As the election season winds to a close (or a feverish apex, depending on how you see it), it’s time, as a woman, to let out a sigh of relief that the barrage of sex-and-sexuality-oriented media will soon be dropping off considerably. After a winner is chosen, though I will still be dealing with insulting campaigns like “save the boobies” or “save second base” for things as serious and multi-faceted as cancer, chances are less likely that I’ll have to come across several dozen “women’s interest” articles per day that are universally centered around reproduction, sexuality, and the color pink.
Chances are also less likely that I’ll have to suffer through yet another insulting and patronizing ad like Lena Dunham’s recent work of art, the “First Time” ad which coyly urged young women to vote for a man who would be more likely to preserve her reproductive rights using the same winking language used to talk about losing her virginity. I am not “offended” by this ad or others like it, the way faux-fainting Victorian conservatives might pretend to be (as though they’ve ever truly cared about the portrayal of women in the media), but I am exhausted by it. It’s frankly insulting, the overreaching idea being that in order to get women to perk their ears up about a candidate — aside from only addressing things associated with reproductive health — you are going to need to put it in a saucy, Samantha from Sex and the City package that gets her girlishly tittering over the double entendre and implications that “Hey, Lena gets it, I’m a young woman who has sex!”
I am a woman in my early 20s who lives in an urban area and is sexually active. In theory, I am the ideal audience for this kind of rhetoric, because the idea is that I feel so swept-aside by typical political discourse that I need a little bit of Jimmy Choo heels and rhinestone-studded condoms to make this whole messy “politics” business sexy for me. I’m not interested in elections of any scope outside of the Presidential one, I am entirely a single-issue voter, and in order to pay attention to any of this, it’s going to have to be delivered by a girl whose face graces magazines and hot television shows. I need to be charmed.
Though I am thoroughly disgusted with the language used by some people on the right to describe things as serious as abortion, sexual assault, or access to reproductive health, I would expect that, on the left (the side which purports to be on my team), women could be universally respected enough to be talked to like adults. I would hope that the left knows, as should be obvious, that women are rational adults who are capable of understanding the complex differences between candidates and political parties. Because the thing is, “women’s issues” aren’t only those centered around sex and reproduction. “Women’s interest” isn’t only which candidate is cuter or seems to “get” our personal lives. And “women’s issues” extend from every election, from President right down to City Councilman — even if we’re not getting the saucy PSAs about which State Delegate we should be letting have sex with us (err, vote for).
Because women — yes, even young women, ones who live in cities and have sex — are just as affected by every law, every war, and every economic strategy as a man would be. Women are small business owners who need help from local governments. Women want comprehensive health care that wouldn’t drop them for having a pre-existing condition. Women care about whether or not we are constantly mired in ongoing wars in various locations throughout the world. Women care about access to birth control and abortions and breast cancer screenings, absolutely, but that is just one of many things that are a part of our lives, and any candidate should have more respect than to believe that simply supporting women’s reproductive rights is enough to completely appease them.
And that is what is happening here — we’re being appeased. “Look at how good we are,” this rhetoric of saucy deliveries and single-issue messages seems to say, “We support your basic rights. Now you have to vote for us.” Yes, supporting a woman’s right to choose or have access to health care is an essential platform, but that is not the only thing women care about. It is patronizing to imply that, once you have soothed the woman voter’s brow with a promise to make sure Planned Parenthood gets its grant money, you are done winning her over. If you want to talk about women’s issues, yes, reproductive health should be a component — but it is far from the only issue which is going to mean changes in our lives. There is no need to talk down to me as a voter by implying that I don’t care (or at least not nearly as much) about the economy, or our foreign policy, or any host of other divisive subjects which are directly affected by which party I vote for.
Just as you wouldn’t assume that a room (or nation) full of men doesn’t need to be talked to about the upcoming election by only focusing on one issue and delivering it in a coy, flirtatious way, the same respect should be afforded to women. Women don’t need to be talked down to by a cool celebrity using “sexy” language in order to have her blushing all the way to the voter booth. There is no reason that you cannot address young women with a comprehensive view of both platforms, with as much seriousness and straightforwardness that you would give a man. There is no reason that women are not capable of understanding the facts just as you would present them to anyone else. Women do not need a wink and a nod to convince them who to vote for, just as we do not need pink cupcakes and a terribly misleading campaign about saving our ta-tas to get us to care about breast cancer.
We should have established by now that we don’t need a pink car to want to drive, we don’t need need pink pens to write, and we don’t need a pink political campaign to make an informed vote. You do not have to wrap your rhetoric up in a sexy little package or give us our shiny “reproductive rights” toy to play with while you talk about all of the myriad other issues with men. Because to think that the only “women’s issue” is sexual health is deeply offensive, and profoundly wrong. Every issue that is a man’s in this country — from the economy to veteran’s affairs to research grants — is a woman’s as well. Women are involved with every part of the political process, and are affected by every bit of our legislation. And until we start realizing this, and treating women not as special interest voters, but as rational human beings, we are doomed to a never-ending cycle of “My Boobies Vote Democrat” promotional tee shirts.