by Rush Limbaugh…
- An all-male “expert” panel pontificated on women’s reproductive health before a Senate committee (also all-male because the women on the committee were so incensed they walked out)…
- Bills in Texas and Virginia sought to force women seeking abortions to submit to 10″ ultrasound “shaming wands”…
- Indiana GOP senate candidate Richard Mourdock declared he opposes abortion even after rape, because pregnancy from rape is “something that God intended to happen”…
- Missouri GOP senate candidate Todd Akin opined about “legitimate rape” and made the loopy assertion that women’s bodies reject rape-induced pregnancy…
Were enough women, especially younger women, again sufficiently incensed to vote in the numbers needed to sweep Barack Obama into a second term and set a new record for electing pro-choice women?
Says Maegan, “For my generation—the up-and-coming movers and shakers, the wide-eyed, and the ambitious—this election was a pinnacle moment in many of our personal histories. It is an era that shifts towards tolerance and equality of women, same-sex couples, and ethnic minorities. Yet, as we saw in the early stages of election night, it can just as easily be taken away.”
The mood at Loretta’s lightened when the Connecticut senate race broke for Democrat Chris Murphy against World Wrestling Association former CEO, right wing Republican bazillionaire Linda McMahon. Proving once again that women can’t be fooled by lipstick and a pink suit.
Cheers erupted for Maggie Hassan, who will become the only female prochoice Democratic governor in the country.
Bigger cheers when Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren was declared victorious over Republican Scott Brown.
Biggest cheers were reserved for Mourdock’s defeat, and in rapid succession, Missouri Democratic Senate incumbent Claire McCaskill wiped the floor with Todd Akin.
This War on Women had clearly been won—by women.
Maegan’s take: “Reproductive rights and women’s health remain behind the times, but we are getting somewhere. With women like pro-choice Claire McCaskill in office, instead of her women’s rights antithesis Todd Akin, the country can continue to trudge toward women’s rights reform.”
Maine and Maryland pass ballot measures approving same sex marriage. More cheers for that watershed.
And then the news comes that Obama is over the top—Ohio has once again been the pivotal state that makes him president. On East 77th, a toast, and a sigh of relief.
Maegan describes the scene at Brad’s bar downtown: “Suddenly, the chatty crowd erupts in a roar. The sight I saw on election night was similar to what many of my friends saw in other parts of the country—young people celebrating after their POTUS was reelected.”
Young people made up 19% of voters, an even higher percentage than in 2008. Maegan predicted students should soon be seeing legislation to reform student loans and Obamacare will continue to stream into effect. These are high priority items for her.
The numbers for women across age brackets were even more stunning.
Twenty female senators will serve in the 113th Congress, the largest number in US history. Every Democratic female incumbent was reelected.
Journalist Irin Carmon’s salon.com piece taunted, “Still Want to Fight a War on Women?”
What does it all mean? The answer is in our hands.
It means the fight goes on. And any generation that forgets this lesson of history is doomed to repeat it, just as women did after 1992.
In 1994, the right came back with a tsunami known as the Gingrich Revolution and his infamous Contract with America. Many of the women and progressive men elected in 1992 were swept back out of office.
This happened not because women changed their minds but because they failed to vote in the same numbers as they had when they were agitated in 1992. Today, opportunity knocks anew.
After the nasty political acrimony of the last two decades, I believe there is a deep hunger for the leadership qualities women bring, a desire to fix the broken political system and change dysfunctional cultural paradigms. Women are more likely to work across the aisle to find solutions rather than merely engage in adolescent power plays.
But to achieve that goal and get the country moving forward—Obama’s campaign slogan--women must first claim their own power to lead themselves with intention. To take this precious moment in history and make the gains sustainable by advancing a bold agenda, and never withdrawing from the process again.
Too much has already been lost. It will take an enormous amount of work just to repair the damage of the last few years of assaults.
There are positive signs. Almost immediately, I received an e-mail from the Center for Reproductive Rights urging me to sign their Bill of Reproductive Rights.
I am gratified that this language now being heard everywhere—women’s reproductive rights are human rights. The contraceptive coverage movement I created at the national level in 1996 must continue to flourish and become truly universal until Sandra Fluke is recognized as hero, and no one would dare call her a slut. That recognition of women’s full humanity requires a culture shift bigger than we have never had before.
It’s time for the Freedom of Choice Act to guarantee women the right to make their own childbearing choices. Time to repeal the Hyde Amendment and its spawn. Time to insist the president fill the too-many empty seats on the Federal bench expeditiously, with people who respect women’s rights.
It’s time for the Paycheck Fairness Act and other economic policies that ensure all women and men get a fair shake.
For as Maegan e-mails me, “The President can do what he wants without the hesitation he faced during his past four years in office. If the POTUS will be remembered for anything after his presidency by swing voters, it will be his failure or success of stabilizing the U.S. economy.”
As a millennial, a woman, and a Hispanic, she lives at the sweet spot of where the voting demographics are going.
Her advice is exactly right: “We must fight for what we believe in, and continue striving towards our political desires through our votes and our grass roots movements and our voices. We cannot sit still waiting for a promised change. We must insist on change when politicians do not follow through. We must demand it.”
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