It is no secret the women's vote is often the determining factor in many elections, including major national races. It is therefore no surprise, as we enter the throws of the 2012 presidential election, that once again the battle is on to woo women, replete with the usual trash-talking and barbed attacks that characterize our electoral process.
The latest dust up occurred as democratic operative Hillary Rosen correctly pointed out the difference between an affluent stay-at-home mom in Ann Romney and the more ubiquitous every-woman, struggling to make ends meet while raising her children. Without question motherhood and career are equally important and demanding. Women, in the best of circumstances, should be able to choose the path best-suited for their lives no differently than a man selecting a career that best meets the needs of his family.
Irrespective of this truth, election season brings out the desire to prove that one candidate or party is better suited to meet women's needs over the other, while the reality that lurks behind the aggressive chest-thumping is that neither party, and really very few candidates overall, are sincerely willing to be the leaders most women would like to see in elective office.
If you listen to Ann Romney and the Republicans it is economic issues that matter to women. Perhaps true, except not in the way most on the right would feel comfortable supporting. For example:
- In a recent survey conducted by Mom Central Consulting, moms, regardless of their age, said they would forgo a larger paycheck to spend more time with their children. For these women, equal pay for equal work, affordable housing, health care and quality education would help them maximize their earnings while reducing the pressure to earn more simply to make ends meet allowing them to be more present in their children's lives.
- The survey also highlighted that most moms would prefer to stay home rather than forging ahead in their career path. Too many women today don't have the choice to be full-time moms when even government programs like Social Security discriminate against women working in the home. Former New York Times financial reporter Ann Crittenden, in her best-selling book The Price of Motherhood, expertly details numerous ways women are economically discriminated against when they step out of the workforce to raise children, including the oft unremarked upon fact that for each year a women does not earn an income it reduces her Social Security payment upon retirement.
Fortunately, Ann Romney will not have to worry about her finances as she ages, but for most women this is simply not the case. In addition to juggling the various demands on the home front, women must also contribute to the household cash flow and prepare for a future where earnings diminish with their age, years out of the workforce and changes in martial status. For those that genuinely care about "women's issues" figuring out what they really want isn't difficult.
Let's start with the basics:
- Equal pay and equal opportunity: The glass ceiling has certainly been raised in recent years as entry level positions tend to reveal a level playing field. The situation becomes much more complicated as women age and have families — women want policies, many of which are detailed in Ms. Crittenden's book, that provide a level economic playing field throughout their life cycle, so that women can effectively balance work and motherhood.
- Quality, affordable healthcare for everyone: Not only as recipients, women are the main caregivers for sick family members at both ends of the lifecycle. As healthcare becomes costly, women disproportionately are the ones caring for family members in addition to tending to their own responsibilities. As a 2009 study conducted by AARP and the National Caregiving Alliance found, the typical family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman caring for her widowed 69-year-old mother who does not live with her. She is married and employed. Approximately 66% of family caregivers are women. More than 37% have children or grandchildren under 18 years old living with them.
- Educational Excellence: Despite the pabulum spewed by many policy makers, any Mom who has recently spent even a few hours at a public school can see that unending budget cuts coupled with out-of-control mandates has created a situation where less and less learning is going on inside the classroom, putting pressure on women to make-up the shortfall at home. With well-directed resources and empowered educators we can create true partnerships between parents and teachers instead of the draining and often adversarial relationship women find themselves in trying to ensure the best opportunities for their kids while "fighting" a system that often discriminates against working moms. As numerous studies summarized by the Michigan Department of Education note, teachers often think that low-income parents and single parents will not or cannot spend as much time helping their children at home as do middle-class parents with more education and leisure time, creating pressure on the families that need it the least.
I believe Ann Romney worked hard raising five boys, and doing it with the support of a wealthy, successful husband was a true blessing for her and her family. For women who do not share this reality it would be wonderful if she can help persuade her husband and the rest of the Republican Party to take these issues seriously and to make necessary changes.
In addition, it would be a step in the "right" direction if President Obama and his fellow Democrats did more than simply hold these values in their hip pocket, ready to use at the drop of the campaign hat. I have no doubt that most Democrats completely agree that economic equality, affordable assessable health care and quality education are the cornerstones of their values and yet there is little to show in the past four years to prove this contention. As the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom said, it will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.
When candidates are serious about truly earning women's vote they will answer the question why we always have enough money for war and we are forever cutting spending on education, health care and community services? Once a candidate has actually done something about this inequity, is when women will truly have made a difference in an election.