Feminista: Presidential Election 2012

[Columns, letters or cartoons published are the work of the attributed author and do not necessarily represent the offical views or opinions of “The Highland Echo.”]

I am sure that I do not need to come out and say whom I am voting for this November for you to figure it out. However, I have been inspired by what I have been hearing people say about women and women’s issues this political season, and I believe that I have an obligation to talk about these issues.

Even though it seems like this election is about nothing more than economic policy, there are many social issues that both candidates have been talking about in recent weeks, and one of the most important is women’s issues. Last night on the town hall style debate, a young woman asked a question about equal pay in the workforce. I about jumped out of my chair with excitement.

Would Obama come straight out, say he is a feminist and risk alienating some of his voters? Would Romney talk about his lack of support for the Violence Against Women Act? I anticipated that neither of these things would happen because 1) politicians are utterly incapable of answering a question, and 2) nobody wants to play up their extreme opinions, on either side, in front of moderate, undecided voters.

So, Obama talked about the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which promotes pay equity, and nodded to Romney’s stance that the Act was unnecessary. Romney talked about how in his term as governor he employed more women in senior positions than any other governor in the country.

I have issues with both of these answers. Obama failed to point out that while Joe Biden, his running mate, drafted the landmark Violence Against Women Act, Romney would not even consider it and his running mate Paul Ryan voted against the Equal Pay Act. Romney’s remark of, “Gee, can’t we find some women?” was condescending and seemed disingenuous.

If people actually believe that no women applied for positions in Romney’s cabinet, they probably watch too much Fox News and reside on Ignorant Mountain and live next door to people who believe that black actors just don’t show up for Hollywood casting calls. Let me say that I do not believe that Obama is nearly as open about his beliefs on female equality as he ought to be, nor do I think that Romney is truly as extreme as his current party platform wants us to believe.

For some fun, just Google “Mitt Romney abortion stance 1994,” and watch how his statements change when he is running for governor in one of the most liberal states in the country. I’d like to believe that, that is the real Mitt and he has gotten buried under an increasingly conservative Republican Party. Maybe I am being hopeful with that one, but a feminist can dream. What really interested me, though, was the response to Romney’s answers that I read online as the debate was unfolding.

What I heard when I listened to Romney’s rant about women being able to work as well as raise a family and that a two-parent family is the only true, successful way to raise a child was, “I support women working double the hours for partial pay and making sure that they can be home on time to make dinner for their husband. However, single, slutty mothers can get lost. Seriously, why don’t you just get married already?” Female supporters of Romney had a very different perspective. They heard a call to dignity on the part of women and that Romney was championing a working mother who is able to control her sexual urges and provide for her family while building a career.

This is really unsettling to me for many reasons. It does not matter how many times these women are told that women are underpaid and overworked in every state. They do not seem to care that the United States is the only developed nation that does not provide paid maternity leave to new mothers. The dogmas of female virtue and pro-life rhetoric seem to muddy what is otherwise incredibly clear: women are diverse, complete and free human beings who are entirely capable of making their own sexual, reproductive and lifestyle choices.

What has happened to the women who insist that men like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, men who believe that they have the right or obligation to dictate what is correct and moral behavior for women, is that they have internalized their own oppression. Patriarchy is a nasty monster, and it gets its hooks in deep. When a woman evaluates her self-worth based on how many sexual partners she has had, how much she weighs and her obligation to give up her life and personal and professional goals for that of her husband and children, she becomes part of the destructive cycle. She actively participates in telling a woman that her rights end where her uterus begins, that complete selfsacrifice is a woman’s duty. She becomes part of the culture that asks what a rape victim did to deserve sexual assault and tolerates elected members of our congress that assert that pregnancy as a result of rape is an impossibility.

I have to wonder how these women can spout such anti-woman rhetoric and still see themselves as people.

How can someone who agrees that women deserve to choose their own life path deny the freedom for a woman to choose how and when she begins a family or with whom and how many people she has sex? How can she say that men who do not believe that the fact that one in four women will experience sexual violence in her lifetime is not a pressing concern? How can she say that the same men who do not believe that making it a legal responsibility that women are paid equal salaries to men of the same qualifications is essential in 21st century America have her interests at heart?

I, for one, cannot support someone who wants to push their views on pre-modern virtue on my life or my body. If Paul Ryan wants to give a nickname to his fetus that resulted in a planned pregnancy, that is fine with me. But I and all women should refuse to serve as an incubator for these prehistoric beliefs and stop perpetuating the notion that anyone other than ourselves deserves agency in our lives.

Women of the world: your life, your body and your choices are yours and yours alone. Nobody else gets a vote.

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