Saturday, December 22

:: Girl Power

Why we say women don't vote -
and why we may not want to talk about it

There is another great post by Margie Omero at
“Why Women (Are Assumed to) Fail to Vote" looks back at a number of media stories that claim (a) women are less likely to vote than men, and (b) the reason they vote less is gender-specific.

Of course we know by now that women are more likely to vote than men, and that this gap increases in each subsequent presidential election - a fact that makes me do a happy dance if I think no one is watching.

Omero doesn’t suggest reasons why the media likes this storyline, and writes “It's unclear to me why it helps women to suggest they are uniquely challenged by voting.” I have great respect for her restraint: a less scrupulous writer could have indulged in any number of unfounded hypotheses.

I, however, am a stranger to concepts like restraint and scruples, and thus will offer a hypothesis of my own. (And sorry, Buffy, Ladybec, and Zippy - I'm going to give the drawn-out version of a story you know quite well, just in case someone other than us four are paying attention. Unlikely, I know, but possible).

We all know that there are 501(c)(3) organizations and foundations with charitable, social missions who see, clear as day, that the lions-share of Republican elected officials hurt the most vulnerable members of society. They spend a lot of their resources trying to mend the damage caused by the GOP after the fact. Obviously they know that it is ethically preferable as well as more efficient to prevent the damage from occurring in the first place – and the most expedient way to do that is to prevent these sociopaths from being elected in the first place.

However, we also know that partisan electoral involvement is proscribed for 501(c)(3)s and foundations. This leaves a lot of caring, thinking people with a conundrum: they are charged with improving the lives of the most vulnerable, but prevented by law from using one of the most expedient strategies to do so.

What to do? Well, 501(c)(3)s and foundations are permitted to engage in a very, very limited range of election related activities designed to increase voter participation. Encouraging the participation of traditionally underrepresented groups such as minorities and women fits within those parameters.

We also know that minority and women voters tend to oppose candidates who model themselves after the God of the Old Testament. But you don’t need to say that. Instead, you just need to make the case that women are under-performing and that it’s in the general social interest to promote the engagement of this traditionally disenfranchised group in the political process. Thus, the impetus is created for the storyline that women don’t vote as often as men for a range of gender-specific reasons.

There. I've spilled the beans. Beans: everywhere.

Of course, when it comes to media coverage, this storyline depends on the reporter’s perception that women lag behind men in all things – education, income, and so on. The reality is changing, but not all of us are keeping up. Some of us have lost the thread.

My question is: do we want reporters who easily lose the thread when it comes to gender filing more stories on women voters – or are we better off just keeping on keeping on, until the day comes when America wakes up to find that women hold more top leadership positions, earn more and are better educated than men? I mean, do we really want to tip our hand this soon?

I jest, of course. Really, I just don’t want to read any more Robin Givhan-esque style-section pieces on the new woman voter. I don’t want to hear any more Chris Matthews tirades about which candidate women should be voting for. And I sure has hell don’t want to hear about any more cocktail / yoga / Pilates parties designed to lure giggly gals into the twisted labyrinth known as voter education. Please, anything but that.


Kirsten said...

ciccina, I'm confused. Are you saying that every c(3) we know should start a c(4) to get their target audience to vote? Are you saying that the gender gap in voting is a myth, but we shouldn't tell anyone? My mom says every c(3) should start a c(4) -- is it so hard? If not, why doesn't everyone just start one to have in case they suddenly feel it necessary to get our nice homeless clients to vote?

Nina Miller said...

Oh, my. Way to throw me a softball!

I think every c3 should be encouraging their clients to vote and providing voter education material relevant to the service they provide. This is a democracy, and we're all in it together. Everyone should be doing their bit. But most C3s feel too intimidated - directly or indirectly - to do this kind of work. The combination of threatened/actual political retribution, hyper-cautious lawyers and oh-so-helpful groups like Common Cause saying "special interests" should be silent during elections combine to keep these groups politically disempowered.

I would imagine that large homeless shelters could try to negotiate deals on the local or state level to register their clients at the shelter's address and shuttle them to a particular polling place. Combine that with basic voter education about, say, the minimum wage. But of course Republicans would cry bloody murder, because the less poor people know about what they are up to the better. And the public is primed to think this kind of organizing is corrupt, so the shelter would catch a lot of flak that could very well endanger their ability to provide services.

Having a c4 might insulate you a bit, or might make you (or your lawyers) feel more secure... maybe it would give you more actual leeway- I'd have to check- but on the other hand it could be logistically complicated - there would be accounting issues in terms of cost-sharing for use of the same facilities, equipment, staff - it might differ on a case-by-case basis. I'll defer to your mom's judgement.

But either way, most charities feel that the risk to their program isn't worth the potential benefit. The intimidation works.

Regarding the voting gap - all I'm saying is:

I can guess how reporters get the idea that they should run stories on why women don't vote;

I understand that they are often too dopey too realize that just because some women don't vote it doesn't mean women as a whole vote less than men;

I know the MSM still hasn't caught on that there are more women than men voting - print and television pundits are still overwhelmingly male and often dwell on issues related only to their own failed masculinity (Chris Matthews, Tucker Carlson);

god forbid the MSM catches on, because instead of Matthews and Tucker we'll have Katie and Meredith and Robin doing our political analysis, or we'll have the rise of the "sexy pundit" ala Ann Coulter, and who the hell wants that; and, last but not least,

I will keep posting every story about the (real) gender gap that I come across, because it makes me feel happy inside.