Voting Image: Did we judge our candidates on their date-ability?

Last month, President Barack Obama was reelected to a second term in the White House.  Why?  Because more women vote than men, and a majority of women voted for Obama.  Why did women lean Democratic in this past election?  I don’t have all of those answers, as each vote is an individual act of preference, but in general, the Republican party this past election cycle has portrayed itself as particularly antagonistic toward women.  However, according to some evolutionary psychology nonsense, Mitt Romney should have won the women’s vote.

In a Yahoo! News article from Election Day, Liz Goodwin identifies three myths about women voters.  The third myth, “women vote like they date,” references the idea that women are going to vote for a president that would make a more attractive mate, thus Romney should be the logical choice.  He is the epitome of the white male provider, with five sons and wealth and a beautiful wife.  He has privilege, he has power, and he comes from the dominant racial group.  Women should be attracted to Romney and his image, therefore they should vote for him.

Mittens and his brood

Mittens and his brood

 

In light of my previous post about The Beauty Myth, this attitude shows the impact of Beauty Myth culture on men in the United States.  The myth goes that women vote like they date, and they date based on image.  The image that Romney presented — successful both financially and reproductively — should have been enough to sway women voters away from Obama.

Of course, women don’t actually vote based on how they would date, and how they would date doesn’t necessarily infer that they would choose Mitt Romney.  The women’s vote went to Obama.  But could image still be at play in this vote?  Here’s a photo of both of them:

mittensandbarack

Is one man more attractive than the other?  Can we make such a judgment?  Barack Obama is taller than Mitt Romney, but conversely, Mitt Romney has more hair.  Did Barack Obama’s image as a father of daughters supercede that of Romney as a father of sons?  Either way, I think this is open to interpretation.  Did Mitt Romney lose the 2012 election because of his image?  Did Barack Obama win because of his?  Are their images more appealing to one sex than to another?  These questions always makes me think about Fahrenheit 451, in which the characters discuss the candidates entirely based on their looks and appearance.  That book ends in war.

So what do you think about the images presented by these two men and the election?

 

Depressing and Riveting Emergencies

During the 1930s and 1940s, two different emergencies drastically altered women’s roles in the United States.  The first emergency, The Great Depression, urged women out of the workforce and into the home (despite the number of employed women rising).  The second emergency, World War II, spent four years pushing women into the workforce to fill the void left by male soldiers.

The Great Depression was an economic emergency that effectively ended the flapper culture of the 1920s (I missed a decade due to Sandy, sorry!).  Whereas in the ’20s, both men and women experienced a loosening of sexual mores and personal liberation, the stock market crash of 1929 sent the nation into a tight fiscal crisis.  People of both genders lost jobs.  And the message to women, in general, directed them to stay at home so that men could have a better chance at getting a job.  Men, as the breadwinners, needed their jobs to support their families, but women who worked for “pin money” ought to leave the salaries for men (of course, the “pin money” worker was a largely inaccurate stereotype).  The working woman was not respected by society at large because she was taking the labor that belonged to men.

Let my Daddy work!

 

Of course, women who worked during the Great Depression were not likely to be after economic independence and purchasing power.  They, like men who worked, were supporting their families, and women entered the work force at twice the rate of men.  Women did a wide variety of work throughout the Depression, including hosting boarders who could no longer afford to live on their own.  Women’s wages increased to 63% of men’s wages, even though the number of women in the workforce grew (usually the two were inversely related).  Due to the segregation of labor that had already existed, many women were able to stay in the workforce because men did not want to do “women’s work.”  So even though public opinion was against women workers, the Great Depression actually spurred more women into the workforce.

Famous migrant mother photo by Dorothea Lange

The only way to really break the Great Depression was to get involved in a World War.  And women, Uncle Sam needed you to fill the positions left vacant by young soldiers.  Check out this propaganda video scripted by Eleanor Roosevelt and narrated by Katharine Hepburn:

The natural skills of the homemaker, like sewing, can translate easily to industrial work, and since the lives of men depend on it, women are necessary for the war effort.  I particularly enjoyed the part about parachute production about five minutes into the video above; of course women are better at making a silk parachute!  They have those nimble lady-fingers, after all!

Sarcasm aside, the campaign to get women working during WWII used fierce amounts of propaganda.  If you weren’t working, as a woman, then you were not doing your patriotic duty. The labor of women became essential in making sure that the men overseas were well-equipped and protected.  This new breed of working women was championed by Rosie the Riveter.

Traditional Rosie poster

Another Rosie design

For a few short years, being a working woman was at the top of public opinion.  However, as soon as the war ended, women were expected to pack up and go home.  Those jobs that women had adopted naturally belonged to men.  Propaganda ads began telling women to quit their jobs and return home, when just a few years before, they had been urging women into the workforce.  Women were fired by droves in order to make way for male workers.  Rosie the Riveter and her sisters at work were pushed into memory.

Both of these two emergencies show one consistent theme.  When men leave the workplace, either through economic downturn or wartime soldiering, women quickly fill the gap.  But when men return to the work force, women are once again pushed out.

Dear Women, Please Vote This Year

Last night, I attended a panel discussion on campus featuring four prominent professors and moderated by the provost on a few of the important issues in this year’s election (healthcare, the economy, morality in leadership).  The discussion itself was fun, and it was interesting to see gender and race divides so clearly (the two white male professors in almost constant opposition to the two minority female professors), but the overwhelming consensus between them was the importance of a voting decision.  Dr. Carol Awasu from Nyack College’s social work program encouraged audience members to vote.  If you are a woman, if you are a minority, if you don’t own property, she reminded the audience, you did not always have the right to vote, and so you should vote.  Vote, because people have died to secure the right for you.

