It’s no secret that the GOP has a lady problem.
Women voters chose Obama over Romney by 11 percentage points in November (55 to 44 percent). Obama was also favored by most minority groups and by young people, for a combinatory effect which NBC News calls “a demographic time-bomb.” Historically, “white,” “male” and “middle-aged” has been an election-winning crowd, but the electorate is becoming decidedly more diverse — more complicated to sweep.
The black vote is now 13 percent of the electorate; the number of 18-29 year-old voters is up from 2008, while the number of 30-44 year-olds is down and 54 percent of voters in 2012 were women. In most swing states, women voted for Obama with double-digit margins.
So, the GOP’s New Year’s Resolution? Get with the times.
Starting with the lady problem. The Independent Women’s Forum held a panel discussion last Wednesday to discuss how to confront the issue, but mostly to explain how elderly conservative men are to blame for the party’s inability to attract young women.
“I’m not sure what’s worse: conservatives ignoring women’s issues, or conservatives addressing them,” joked moderator Christina Hoff Sommers, at the discussion. Sommers has authored several works on feminism, and she also coined the term “equity feminism,” which describes support only for First Wave goals of legal equality, and not criticism of contemporary gender roles.
The women associated with the forum included Maggie Gallagher, author of Enemies of Eros: How the Sexual Revolution is Killing Family, Marriage and Sex and What We Can Do About It; Marjorie Dannenfelser, President of the Susan B. Anthony List and Penny Nance, President of Concerned Women for America. They came up with some suggestions for the GOP, mostly making jokes about silencing Rush Limbaugh and Todd Akin and asking more women to run for office without using the phrase “binders of women.” It’s an image problem, they decided.
Viral videos like Lena Dunham’s controversial “Your First Time” (which likens a woman’s first vote to losing her virginity) and Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me,” (which revamps a 70’s feminist anthem) appealed to what is hip about being liberal. Democratic women are funnier, they have good celebrities, they’re proponents of “solidarity” and therefore have a lot of friends, they’re free and modern and revolutionary — they’re sexy.
Conservative women are seen as “a bunch of prudish, anti-sex, anti-reproductive-freedom people,” said panelist Leslie Paige. She suggested a new bumper sticker in response: “We like sex too.”
This sounds ridiculous, and from a strategic standpoint, it’s a disaster. Talking about sex is the wrong thing for Republicans to do to attract female voters.
Republican strategist John Weaver said in The New York Times that the primary problem for the GOP is that it doesn’t do enough to show that it is “for something and not just against things,” and that it allowed the infamous Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock quotes to be seen, “not like outliers,” but “representative of [the] party.” Instead, Weaver would have the party address things like equal pay for equal work and a compromise on health care that could be GOP-supported, rather than try to convince women to surrender personal freedoms.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) stated in the same article, “It has never made sense that my party, the party of individual freedom and personal responsibility, thinks the government should be involved in issues like abortion.” The notion of limiting reproductive rights isn’t just sensitive, but, as Collins points out, it also stands in direct contrast with the party’s stated focus on minimizing government intervention.
Though this election’s gap was the largest in history, according to the Gallup poll, there also was female resistance to the re-elections of George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, respectively. The gap isn’t new, but now there are enough women voting for it to finally make a difference.
Abigail Adams famously reminded her husband to “Remember the ladies, otherwise we are determined to foment rebellion.” It’s been a long-time coming — two hundred years of accumulating the actual mathematical power to demand attention.
The GOP doesn’t have a choice anymore. They can’t do anything about the numbers, and they’re not going to get anywhere trying to “steal” feminism via clever marketing. It’s not just about weird, hypocritical stances on reproductive rights, it’s also about the laissez-faire attitude towards entrenched inequalities. “You don’t want a guy who says, ‘Oh hey, I’m at the library studying,’ when really he’s out not signing the Lilly Ledbetter Act,” said Dunham in “Your First Time.”
Women also show significantly higher amounts of support for social programs — even ones that don’t specifically target women, such as those that protect poor people, new immigrants and the elderly — because they still know how it feels to fall by the wayside. Ladies are just asking to be remembered, GOP, and to finally have something they can “stand for,” rather than “put up with.”
Otherwise, we’ve already started fomenting our rebellion. Lesley Gore entreated, “Women, let’s rise up. Our vote alone can win this election.” And guess what: She was right.