Where are the Women in This Presidential Election?

Where, oh where, have the womenfolk gone? I may have been spoiled last presidential election, but the 2012 campaign season has been so dudely I can hardly stand it. As far as the big one goes, we’ve got two guys battling another guy, with no women in the picture so far. And honestly, I don’t think Mitt Romney will be the type to pick a woman for his Vice President spot.

Playing the part.

Last election was the first I could legally vote in, and I think I was lucky to have come of age at the moment I did. Not only was Hillary Clinton actively campaigning at around this time four years ago, she stood a solid chance. I had never seen in my lifetime a truly viable female candidate. I’m starting to fear that I won’t see one again for a long while, with the War on Women in full effect. Of course, she ended up off the table, and I’ve always thought it was a mistake on President Obama’s part not to scoop her up as VP. Then again, she’s doing a fantastic job where she is now. For the months leading up to the primaries, I saw her face everywhere, this intelligent, motivated woman who actually knew how to play politics and gave a damn about women while doing so. And now? Well, now I might be lucky to see Michelle Bachmann screaming about terrorists.

Then there was Sarah Palin, a woman who has yet to leave us alone. She was picked as John McCain’s running mate in late August of 2008. I remember reading the announcement right before going to a feminist theory class in undergrad. Needless to say, we were horrified. Who was this woman, who seemed to have little public presence and even less meaningful experience? I remember the class listing off the hateful organizations she was a part of and wondering why, when we were finally lucky enough to get a female VP candidate, she had to be like this? My feminist and progressive friends weren’t sure whether to be happy that there was a woman with a good chance of being Second in Command, or upset because she was perpetuating the stereotype of the woman who is too stupid to work in politics.

For all of the sexist, misogynistic vitriol that was spewed that year, I would rather have to deal with it than with nothing at all. There was no escaping the hate from either side, with liberals calling Palin a dumb bimbo and conservatives calling Clinton a ball-busting feminazi. But in this political and social climate, I’m used to it. A lot of us have developed this sort of shell that idiotic, misogynist words can’t penetrate. They may piss us off, and we may work harder for it, but it’s past the point of hurt feeling simply due to desensitization.

The women that we have seen so far have been relegated to the part of wife and mother. Yes, I’m looking at you, Ann Romney. And I’m also looking at Michelle Obama. Michelle has lately been cast as the part of the devoted wife, and she’s playing it well. We might best know her for being an active, fun, compassionate woman with goals and initiatives who legitimately cares about health and fitness. In the last few months, however, we’ve seen less of that. I’m not suggesting that she’s forgotten her issues, but lately she appears to be far more focused on keeping the White House for a few more years. It seems off for me that such an independent, progressive woman has been shoved back into the role of supportive, dutiful wife serving her husband’s needs. I’m not saying that’s what she is, but it’s the way she’s being represented. As for Ann Romney, we expect her to play that role. As a conservative, religious woman, we expect her sole purpose in this election to be to support, defend, and elevate her husband. But just because that’s what we expect her to do doesn’t mean that I, or other feminists, are happy with it just because she’s conservative. Hell, I’d love to see a reasonable, intelligent conservative woman. Sadly, most of the ones we have are being voted out in droves. The rest are either intelligent and unreasonable or unintelligent and only a little reasonable (if you squint and tilt your head some).

So where are all the women? Back to where they were: behind the scenes. We’ve gone from having two prominent women at the forefront of our last presidential election to having zero. Back to square one, I guess. And here I was, all hopeful because of ’08! I’m still hopeful for 2016 (I’m still looking at you, Secretary Clinton), and I look forward to what it will bring. Now is not 2016, however, and as of yet there are no women in this election doing anything but holding their husbands’ hands and smiling prettily. We’ve been pushed back yet again, and I wish I was surprised. So here we sit, maybe campaigning and writing letters and signing up voters, and doing it all in the back room without any recognition. Don’t tell me the War on Women isn’t real, because we see it everywhere. But hey, at least Palin didn’t run!

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Elfity

Elfity, so named for her tendency to be a bit uppity and her elf-like appearance, is a graduate student and professional Scary Feminist of Rage. She has a propensity for social justice, cheese, and Doctor Who. Favorite activities include making strange noises, napping with puppies and/or kitties, and engaging in political and philosophical debates.

7 thoughts on “Where are the Women in This Presidential Election?”

  1. I don’t find this to be insulting to women at all, but I disagree with you.  I think the Obama camp was waiting for Romney to make his VP candidate announcement.  Now that we know it’s Paul Ryan of WI, who is very anti-woman, I think we may start to see more women from the Democratic party mobilizing.

