The 'Generic' Women's Vote Proves to Be Anything But
That was the Boston Globe's take on what women voters faced in yesterday's historic Super Tuesday contest. Perhaps many Democratic women did negotiate a difficult personal and political decision during yesterday's primary. But instead of framing women as distressed and ambivalent, we should be celebrating the fact that this election season has finally brought the diversity of women's voices to the forefront of the political arena.
Last night on ABC News Now, I sat next to Faye Wattleton, Planned Parenthood's first African-American President, as she described entering the voting booth and parsing her life as a woman and an African-American. But contrary to the "agony" some media outlets would have her experiencing, Wattleton described the choice between Obama and Clinton as one that filled her with pride -- pride that our presidential contest could finally offer such a diverse and accomplished set of options. Where Wattleton stood as she prepared to pull that lever is exactly where so many other women have found themselves in this historic election -- pulled in both directions, but extraordinarily happy and proud to have such a choice.
Women of all colors propelled record-high turnout on Tuesday, and made up the majority in every single Democratic state primary. Celinda Lake, one of the party's lead political strategists, shared today that women have hands-down determined this year's political agenda, and will ultimately decide who will become the next U.S. president. What a difference from prior elections, when we hardly spoke about women AT ALL. With such immense and recognized power, women are not only being listened and catered to in the political sphere, but -- even better -- they are no longer being identified as a monolithic voting bloc.
The historic candidacies of Sens. Clinton and Obama have now made it impossible to talk about the generic "woman voter" -- and that alone is a triumph for women of all stripes. Now, we are learning to talk about women as they really are: individuals who differ by race, class, age and geographic location, who will make different choices in candidates based on their different experiences of and in the world. That's good for our democracy because it bring a chorus of new voices, perspectives, and issues to the table. It creates a more robust national conversation, a more representative plate of issues to address, and a population that is encouraged and inspired to take a more active role in the political process -- which is good for all of us.
As someone who came to the women's movement during the "second wave," I know how our differences can be a source of pride as well as contention. And I'm happy that women aren't being seen or acting as if we are all alike, because it's our prerogative to be the authentic individuals that we are. Further, I see it as a privilege that we women can now feel comfortable disagreeing with each other on the public stage. In the past, disagreement was something we felt we couldn't afford, so we had these conversations mostly behind closed doors and behind each other's backs.
Nowhere are we seeing a more dynamic picture of our newfound comfort with discussing our political differences than in the online universe, which has most recently been a launching point for some passionate debates concerning our first female candidate. Renowned leaders of women's causes are vocally disagreeing, and for every well-known feminist who offers commentary on this historic election, hundreds of lesser-knowns are contributing too, with often eloquent and moving language about why they are supporting Obama or Clinton. When it's all over, the women's movement will have a trove of spirited, intelligent, and diverse debates documented as part of our rich, evolving history. This, too, is a good thing -- though you might not know it from reading the press coverage.
Men disagree often. It is seen as the natural order of things, and no one gets alarmed. When women have open disagreements, it's different. The press revs it up, exploiting the healthy ritual of debate as hostile, destructive, divisive. But we know better. At the heart of the matter, we know that we are jointly committed to the causes that have always been women's issues -- we just have differing views on how to get there. What we are seeing is the maturing of a movement and the ability of its members to thoughtfully disagree. Let's resist the urging of the media to divide and conquer what we hold as true -- and instead celebrate this monumental year as we continue to move the women's movement into the 21st century.