What Women Want

[The wonderful Jon Swift has put together an amazing collection of bloggers' own best blog posts of 2007. When Jon asked me to send my best, this was the first one that came to mind; even if it isn't strictly my best, it's one of my favorites—showcasing a bit of rantiness, my penchant for creating wry graphics, and intersecting at politics and feminism. So here it is again, "What Women Want," originally published August 31.]

What Women Want is the title of a piece in today's Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal, authored by WSJ editorial board member Kimberley Strassel and subtitled "How the GOP can woo the ladies." It gets off to a banging start with its opening paragraph:

Hillary has herself. Barack has Oprah. John Edwards has his wife, Elizabeth. And what secret weapon do Republican presidential candidates have to curry the all-important "women's vote"?
Right out of the box, I can tell I'm going love Ms. Strassel, given that she subscribes to one of my favorite theories of politics: Vagina Voting. That's the theory which proffers that Vagina-Americans (aka "Women") are politically attracted to the closest vagina. Hence, all women should want to vote for Hillary. And if Hillary weren't in the race, they'd want to vote for John Edwards, because of Elizabeth—and also because John Edwards, what with his hair fetish, is practically one big vagina himself.

I love this theory for lots of reasons, like how it presumes women don't have brains capable of mustering the tiniest reserve of political acumen, but most of all because it's rooted in the idea that "Women" is a monolithic group with a shared set of interests, preferences, ethics, needs, and desires. Now, I could write an entire post (or an entire six-volume set) on how manifestly stupid that idea truly is, but instead, I'll just let this graphic, comparing two women—politically active women, no less—suffice.

And even that doesn't begin to convey the depth of diversity among women, considering that Phyllis and I are from the same ethnic group, share the same sexual orientation, have the same regional roots, and are both living above the poverty line. In other words, we share a lot in common, too—and we're still vastly different. So much for Vagina Voting.

But Strassel's main issue is, of course, making recommendations for how the GOP can woo, as she calls them, "the lady voters." And she starts where any good Republican does—not with good GOP ideas but with trashing the Democrats.

The Democrats' own views of what counts for "women's issues" are stuck back in the disco days, about the time Ms. Clinton came of political age. Under the title "A Champion for Women," the New York senator's Web site promises the usual tired litany of "equal pay" and a "woman's right to choose." Mr. Richardson pitches a new government handout for women on "family leave" and waxes nostalgic for the Equal Rights Amendment. Give these Boomers some bell bottoms and "The Female Eunuch," and they'd feel right at home. Polls show Ms. Clinton today gets her best female support from women her age and up.

The rest of the female population has migrated into 2007. Undoubtedly quite a few do care about abortion rights and the Violence Against Women Act. But for the 60% of women who today both scramble after a child and hold a job, these culture-war touchpoints aren't their top voting priority.
In case you missed it, or the whiplash has momentarily stunned you, let me reiterate Strassel's concept for you: The Democrats are stuck in "the disco days" because they're still talking about equal pay and reproductive rights, which are "tired" issues, despite the fact that women still don't have equal pay and reproductive rights are constantly under attack from the party Strassel thinks should be able to woo Women. And those "tired" issues are all a bunch of pointless twaddle to "women who today both scramble after a child and hold a job," even though working mothers are the ones who would most benefit from equal pay, most make use of family leave where it's offered, and are the most likely to seek an abortion for financial reasons. Okay.

Yeah, it's a real head-scratcher why the GOP is failing to win over the ladies.

But wait—there's more! Strassel explains how the GOP can make unequal pay a winning issue for them—even though it's "tired," I guess.

Here's an example of how a smart Republican could morph an old-fashioned Democratic talking point into a modern-day vote winner. Ms. Clinton likes to bang on about "inequality" in pay. The smart conservative would explain to a female audience that there indeed is inequality, and that the situation is grave. Only the bad guy isn't the male boss; it's the progressive tax code.

Most married women are second-earners. That means their income is added to that of their husband's, and thus taxed at his highest marginal rate.
Splendid idea! I can imagine that if a Republican candidate had the deeply feminist idea of pointing out to me that my second-class pay rate was inevitable, but he'd be willing to rework the tax code so that married women keep more of their shitty paychecks, I'd totally vote for him! I can't imagine anything appealing more to my sense of fairness than codifying into the tax law a way to mitigate institutionalized sexism for straight, married women so we never have to talk about that pesky unequal pay ever again. Phew!

Anyway, after some more hott ideas, Strassel wraps it up with this sage advice:

And there are future generations of women voters to be won by the party that progresses beyond the stale rhetoric of women's "rights" and crafts a new language of women's "choice" and "opportunity" and "ownership."
Indeed. Who cares about women's "rights" anyway, right? How stale. If I have to hear one more time that sad refrain about how I have a right to choice, so that I can make the most of my opportunities and since I have autonomous ownership of my own body and all, I'll totally pass out with boredom. What a snoozefest.

Oh. Wait.

I see. So ultimately Strassel is suggesting stealing the language of feminism and reappropriating it for the retrofuck anti-women policies of the rightwing. In order to win over the lady voters. Well, good luck with all that. At least you know you've got Phyllis' vote.

I wouldn't bank on her grandkids, though.

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