You could set your watch to it. Except that it happens only every four years, instead of every year, month, day. We’ve found ourselves once again in that Presidential-election-cycle moment when politicians sit up and remember that American women are the voters who win or lose an election for either party.
Credit Image: joemurphy on Flickr
And no, Hilary Rosen did not kick off this moment with her blundering invocation of the endless, and pointless, stay-at-home mom vs. working mom "debate." If it hadn’t been Hilary—well, there was Rush. And the Susan G. Komen flap before him. Someone is always sure to amble—or intentionally leap—into this dangerous territory of “so-called women’s issues.” It’s an easy enough tinderbox to set aflame, and presidential campaigns depend on the heat these media conversations generate, because polarizing topics such as abortion and how we raise our children will always deliver the results politicians want: Drive the media into a frenzy, and you'll stimulate a shoutfest led by the people who define the outside poles of each party’s ideologies.
Because the poles influence the polls, don’t you see?
But something is missing in all this foment and kerfuffle. What’s missing is…women. Real women. Dimensional, multi-issue women. Women who live their lives, pack their kids' lunches (or choose not to have children), struggle to manage a household budget in hard times (because we run those budgets); dream of and build a career or dream of and build a family, or both; face obstacles; raise children alone, whether by choice or by conflict; sign up for unemployment or get a promotion; try to find trustworthy childcare and affordable health insurance; worry about our wardrobe; keep the peace in neighborhood meetings…and avert our eyes to protect ourselves from the incessant, stinging ugliness that passes for political discourse these days.
And the pundits tell us the run-up to the general election will be even worse.
Despite how many stories supposedly about women these incidents generate, this is not the kind of "conversation" about women's lives the majority of women want to have, regardless of their political alignment. That’s because they handily minimize women’s role in shaping society—the society we are living in today, which is so rarely addressed in any meaningful way, because the sheer complexity and variety of women’s lives cannot be neatly dropped into political debates.
Here is what is clear: These decades of politicians' animatedly asking, "What do women want?" has led nowhere in politics. So it’s time to ask a different question.
What DON’T women want?
We DON’T want the same lip service to our needs at election time, and then politics as usual in the new year. We want real answers on complex issues, and compromises that serve the public, not politics.
Women DON’T want to be marginalized as “swing voters.” We are not the swing voters. We are the majority, and we have been steady and sure these last four presidential elections, sticking with our personal beliefs while the men swung to and fro.
We DON’T want to show up in conversation only as our reproductive organs. Even though it makes for bleeding media ink, the majority of women DON’T define themselves politically by their feelings on pro-life/pro-choice.
We DON’T want to be treated as if we are a "special interest." Again, we are the majority: in the population, in education achieved, and in heading households.
Women DON’T want to be catered to with talk of the "so-called women’s issues," because these issues we consistently try to put front and center are, in fact, human issues, American issues, the defining issues of our times: This era will be remembered for whether we failed public education (and therefore, our future generations) or saved it; whether we untethered the economy’s growth from special interests or didn’t; whether we stopped the absolutely insane spending on political campaigns and advertising or found better things to do with that money—or merely accepted the worsening status quo, again.
We DON’T want to be oversimplified. We women have completely changed the shape of this country in the last 50 years, as we made our own decisions as to when, how and whether to marry or have children. And there is no turning back to a fantasy time when women were—at least in our sentimental musings—dependably the same. We want our politicians to accept the complexity of our society today and find ways to address it, NOT try to put the genie back in the bottle. (And we won’t let it go without saying that we don’t want women to carry the “blame” for these societal changes. The institutions of marriage, work, faith and the economy are surely not controlled solely by us. If they were? We would not be having this conversation.)
We DON’T want the political conversation to be managed by your wives. We truly, deeply admire them both, and would love to talk with them any time, but we expect our demands and interests to be heard by you. And when a woman runs this country we will expect the same thing of her.
