Binders, Ballots and Other Labels…

“Binders full of women,” the infamous phrase uttered by Presidential candidate Mitt Romney that has caused outrage and controversy over what has been portrayed as one of the election’s biggest concerns-women. Everything from debate items coined as women’s issues to gaining the women’s vote, it is clear that the group representing over fifty percent of the population has a major stake in this election.

On the surface, this importance has translated to campaigns in terms of “catering to women voters” by highlighting, downplaying or manipulating candidate positions based on the interests of specific groups and mobilizing them to get out and vote.  According to a recent article in the New York Times, the gender gap in voter preference could be close to one of the largest in history. It is currently estimated at 18-points on average based on various recent poll results, with President Obama leading by 9 points among women but trailing by 9 points among men. While this voting pattern among women is speculated to be based on interests related to social issues, there is an important subset of women swing voters identified for whom economics is the main concern. Out with “soccer moms,” and in with the so-called “waitress moms” or those defined as white women in the labor force without a college education.

Offensive labeling aside, it is true that the economic and social landscape is changing for women, which means that the concerns at stake are becoming broader and more complex. There are now more young women obtaining undergraduate college degrees than their male counterparts in a given year (60 versus 40 percent respectively) and a shifting power dynamic in the household. At the same time, women still only make 77 cents to their male counterpart’s dollar on average, a 40 percent salary gap exists between men and women holding MBAs with 10-15 years work experience and the majority of women labeled as breadwinners are single mothers (40% of the total 53% within a recent Prudential study).

Additionally, there are issues such as overall costs of healthcare disproportionately affecting women, maternity leave, flexible hours in the workplace, and threats of domestic and sexual violence that are not only a particular concern for women but affect society as a whole. Unfortunately, the full extent of such topics is not discussed within political debates and the media. Instead, the focus continues to center around reproductive rights and even more specifically to the smaller but serious subset of abortion. Yet, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the abortion rate for 2008 represented only 1.6 percent of the female population aged 15–44 years. In the meantime, during the period from 2006-2010, 13.8 percent of all births were unwanted unintended births, where the main reason cited among these women was that they “did not think they could get pregnant.” This not only has implications for the provision of access to all affordable healthcare, but access to information through family planning and comprehensive sexual education. Therefore, while we can go on all day talking about those births that did not happen, we are not assessing the full picture of why or keeping in mind those that did.

Thomas Friedman recently wrote, “If you respect the sanctity of life, then it shouldn’t be limited solely to the issue of abortion.” I agree- it relates to how you treat, protect and respect that life. And what we are not talking about are the average healthcare costs of having a baby, which are estimated at $10,652 by the March of Dimes. We are not talking about the nearly 1 in 5 women who have been raped, the 1 in 6 women who have been stalked or the 1 in 4 women who have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime, according to the most recent National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. We are not talking about the fact that 65 percent of rape or sexual assault victimizations were not reported to police from 2006 to 2010, which has contributed to only an estimated 3 percent of rapists serving time in jail.

In practice, President Obama and Vice President Biden have taken steps in the right direction to address these pressing social and economic inequities by signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in favor of equal work for equal pay, instituting the Affordable Care Act that requires all health insurance policies cover a variety of preventative care services encompassing reproductive health care along with the provision that maternity care is considered an “essential health benefit.” They continue to defend the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, signed into law 18 years ago under Congressional leadership of Joe Biden, which is estimated to have led to a decrease in domestic violence by 34 percent for women and 57 percent for men since its inception and saved taxpayers between $12.6 and $14.8 billion in net averted social costs in its first 6 years alone. And yet, these gains are being threatened by the views and proposed policies of many Republican incumbents and challengers within Congressional races, in addition to Presidential and Vice-Presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

Therefore, instead of allowing politicians to “cater” to us, let us cater to ourselves. Let us hold both President Obama and Vice President Biden accountable for the measures already put in place towards gender equality and their promises to leave medical decisions up to a woman and her doctor instead of “a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men.” It is up to us as women to lead the way and assert our rights by demanding control over our own bodies, equal pay, and legal protection in the case of violent acts. Today, we can do this by voting for candidates who favor these rights. We can mobilize, not only other women, but also our male counterparts to support us. Let us count today, not as a bargaining chip used to gain power, not as a page in a binder and not just as a vote in a ballot box. Let us count as women who demand equal rights along with the respect and trust to make our own decisions and allow other women the right to be able to do so.

3 thoughts on “Binders, Ballots and Other Labels…

  1. What a thoughtful, timely, and well researched article. Thank you for sparking debate around such important issues, we need SO much more of this!

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