How women voters became the Kingmakers: Jane Caro
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I suspect it may be dawning on a few white men as I write this that giving women the vote was a seriously bad idea.
Suddenly the constituency that used to rule the world -- because they ruled America -- are getting a sense of just what it feels like to be a minority group. And I don't think they like it much.
According to numbers that are being crunched as I write, Barack Obama outpolled Mitt Romney in every group except older white men. Based on these admittedly preliminary figures, the President won 55% of the female vote, 93% of the African American vote and 71% of the Latino vote. He also outpolled Romney in every age group up to 45 and won the votes of most Americans who live in cities.
But if these early figures are correct, it is women who have really decided this election. That's because they are 53% of the population, while blacks are 13%, Latinos 10% and Asians 3%. Even younger people only add up to 46% of the American population.
In other words, women voters in the US have become the kingmakers and let's hope one day soon, the queenmakers.
Numbers being what they are, it is interesting to speculate how long it will take the religious Right in America to face up to the ramifications of this. Just think about it for a moment, the Republicans fielded two white male candidates in this election. Both were devoutly religious. Romney is a Mormon and his running mate Paul Ryan is an ultra conservative Catholic. Romney, who used to be pro-choice, fell meekly into line with the right-to-life dogma of the Republicans to seal the nomination, while Ryan took things a step further by being opposed to both abortion and contraception.
A few helpful Republican Senate candidates weighed in with some remarkable statements about abortion and rape. Todd Akin was clear that if a woman was "legitimately" raped her body would close down and expel the nasty man's sperm. In other words, if you were raped and conceived, you clearly wanted it. Richard Mourdock chimed in with his pious belief that if a woman became pregnant after being raped then clearly that was what his God wanted. Both men lost their seats, Akin, most satisfyingly, to a female candidate; Claire McCaskill.
It also didn't help their side of politics that a number of Republican dominated State Houses instituted draconian laws against abortion, including forced vaginal ultrasounds. Or that women in the US were forced to watch a bunch of blokes argue that women's right to publicly subsidised contraception interfered with their religious rights -- and get taken seriously! A spectacle that led university student Sandra Fluke to protest loudly about their lack of understanding about real women's lives and experiences. Her protest in turn led to right wing shock jock Rush Limbaugh calling her a slut and a prostitute and suggesting that if Americans had to pay for her contraceptives she should post videos of her sexual encounters online. Way to win female votes, boys.
Such was the onslaught by the religious right on women and their freedom to control their own bodies and destiny, that some called it a "war against women". This was pooh-poohed by conservative pundits, but the polling must have been showing the religious right something because Ann Romney was wheeled out in an attempt to woo the women's vote. She kept trying to make the point that the economy was the most pressing issue for women. She was right, but somehow failed to make the connection that for most women the number of children they have directly impacts their prosperity. Could it be because she is married to a multi-millionaire?
Even here in Australia, uppity owners of uteruses were making older white blokes nervous. Tony Abbott trotted meekly along behind wife Margie as she attempted to reassure female voters that despite all appearances to the contrary Tony really was a feminist. When Gillard made her impassioned speech about sexism and misogyny, some pundits shook their heads over the idiocy of her speech getting three million Youtube hits, while speeches on really important issues like -- say -- productivity went ignored. I wonder what they think the effect on productivity might be if we properly utilised the talents of 52% of the Australian population who, incidentally, just happen to be the best educated women in the world?
As long as those on the Right, most of whom older white men, refuse to believe that the issues that matter to women really matter, then expect more of the same. Reproductive rights are not theoretical to women. They are not something that only concern some marginalised group of not-very-nice people. They directly and viscerally affect women's liberty and opportunity. Two things American voters in particular have been trained since childhood to hold dear. Perhaps that's also why American women are much more likely to get off their bums and exercise the democratic right their great-grandmothers fought so hard to win for them.
Politicians all over the world who refuse to take women's concerns and freedoms seriously are now on notice.