Many themes have featured in the interminable run-up to the 2014 mid-term election: Obamacare, Obama's use of presidential power, Iraq/Syria, fracking, to mention only a few. But the theme that is perhaps most central to the election -- the role of women in our democracy -- has gotten little press attention. Yet it's women who will decide the outcome on November 4. What do they want?
In 2012, 53 percent of all voters were women and 55 percent of them voted for Barack Obama. Women fueled Obama's victory over Romney; there was a 20-point gender gap. According to The Center for American Women and Politics, 63.7 percent of eligible women voted versus 59.8 percent of eligible men.
Despite their political importance, U.S. women remain second-class citizens.
Nonetheless, many more women live in poverty than do men. And despite years of protest and countless lawsuits, women still earn less than men when they do comparable work: "Women on average make only 77 cents to every dollar earned by men." And despite the accomplishments of women like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, white men dominate US politics. (Since 2010 the number of female elected officials has declined.) Recently, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren urged progressives to back female Democratic candidates, observing: "If you don't have a seat at the table, you're probably on the menu."
And, despite a century of progress, American women don't have the same rights as men. At the 1995 Beijing UN conference on women Hillary Clinton said:
Every woman deserves the chance to realize her own God-given potential. But we must recognize that women will never gain full dignity until their human rights are respected and protected... Human rights are women's rights.
Despite the strong moral case for gender equality, women's rights are under attack.
Over the past four years, Republicans have stepped up their war on women. It's a key element of their political strategy.
Since the Reagan era, Republicans have proven adept at mobilizing resentment based upon the notion of the "culture of victimization." In campaign after campaign Republicans have fueled the anger of lower and middle-class whites and redirected it to imaginary groups: liberal elites who promote "sixties values," black welfare "queens," aggressive homosexuals who seek to convert others to their "lifestyle," and supposed promiscuous women who want abortion on demand. Tom Frank described this process in What's the Matter with Kansas: within the Republican Party, economic conservatives distract social conservatives with inflammatory social issues in order to get their votes and keep them from noticing the life-threatening problems caused by conservative economic policies.
Since 2011, the misogynistic Republican strategy has denied women political power and basic rights. Three considerations feed the GOP strategy.
The first is religious. Republicans want to solidify their hold on the south and rural communities in general, areas that are populated by religious conservatives. Writing in the New York Review of Books, Thomas Powers observed that the most powerful religious group in Texas, the Southern Baptists, believes, "the man was created first in creation and the woman first in the Edenic fall;" therefore women cannot be "over" men. The GOP strategy supports this notion.
Republicans endorse a society where women are second-class citizens. University of California Professor George Lakoff noted there is now an overriding "conservative moral logic" that is patriarchal.
The second consideration that has fed the GOP's war on women is economic. Republicans have made themselves champions of unfettered capitalism. As such, they are opposed to any changes of the status quo. This explains why Republicans twice blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act during 2014.
Meanwhile capitalism continues to exploit women. The US mainstream media promotes sexist images of women. Corporations underpay females and deny them family leave and benefits.
In the long term, the Republican political strategy makes no sense. If the GOP turns off female voters they will inevitably become a second-class party. But their short-term strategy is to fire up their base and demoralize everyone else.
It remains to be seen if this will succeed in 2014. Historically, there has been a voting drop off in mid-term elections, particularly among single women . (CNN reported that Democratic polling, "projects a 20-point drop off in unmarried female voters from 2012 to 2014.") In 2014, Democrats are trying to change this trend with ad campaigns targeted to female voters.
Will the Democratic effort succeed? Will women flex their political muscles and decide the 2014 election? It depends upon what they want.