The Future of "Security Moms"
A few nights after the November 2004 election, I was at my monthly book club meeting with friends, all mothers of small children who lived in the same subdivision. Three of us had voted for Kerry, and three had voted for Bush. Only one of us was excited about the results. A native Texan, she let out a "whoop" as she breezed into the restaurant. I rolled my eyes, but then quickly looked away and took another swig of my margarita. Our subsequent political discussion lasted about five minutes. Worn out by the last six months of election frenzy, we quickly turned to discussing "The Secret Life of Bees," a rather benign tale found in airport shops across the country.
Suburban women with children, the sought-after "soccer mom" voters of the 1990s, were profiled by the media as the "security moms" of the 2004 election. According to a post-election survey conducted by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, married women with children gave Bush 60% of their votes. The institute's president, Heidi Hartmann, concluded, "Women are the true kingmakers in U.S. politics." In a post-election article for the Chicago Sun-Times, Carol Taber, president of FamilySecurityMatters.com, wrote, "Having successfully elected Bush, security moms will now turn their attention to those domestic defense issues that frighten us most, and we will hold our administration accountable." She went on to note that, "While security moms care about human rights, we don't care quite as much as we used to. Comments taken from recent focus groups my organization held in a large Midwestern state among mothers interested in policy and politics confirm this, such as 'I would cut off the borders' and 'I think we shouldn't let everybody come here.' In other words: I care more about my children's right to live than I do about these characters' right to live here."
Perhaps since I live in Colorado, home of the infamous Columbine school shootings, I personally feel that the lack of gun control laws is a bigger threat to my children's safety than immigrants who, by and large, are not terrorists, but instead cross the border in order to serve us french fries at our McDonalds, clean our office buildings, and drive us around in taxis. Is it fair for the media (and the parties) to portray suburban mothers as caring mostly about immediate personal and family issues, at the expense of the greater good? In an article written a month before the election, Bill Adair of the Saint Petersburg Times wrote about the "persuadables," which "are predominantly white, and include more women than men." He went on to describe "one such voter," a stay-at-home mom in Broadview Heights, Ohio, who, though she opposed the Iraq war and supported abortion rights, was leaning toward Bush because "he has done a pretty good job. There hasn't been anything since Sept. 11 that has scared us." She noted, however, that she has difficulty watching the candidates on TV because of the demands of motherhood. She tried to watch the first two debates, but her three kids were "too loud."
Is the security mom label a fair assessment of mothers' involvement in politics? Generally, I don't think it is, but in the months since the election, I am beginning to see why we may be perceived that way. Certainly, there are mothers well known for their activism on key issues, such as Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, and there are Senators and Representatives, who happen also to be mothers, striving daily to make changes in our world which are unrelated to their own familie' well-being. But a basic google search on "politically active mothers" yielded few results. One, mothersshouldhaveequalrights.org, is about political change, but that change, as heralded by Ann Crittendon, the author of "The Price of Motherhood," is focused on our needs as mothers: obtaining recognition, respect, and economic security in exchange for the work we do as parents. Crittendon and Judith Warner, the author of "Perfect Madness" (which argues for similar political changes) have been criticized for writing about "rich white women's issues." I can understand where these writers are coming from, yet I wonder why we can't take some of that energy and momentum to focus on the larger issues that affect mothers, or even women in general, across the socioeconomic spectrum. Mothersactingup.org is a good start, with its focus on the health and safety of all children, but it still doesn't address basic women's issues like reproductive rights and gender equality in the workplace. Mothersmovementonline.org comes a little closer, with its wide-ranging collection of articles about many political issues facing mothers. Nevertheless, the latter two organizations have garnered far less media attention than the "mothers movement" heralded by such writers as Crittendon and Warner.
Perhaps some mothers are not overly involved in politics merely because they are feeling the same way as a lot of Americans: disenfranchised by both parties, since neither party completely represents their views. There is a general sense that a shift in party platforms, especially within the Democratic party, will be occurring over the next few years. Some political experts, noting the ever increasing role of religion in politics (the recent Shiavo crisis being a case in point), have started calling for a "religious left." For instance, it was widely reported that 23% of Americans voted based on "moral values," but according to a Zogby poll of 10,000 voters conducted after the election, the moral issue that affected their vote the most was the Iraq war, not abortion or gay marriage, as touted by the religious right. Catholics, who are against abortion, euthanasia, and stem-cell research, but who also oppose the war, the death penalty, and scandalous poverty, were particularly in a quandary when going to the polls.
Jim Wallis, a minister and author of "God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get it," notes that "while religious conservatives focus on homosexuality and abstinence, Jesus had much more to say about poverty and economic justice than sexual impropriety. How did the faith of Jesus come to be known as pro-rich, pro-war and only pro-American?" Yet, he also criticizes the left, who has sent out a "cry of alarm in response to anyone who has the audacity to be religious in public. Many of the most progressive social movements in American history: anti-slavery, women's suffrage, the fight for child labor laws and the civil rights movement, had overt religious roots and motivations." All well and good, but there is one problem. As Frances Kissing, director of Catholics for a Free Choice, notes, the failure of the religious left to "deal with gender, sex and reproduction is its Achilles' heel." Wallis, an antiabortion cleric, has demonstrated at an abortion clinic and a nuclear plant on the same day. Kissing, observing that "women are virtually absent from the leadership ranks of the progressive religious movements," concludes that male leaders of the progressive movement do not understand the role that women and sex play in the modern world. Of course, women are not known for their presence in the leadership ranks of the religious right either.
My point is that, if the political landscape is going to change dramatically in the next three years, mothers need to have a voice in it, which goes beyond our concern for the safety and well-being of our own families. A mother who has a steady job (or a husband with one) may not have examined the welfare system lately. A mother in a monogamous relationship with available, reliable birth control may not pay much attention to reproductive rights. Yet Celinda Lake, reporting on the results of a Votes for Women survey, noted that aVoters believe a range of womenas issues were shortchanged in the presidential election. Majorities of Democratic, Republican and independent women say that equal pay for women, prevention of violence against women, and women's equality under the law were not discussed enough during the campaign."
Ignoring such important issues can be dangerous. Recently I picked up a book I read in a long-ago book club, made up of then-childless working women looking for intellectually stimulating discussion. The book, written in 1985, is a fictional account of a future time when, following a decline in population, attributable to "the widespread availability of birth control of various kinds, including abortion," women in marriages not approved by the "state church" are deemed "morally unfit." Their husbands are killed or imprisoned and their children confiscated and adopted by couples deemed to be "fit" by the reigning government, a very extreme faction of the religious right. Women who used to hold jobs and raise their own children are reduced to being surrogate mothers, called "handmaids" for other such couples. In the book, the handmaid reminisces about her life in the past:
"Absurd, but that's what I want: an argument, about who should put the dishes in the dishwasher, whose turn is it to sort the laundry, clean the toilet; something daily and unimportant in the big scheme of things. What a luxury it would be . . . . We thought we had such problems. Who knew that we were happy? It's hard to remember how we used to think, as if everything were available to us, as if there were no contingencies, no boundaries, as if we were free to shape and re-shape forever the ever-expanding perimeters of our lives."
Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale.
Far fetched, perhaps, but still dark and chilling. And, tellingly, deemed by my current book club as "too depressing" to read.