    The thing that I’ve noticed about the Obama campaign is that they tend to run it like someone playing chess.  Have plans of action in place for possible scenarios, and when the other guy moves, act according to the plan that fits that scenario or come up with something real quick.

  2. I’ve got to say, I disagree pretty strongly with a lot of this article. First of all, it comes across as VERY insulting of those women who choose to be mothers and/or wives. That’s their decision and one, frankly, that I’m a bit sick of people badmouthing because they’re not ‘real’ women or don’t do ‘real’ work or whatever. In Ann Romney’s case, I hear far more about her horse than about her MS or her parenting or anything else about her, and even still not much is said about it. So she doesn’t want to be in the limelight; that’s her choice – she’s married to a politician, she isn’t one herself. And thinking that women need to ‘play roles’ just because they are married to someone is a bit demeaning.

    As for Michelle Obama, so what if she wants to focus more on her family? She’s earned the right to do so if she chooses. Why do you feel she is incapable of making her own choices, or is obligated to make choices she doesn’t want to make just to appease someone else’s ideals of who she should be? Again, she isn’t a politician, so why do we need to hold spouses up to standards just because of the careers of their husbands?

    If we instead choose to focus on those women who HAVE decided to be politicians, why do we scrutinize them so much more than we do the men? Dan Quayle was a huge idiot, but he WAS the VP, so it’s pretty sexist when people criticize Palin more than any male candidates. But that’s what I see time and time again; women bashing women, bringing up Palin and Bachmann in a 10,000:1 ratio over, say, Cheney. It’s not only sad, but it gives a greater voice to those women rather than to the amazing ones who do a good job by keeping the spotlight on them. The more people talk about them = greater ratings and revenues = the more attention they get. Yet instead of shutting up about them so they’d go away, people keep fanning the flames.

    Feminists shouldn’t get to ‘feel happy’ about the choices that grown women make only if they agree with those choices. The fact that different women can MAKE choices is what matters. Just because you think that all these women do is ‘smile and look pretty’ does not make it true or valid.

     

    1. Some haphazard thoughts because I don’t have a ton of time to respond now, but I will come back to this post later:

      1) I didn’t read this post as being insulting to women who’ve made the decision to be wives/mothers/both. It speaks to the fact that those are the only types of women we’ve really heard much about during this election cycle. There’s no denying that Ann Romney has a lot less power than Mitt Romney, by function of the fact that he is the one who actually held public office/is trying to hold public office. It doesn’t make being a mother wrong or bad, it’s just a statement of fact. I mean, there’s a woman actually running on the Green Party line for the office of President (Jill Stein) that most people have never heard of but we hear about Ann Romney’s horse every other damn day. Granted, that has a lot to do with the two-party dominant system, but there are a number of hotly contested Congressional races (some between two women, even) that have not gotten much attention.

      2) Michelle Obama has chosen to focus on being a wife and mother, but do you think the country could have accepted a First Lady who did anything else? Look at the vitriol toward Hillary Clinton when Bill was in office. People had some pretty nasty things to say about her, simply by virtue of the fact that she was brazen enough to have her own ideas and her own political agenda. I don’t think Michelle Obama’s decision was much of a real choice. Yes, she has some agency in it, but can you even imagine the fallout if she’d wanted to continue practicing law? The fact is that there’s a lot of baggage that comes with being the First Lady, whether we like it or not.

    2. I completely understand where you might have gotten the impressions you did. Some of the wording in the article did make it seem as though I was indicting those who choose to become wives and mothers, and it was careless of me to word things that way, but that was not my intention. I wholly respect the decision to be a wife and mother. What I meant to address in this article is the lack of women running for office, and how the women present in this election are pushed to the side to be the classic dutiful wife. Essentially, I’m critiquing their role in the media, which dissolves them to one-dimensional entities.

      As far as leaving out people like Cheney and Quayle go, I was only addressing the last election. I’m a young ‘un, so Quayle is before my time anyway! Oh and believe me, I’ve got a LOT of really not-nice things to say about Cheney and his cronies. I hold Sarah Palin to the standard I hold any politician. It just so happens that she was not very qualified for the position, and what I was most upset about with regard to her candidacy was the perpetuation of stereotypes. Sexists see that and they run with it, and try to use someone like her to define all female politicians. And really, that’s just not fair, because it ignores the tons of qualified, amazing women out there who aren’t getting the attention they deserve. I absolutely don’t mean to woman-bash. It’s everything I’m against and something I work hard to not do, so I apologize for attacks that even come off as gender-based. I don’t like Bachmann or Palin, but it has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with politics and human rights.

      I know I can be overzealous in my writing (it’s my preferred style), but I had a feeling I might have gone a little overboard here. I’ll keep it in mind for my next article :)

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