Women's Issues Emerge from the Shadows
by Lauren Stiller Rikleen
After decades of seeing the promised “year of the woman” evaporate with each election eve, 2012 will be remembered as the year when women finally found their electoral power.
Make no mistake about it. The election wins Tuesday were significant for women in three major ways. First, the future for women as candidates has now become significantly brighter. Second, women have shown themselves to be a firewall against efforts to interfere with deeply private and personal decisions in their own and their families’ lives. And third, women have helped to connect the dots between the economy and their paycheck.
Elizabeth Warren’s election was historic. As the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts, Warren broke through a significant and daunting barrier. Warren’s win can be attributed, at least in part, to the substance of her position on women’s economic issues. Through all the noise of the campaign regarding Scott Brown’s support of women generically, his vote to prevent the Paycheck Fairness Act from reaching the Senate floor was transformative. Both women and men understood the fundamental fairness of legislation that would require equal pay for comparable work, and refused to accept that one can be for women but against fair pay.
Nationally, approximately 55 percent of the electorate are women, and their vote to re-elect Barack Obama demonstrated a gender gap of approximately 12 points. Their impact on other races was similarly critical. Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin never rebounded from attempting to classify rape into categories of legitimate or otherwise, nor from his ill-informed speculation that a woman’s womb can somehow distinguish between the sperm of a spouse and the sperm of a rapist. And Indiana Senate contender Richard Mourdock, who said that a pregnancy which results from a rape is what God intended, was also defeated.
Here and nationally women won races they were not expected to win, and rejected governmental intrusions into their homes. They voted against extreme positions to roll back the four-decade old right to abortion and in other instances, supported the rights of individuals to marry the person they love.
Women are now half of the labor force and their families depend on their financial contributions. The 2012 election results demonstrate that, at long last, women’s issues have emerged from the shadows of a special interest and are recognized as issues of fundamental fairness and parity. Perhaps, as well, the results show a demand for bipartisan and laser-focused efforts to solve the deeply difficult challenges that face our families.
Lauren Stiller Rikleen is the president of the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership and the Executive-in-Residence at the Boston College Center for Work & Family. She is the author of Ending the Gauntlet: Removing Barriers to Women’s Success in the Law and Success Strategies for Women Lawyers.
**Reprinted with permission of the Boston Herald.