It’s been almost two weeks since the elections. I am sleeping normally for the first time in months. The money pouring into the campaigns of the some of the most extreme anti-woman, out of touch candidates astounded and scared me. Could it make a difference? Would those who seem unable to accept the realities of a multicultural society, one where women have made substantial progress toward equality, carry the day? I was pretty sure the answer would be ‘no’. But ‘pretty sure’ and ‘sure’ can be far apart in the middle of sleepless nights.
Twenty years ago as the elections of 1992 approached, only two women held seats in the Senate. Three additional female Senators were elected that year and 1992 was quickly dubbed ‘the year of the woman’. Senator Barbara Mikulski responded, “Calling 1992 the Year of the Woman makes it sound like the Year of the Caribou or the Year of the Asparagus. We’re not a fad, a fancy, or a year.”
Her words should echo in our minds now. Yes, Todd ‘legitimate rape’ Akin and Richard ‘pregnancies from rape are God’s will’ Mourdock were soundly defeated. Yes, there are now 20 women in the Senate, an all-time high. But 20 is 30 seats shy of equal representation. And if anyone thinks the war on women has ended, watch some Fox News. Upholders of the white male patriarchy are out in full force. Woman hating is still ‘just fine’ and racism is every bit as woven into the irrational ‘reasoning‘ put forward to ‘explain’ the ‘surprising‘ election losses as it was prior to November 6th. Among the prominent villains identified are single women, homosexuals and urban voters.
Throughout this election cycle the kinds of right wing nonsense presented as rational political discourse insulted the majority of Americans. And the majority rejected it. But the possibilities inherent in the much discussed ‘new electorate‘ are far from guaranteed. The anti-woman, anti-diversity crowd will not give up easily. They remain committed to rolling back change whenever and wherever they can. The past decade offers ample proof of this harsh reality.
The 2012 election has been the year of everyone, everyone that is except white male voters and their wives. A sizable segment of the male conservative electorate is angry. For many of them women are a convenient target of abuse and contempt. Feminists are ‘bad women’, the major threat to a 1950‘s fantasy world where men were in charge and women were adoring ‘help mates’. The patriarchy is cracking but it is far from finished.
A few days ago a friend sent a group email asking, “How can we hold–and use–the power of women without the crisis of an election?” For me the answer is clear, if not exactly welcome. I am tired of this battle. I want to work on new projects, to reflect and write and move at a more leisurely pace. I don’t want to keep getting into unpleasant discussions with people who say ridiculous things. But I can’t, none of us can.
Active engagement in the political process requires a long term commitment in a democracy. The ‘new electorate’ must increase–not step back from–passionate engagement in politics. Maintaining this new coalition–a coalition that also includes a significant number, if not the majority, of white male voters–and negotiating the differences that exist among the members is crucial as we move forward. We all have a role to play, even without, in the words of my friend, the ‘crisis of an election’.
Whether we run for office or work on the campaigns of those who do—or simply speak up and challenge the misogynist, homophobic, racist ignorance and fantasy some are still peddling, we cannot go back to business as usual. Power and influence are rarely given up, they must be claimed, fought for and won. The old cliche, ‘there’s no rest for the weary’ may be hackneyed, but it expresses the reality confronting us. So, deep breaths everyone, there’s momentum to build on and work to be done.