Especially in this election, which is the most gender-divided election in recent history, everyone who is able to vote should be voting.  We owe it to our predecessors — to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, to Susan B. Anthony, to Alice Paul — to vote.  I almost don’t care who you vote for, so long as you vote (of course, I want people to vote my way, but I’d rather a fair exercise of free will than a bunch of people voting against conscience).

Susan B. Anthony

I think that’s what those wonderful suffragists would want to see: a fair exercise of free will.  That’s what they were after in pursuing equal suffrage.  As for how they would vote if they were alive today — I feel like my fair guess would be for Obama, and here’s why:

1) Party Allegiance would be inverted, and thus they would vote on principles as opposed to party.  After the Civil War, women’s suffrage split into two different camps, one aligning itself with the liberal Republicans and the other working to garner support from the more conservative Democrats.  Lucy Stone stuck with the Republican party, and those who followed suit worked to tie female suffrage with freedman (those who had until recently been slaves) suffrage, but when that move proved to be unsuccessful, they willingly took a back-burner position to freedman suffrage.  Now that women have the vote, a Republican suffragist from the mid-nineteenth century would likely choose to vote for Obama because of his egalitarian appeal and his insistence that female policymakers are necessary for appropriate lawmaking.  Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, frustrated by the sexism in the Republican party, broke off from their abolitionist roots and pursued a women’s rights platform through the Democratic party.  The Democrats, for the most part, were uninterested, but Stanton and Anthony persisted in their hunt for political equality in more than just the vote.  Fair pay, property ownership and child custody were also a part of their branch of the suffrage movement.  Stanton and Anthony would be drawn to Obama because of the Democratic Platform’s position on women.  All of these women would also be horrified by comments about rape that have come out of the Republican party during this election cycle (I’m looking at you, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock).  Don’t worry, women; Obama doesn’t understand their comments, either.

Lucy Stone

2) The restriction of voting rights that this election cycle has seen are abhorrent and being repudiated by the Democratic party.  In case you’ve missed it, several state governments have either successfully or unsuccessfully been implementing new voter registration laws that require voters to have excessive and unnecessary amounts of identification in order to vote.  My home state of Pennsylvania is also guilty in this; I chose to register here in New York instead.  If Alice Paul were alive today, you can bet that she would be vocally opposing this from all sides, and as such, she would align herself with today’s Democratic party.  Voting rights are an important part of the Democratic position, and the legislators who are creating the new voter id laws have largely been Republican.  Think I’m inflating things?  Check out this surprisingly astute Sarah Silverman video on voter id laws (my apologies for the profanity, if you find profanity an issue):

3) Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act; Republicans voted almost unanimously against it.  Look at the vote results from the Senate on the 2009 act.  Of the 61 senators that voted in favor of Lily Ledbetter, only two of them were Republicans; however, of the 36 senators that voted against it, all of them were Republicans.  On top of that, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney did not support the Lily Ledbetter Act in 2009 and he would not have signed it.  Would Romney overturn it if he reaches office?  He says not, but early suffragists Anthony and Stanton would still be casting their vote with Obama because of this law.  Though Anthony’s faction of suffrage did grow toward favoring the white middle class, she made a few concerted efforts to mobilize working class women to demand suffrage and fair pay.  Toward the beginning of the film Iron Jawed Angels, the characters of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns advertise for suffrage amongst working class women, recruiting Ruza Wenclawska.  Wenclawska, a Polish immigrant who changed her name to Rose Winslow, began working as a mill girl at age eleven.  She would be voting for Obama.

Ruza Wenclawska, aka Rose Winslow

Ultimately, I think these women would encourage anyone on the fence about voting for either candidate to vote, no matter what.  But they would probably be voting for Barack Obama.

Why Women? Why?

Hello, folks!  Welcome to what promises to be an exciting, entertaining, and possibly infuriating ride.  Namely, I am taking a course called Women in American History, and within these cyber-effective walls, I will be sharing with you all about my experiences involving the world of women’s history (in the US).

But Maggie, you ask, why must you study women’s history?  Why?  Didn’t you get enough real history in high school?  Don’t you already know the basic chronology of military engagements that the US has gotten into since Virginia Dare disappearedin the 1580’s?  What is the value of studying women’s history?

Gender distribution in the USA, based on the 2000 census, thanks to NationalAtlas.gov

I’m glad you asked.  Women’s history is this epic smorgasbord of awesomeness that illuminates the hidden lives of over half of the earth’s population (at least, usually over half of the earth’s population).  In just one county in the United states in the span of ten years, so much happens to so many different people, and all of it is important, at least in my opinion.  All too often, when we who attended a public school in the US get a very narrow and often inaccurate version of history taught to us.  I remember being in ninth grade and going through the book Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen in the gifted program (intensive topics seminar!), and being dumbstruck by how much important stuff we were missing.  Helen Keller was an active socialist?  Woodrow Wilson had suffragists unconstitutionally arrested and imprisonedWhat is going on here???

What’s going on here is some systematic fibbing and airbrushing to our history.  And by golly, that is not okay!  And believe it or not, it has taken me from my freshman year of high school to my senior year of college to have a course dedicated to filling in the gaps.

Which brings me to this:  I am inviting you, oh diligent reader, to follow me on this journey between the lines of demarcation and across the borders of politically dominated history into the world inhabited by women.  It’s a world that’s always been there and will always be there, so it’s about time we take the time to interact with it.

Welcome to Maggie Sees Women’s History.

Guess what!  I’ve been on the blogosphere for over two years!  If you are interested in checking out my main blog, please click here.