We DON’T want to keep having the same, old, pointless, ultimately divisive, conversations: about women and work; about stay-at-home mothers and working mothers; about being pro-life or pro-choice. In our lives, in our families, in our communities, we women accept our role as nurturers. And we also accept our roles as leaders. And we refuse to be defined solely by how you define us, for your benefit. Especially because we aren't just women. We are citizens, citizens whom you are tasked with representing—and you are failing.
HEY, DO WE HAVE YOUR ATTENTION YET? BECAUSE UNTIL WE DO, YOU WON’T HAVE OURS.
We could wait for the conversation in politics to stop turning us into family figureheads, reproductive organs, or saints (and/or whores), but at BlogHer we believe that instead, we can take charge of the conversation and start speaking the truth of American women’s lives—all American women’s lives—into loudspeakers and megaphones and video cameras and more, and demand that the sheer COMPLEXITY and VARIETY in women’s lives be acknowledged and responded to by the government, and not just in campaign rhetoric .
Why do women matter now more than ever? Let me lay out some statistics for you:
Women are asked to singlehandedly carry the symbolic burden of the idealized American family—two parents, and the two or more children they created—even though that household represents less than 20 percent of American homes. More households are run by single mothers, by single fathers, and by single people, period, than ever before in America.
Today’s mothers can no longer rely on the long-accepted American truism that our children will fare better than we do: In the last ten years, major thresholds have been crossed, and today we know that (1) our children will not live as long as we do, (2) our children will suffer from major diseases earlier and longer than we do, (3) our children will not have the economic mobility that we do, and (4) our children will not live in a world in which America’s economic superiority is a certainty, or even a probability. We need to understand and plan for our children’s future—our country's future—with the decisions we make today.
Forty-two percent of single mothers live below the poverty line. More than a quarter of homeless Americans are children. More than half of all children born to women 30 years old and under are being born to single mothers. And yet, women still have to work until mid-April to earn the money men made the year before for the same job, and the result of that inequality is showing at every socioeconomic level.
Women cannot be both the foundation of society and the scapegoat for society's inexorable changes. Women cannot be considered a special interest. Women cannot fit into tidy narratives that tell a story about an America that is on the verge of not existing anymore.
But what women can do is join together, put our political differences aside for the moment, and demand that we be seen for who we are—who all of us are. Not just the women you want to see.
BlogHer will be driving this mission forward, covering this election with an eye on the simple truths of the complex and varied ways in which life is unfolding for women across the country today, helping raise their stories above the political fray. We will tell those stories without guile, and without manipulative intent, in the hopes that these stories can become a part of the national conversation about where we go from here.
We have assembled a politics team from the left, right and middle, to help us tell the stories of this election season honestly and without bias, merely with the eyes of the different people we are: black, white, Asian, Latina, married with kids, married without kids, a single mother, urban and suburban. But it is what we share is what matters most. We will reach out and hear all these stories from women about what their lives are like—what your lives are like—and make sure that they are HEARD.
Until the politicians can truly see how women's lives—all women's lives—have changed this country, this economy and this society, women will be forever relegated to the poles. And if we are at the poles, then we can’t come together in numbers large enough to tell the country's leaders that it's time to stop focusing on our differences—and instead time to focus on our common needs, our American dreams, which aren't tied to traditional households, but are tied to economic security, stable futures, and a respectful society where differences are not only tolerated, but welcomed. And we don't think that's too much to ask. And make no mistake: We. Are. Asking.
Are you politicians out there listening yet? Because we women are ready to be heard.
Help keep this election focused on the needs of ALL women, and all Americans. BlogHer will be using the hashtag #BlogHerswant as we cover the upcoming election and outline for the candidates what we need in order to succeed: as mothers, as earners, as decision-makers and as leaders. Be sure to tell us what you want—and yes, DON'T want—with #BlogHerswant and we’ll make sure it’s covered. ALSO: Watch our Election 2012 coverage to see new ways you can contribute and tell your story, or the story of a friend or neighbor—in pictures, in video, in words—in the coming weeks and months.
Stacy Morrison is the editor in chief of BlogHer.
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