Votes for women

Posted by Jake Dolgenos

On Nov. 6, 2012, I will cast my first presidential vote. I will be voting as a college student and as a liberal. I will be voting as a man.

But I will also be voting as a big brother, as a feminist and as the father I hope I can be someday. Because as complicated as the election cycle can seem, there are some issues on which Mitt Romney and Barack Obama truly do disagree. And right now, across the country, there is an attack on the reproductive rights of women that pollsters and pundits continue to describe as an issue the country just doesn't care about. Alongside a struggling economy and the threat of a nuclear Iran, this arena of gender issues has somehow been relegated to the fringes of the discussion. But it would be difficult to exaggerate its importance.

After listening to 90 minutes of the foreign policy debate last Monday, I will be the first to confess that it can, at times, feel impossible to stay truly informed. The issues we face as a nation both internationally and domestically do not lend themselves to clear-cut definitive answers that the two candidates can use to neatly differentiate themselves. Rather, it is with broad and necessarily complex outlooks and strategies that Romney and Obama propose to handle the economy, the current Syrian chapter of the Middle East mess and the looming issue of our growing national debt. These strategies are often in agreement on many points; peeling apart the specific differences between the candidates' approaches to Iran is something we can all be forgiven for not having the time to undertake. So when there is a clear difference between the candidates, when a specific policy or range of policies do neatly divide the two party platforms, it is worth paying attention.

At present, Republicans and Democrats do not see eye to eye on the issue of abortion rights, access to contraceptives and legislation supporting equal pay for women.

Let me describe for you my own thought process regarding the sexual side to the discussion of female rights. "No one is 'pro-abortion,'" as the President once said, but the procedure sometimes represents a choice born of unfortunate necessity.

If you are serious about limiting abortions, or making them difficult to obtain, you had better be willing to take the distribution of contraceptives and comprehensive (that's code for "actual") sexual education seriously.

If you are unwilling to take these preventative measures, you had better be willing to support legislation making it possible for low-paid women to take maternity leave, the right to push for flexible work schedules, higher (or just fair) wages, and government-subsidized daycare and childrens' health insurance, not to mention providing classroom space for the millions of inevitable new children.

If you are unwilling to fight for this legislation, you had better accept the fact that with a higher birth rate and no public support, huge numbers of children will be born into poverty or households that cannot adequately support them and women as a group will continue to be underrepresented in challenging fields where the stresses of pregnancy and child-rearing keep them from advancing. Schools will be full and underfunded.

Now, I know that Republicans want to make abortion an illegal procedure. (1) But they also staunchly oppose contraceptive-distributing groups like Planned Parenthood and continue to fight for 'abstinence-only' sexual education, which ignores realistic discussions about contraception. (2) On top of this, Republicans have fought and continue to fight against legislation supporting mothers - they fight against increasing funding for public schools, (3) ideologically oppose the kind of "waste" that programs subsidizing daycare and children's health care constitute, and have staunchly resisted, and, in some cases, repealed, legislation making it illegal to discriminate against women, in the name of avoiding "over-litigation." (4)

The sum total effect of these policies is to unravel the progress in women's rights that has been hard won over the past century. If women must live with the constant threat of pregnancy - and without adequate support, pregnancy is and will always be a threat - they can never truly compete with men in the workplace, who need never fear a 9-month loss in performance and the long-lasting repercussions this can have on the arc of a career. Despite the progress we've made, women are still only making 77 cents to a man's dollar (skeptics should look up the math - it's accounting for profession and education but NOT specific job description. I still hold its conclusions to be valid, but it's worth investigating) (5) imagine what that could be without the reforms we've fought for as a nation, a nation in which more than two-thirds of families primarily rely on the income of a woman.

Is it any surprise that this election will see one of the highest gender discrepancies in history?

I know that many buy into the message we're fed - that the economy is the issue that will truly define this election, the issue that people really care about. I know many conservatives who don't support the Republican Party's social platform, but will vote for Romney this November on the strength of his economic policy. I want those half-reluctant conservatives to know that you cannot avoid responsibility for the social policies you support when you cast that vote next week. These issues are more important than the media admits, and just because you may have the benefit of avoiding personal setbacks at the hands of these policies, your friends, sisters and, someday, daughters may not be so lucky.

We choose, with our votes, the world we want to live in, the country we wish to be a part of. Don't relegate yourself to the losing side of history. Don't be a part of any organization that fights against the rights of women, gays and lesbians and immigrants. Don't be a part of a party that has fought to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of poor, urban and young citizens in key swing states leading up to the election with heavily-targeted new voter ID laws.

On Nov. 6, 2012, I will cast my first presidential vote. I will be voting as a feminist and a progressive. I will be voting as a big brother, for my little sisters who can't vote yet.

I will be voting for Barack Obama.

It is fine if you disagree with me about the Republican Party's historical and current treatment of women's issues (people's issues - you can't call 51% of the population a special interest group). But here is where, generally, I'm getting my information.

(1) "Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it." From the Republican Party Platform. 

(2) Their fight against Planned Parenthood is well-publicized, and their support for abstinence-only sexual education is a part of their position on "consumer choice in education" which also slams teacher unions and clearly advocates a greater reliance on standardized testing to determine merit, a policy teachers almost universally oppose. When Mitt Romney says he "loves teachers" what exactly does he mean? 

(3) Once more, this can be found in the Republican Party Platform. But this requires some explanation, because merely calling the Right out for not wanting to increase education spending is disingenuous. As a party, they are merely in support of voucher systems, charter schools and other new kinds of institutions to make changes to the entire field of education (and for-profit colleges, which is its own can of worms I will not open here). To find the really damaging policies on education, you have to look at the state level, where Republican Governors have been cutting funding for public education for years. Most recently, Scott Walker in Wisconsin cut funding for public schools by over $800 million, leading to massive layoffs in public schools across the state. In my own home state of California, similar cuts made a decade ago have resulted in plunging test scores and we now stand, as one of the nation's wealthiest states, with

(4) I'm referencing the Lilly Ledbetter Act specifically, which you can read about here.

But Republican Governors have been unraveling fair pay laws across the country for several years now (Not to pick on Scott Walker, but he's been so very proactive

I don't want to deny off-hand the legitimacy of the Republican position on the bill and others like it: that it would just clog the judicial system with fruitless litigation. Conservatives have a general (though recently not particularly well-exercised) opposition to judicial activism, and, of course, interference in free enterprise. But laws mandating equal pay without regard to gender have been on the federal books since 1963 when the Equal Pay Act was passed, and it's hard to conceive of a way in which women can exercise their right to demand equal treatment without litigation. Whether you accept the Republican position is your call.

(5) I choose to give this citation because I think witnessing the controversy will give a greater sense for where the truth can be found. The specific statistic may vary between professions and, in some cases the differences are not especially dramatic, but the fact that men still universally come out the winners in every field is telling on its own. Take it for what you will.

Jake Dolgenos is a member of the class of 2014, reads boats and rows books, and while he adores conservatives individually, he agrees that as a group they're rather unfortunately shortsighted.

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