In August of this year, American women will have had the right to vote for exactly 88 years. It was during August of 1920 that the 19th Amendment was finally ratified, after a 72 year battle waged by suffragettes. It is with this in mind that I write today about the events of the Democratic Presidential Primary campaign and their impact on women's rights.
The campaign for the Democratic Presidential nominee began last year with a large field including an African American man and a female candidate, something that we haven't had in this country since 1872, when Victoria Woodhull, a suffragette, ran as the nominee of the Equal Rights Party. Hillary Clinton was the clear frontrunner. A lot of people, myself included, thought she would cruise to the nomination, considering her qualifications. By April of this year, though, something was very wrong.
Throughout the campaign, some members of the media managed to dredge up a brand of sexism that women my age thought had finally become politically incorrect. We watched in horror as Hillary was reviled in the press. When it seemed they couldn't question her experience, they questioned what she wore. When it seemed they couldn't question her proposed policies, they brought up that her husband had an affair. When it seemed they couldn't figure out why she was ahead, they tore her down with some of the most vile hate speech that this country has been exposed to in years, including comments such as taking her behind the barn, stereotypical "b*tch" and more that I cannot even put into print. They repeatedly called for her to drop out. No one asked any of her male opponents to drop out.
By April, the contest was down to two candidates, Clinton and Obama, and Pennsylvania was about to vote in this historic race. Barack Obama had stumbled in the beginning, as he had only spent one year in Congress prior to running, without producing any earth shaking legislation. His time in the Illinois State Senate wasn't incredibly groundbreaking, either. Still, though, here he was, and it seemed that the press loved him. If he goofed, he gave a little speech, and the press all but crowned him as the next Martin Luther King, never mind that actions speak louder than words. It was almost as if they were afraid to say anything bad about him. Was it for fear of being branded a racist? Look what happened to Geraldine Ferraro for simply speaking the truth. Whatever it was, he got a huge pass. Meanwhile, his opponent was being attacked almost daily in the press. Apparently, its ok to revile a woman, but not a black man, and seemingly worse, it was ok for women to pile on as well. The Maureen Dowds and the Arianna Huffingtons of the media world were having a ball, and not one of them seemed to care what they were doing to members of their own sex.
Now, let's step back to the year 1913. Its March 3rd, and suffragette Alice Paul is leading over 8,000 women down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC, on the eve of the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson, in an effort to call national attention to the fight for women's suffrage. The scene turns ugly when scores of male onlookers attack the women, first with insults and obscenities, and then with physical violence. All the while, the police stand by and watch, but do nothing to protect the women from the assaults. (Are you seeing any similarities here?) The very next day, Alice Paul and her suffragists made headlines across the nation and women's suffrage is finally a popular topic of discussion.
Now we're back in 2008, and Hillary Clinton has won PA. The very next day, the press began dabbling in a tactic called race baiting. The gist of it was this: Hillary only won PA because the white voters would not vote for a black man and were therefore racists. The facts were clear, though, for anyone who chose to avail themselves of the truth. Women and Catholics voted overwhelmingly for Hillary in PA. Yet, some members of the media, and the DNC began to throw out a subtle threat. The threat was this: If Hillary wins the nomination, the African American base in the Democratic Party will revolt. Although they are not the largest voting bloc in the Democratic Party, they wanted us to believe that if they were not happy, they would hand John McCain a win in the general election by staying home. Others took the threat a step further, hinting at riots like we saw in the 1960s.
In all the press that has surrounded this campaign, one very large and important voting bloc in the Democratic Party has been ignored. Women. Women have come out in huge numbers to support the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. Many of us who have voted for her will choose to either vote for McCain in the general election or just stay home if she is not the nominee. Why is this not being discussed? Why are women being pushed to the back of the bus? Along with the women, they have reserved seats on the back of the bus for Latinos. Their votes are no longer important, either. To the Catholics, Jews, white men and the rest of the Democratic Party: the bus will leave without you. It appears the African American vote is the only one that carries any weight with the Democratic Party.
As I write this, West Virginia will vote today. Hints of the spin we can expect in this upcoming loss for Obama have already started to emerge. Again, it will be race. Personally, I'm done being disgusted by what this campaign has done to race relations in this country. I've moved on because what I find more upsetting is that NO ONE has brought up what I just did, that women have been shoved to the back of the bus and told that our votes are not important. Ignoring the power of the women's vote in this country is a form of voter suppression. I write this as just another woman voter. I write it because if Hillary said it, they would trash her into next week. I write it for Alice Paul and all the other suffragettes who paved the way for women like me. I write it because all the women in the upcoming primaries in WV, KY, OR, PR, SD and MT need to come out in force and exercise their right to vote in a way that stands up for all women and our right to vote and be heard in this country, because WE ARE A VOTING BLOC THAT CAN TURN AN ELECTION, and as such we deserve to be treated with respect. If we don't, 2008 will go down in history as "The Year American Women Lost the Right to Vote" in this country, and we will only have ourselves to blame.
"Just a Woman Voter"