Friday, November 2, 2012

From Soccer Mom to Waitress Mom

Women voters have power. Since 1980, women have consistently voted more often than men. That is now 8 consecutive presidential elections in which more women have voted than men. In the 2008 election, 70.4 million women cast ballots versus only 60.7 million men. With this much voting power, why are women still relegated to an "interest group"?

The 1990s birthed the term "soccer mom" to describe the prosperous suburban mom who focused her energies on her children's activities. This moniker was so pervasive that it became part of the official lexicon and is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Soccer moms were seen as key swing voters in the 1996 election. These suburban moms favored Bill Clinton 53% to 39% and played a large part in his reelection. 

The focus on the soccer mom wained after the prosperous days of the '90s. The media focus shifted from the soccer mom of the past: the harried, SUV-driving, suburban woman who was worried about the next soccer practice, but not so much about the federal deficit. Post September 11th, she was replaced by the "security mom," who was very concerned with protecting her family and her homeland, and probably owned a gun. And who could forget Sarah Palin's "hockey mom" during the 2008 election? She was apparently a pit bull with lipstick

The newest "mom" in the 2012 election is the "waitress mom." Waitress mom is facing some tough times. She is a blue collar worker who did not attend college. She can no longer afford the SUV and private piano lessons. She may be working two jobs just to get by. A recent New York Times article describes that "[r]ather than ferrying children around the suburbs in minivans, [waitress mom] is spinning in the hamster wheel of a tight economy and not getting ahead." Like her predecessors, she is still a key swing vote.

Pollsters focus a lot on women because "women are more likely to be swing voters, while men usually make up their minds early." Kellyanne Fitzpatrick Conway, a Republican pollster, explained that “[g]roups of women simply don’t resemble each other anymore, which is really fascinating." I guess the "anymore" implies that women used to have more uniform views according to their gender. 

Pollsters realize that women do not vote as one bloc. President Obama too has acknowledged that women are not an interest group. At a White House forum on women and the economy, the President said, "Women are not some monolithic bloc. Women are not an interest group. You shouldn’t be treated that way. Women are over half this country and its workforce.” 

Yet, women are listed as a specifically targeted group on President Obama's website under Women for Obama. Women are listed under the "groups" section of the website alongside latinos, seniors, veterans, etc. A group notably missing from the site is men. The only reference to men specifically is Sportsmen for Obama, which is just a little bizarre. While men and women can both fit into a lot of the groups on the site, "women" is a specific option to click on, while men is not. Obama himself might not think of women as an "interest group," but his campaign sure does. 

So which is it? Are women easily categorized into soccer mom, security mom, hockey mom, or waitress mom? Or are they one group who can be reduced to a section of a website alongside "environmentalists" and "small business owners"? 

The answer is not really important. The real question is why are women always categorized in a way that men are not? 

Politicians and the media realize that women voters are important. Yet they still can't quite put their fingers on how to deal with us. Take for example Romney's infamous "binders full of women" comment. Apparently Romney and his staff felt this comment would ingratiate him to women, but conversely, it offended many women and made him an instant internet meme to be mocked.

Obviously there are issues that are more important to women than men. But categorizing women as the "______ mom" is really saying that women can be easily sorted and packaged with a bow on top. This is purely essentialism and it does not serve women. It is probably the same reason that Sarah Palin was nominated in the first place: if women are all one group, then surely they will rush out to vote for this airhead with no experience simply because she's a woman, right?  

Women are people. They fit into a lot of categories. Maybe that doesn't serve pollsters or pundits well, but it is reality. We have the voting power. We do not need to be reduced to a stereotype or put in a binder.


MC said...

Women definitely fit into a lot of categories, and our oversimplified classifications certainly ignore our individual voices and needs. My personal needs and interests are probably quite different than those of a "soccer mom" or a "hockey mom," especially considering that I don't have children.

I will say that despite the President's website link to the group "Women for Obama," I still appreciate his recognition that women are not an interest group. I am actually in strong support of the organization and appreciate its advocacy for women's issues, including women's health and equal pay.

Pali said...
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Pali said...

This is upsetting. Women are a larger voting bloc than males, yet women's rights are constantly under siege. There is so much untapped potential if women could find some key issues to cooperate on, as many ethnic and socioeconomic blocs can usually do. I understand there is way to oversimplify and determine the way a "women's issue" should be legislated because a voting bloc that large is extremely diverse. All women may not be prolife or prochoice or whatever else, but one would think no woman would be against, say I don't know, equal wages between sexes, or could support any politician who believed in legitimate rape, or that certain women raped easy.

tzey said...

I think that this particular election cycle has really in some way recognized the needs of women. Not to say that all women are a homogeneous class, but at times we are treated as such. This election cycle was one of the first times where being a woman was a serious issue in my own voting motivations. Hopefully moving forward we can move the conversation forward and allow women to have many voices when it comes to elections.