Revisiting 2018: “Year of the Woman”

Riya Bindlish, Features Editor

2018 has officially been declared the second “Year of the Woman,” with a record-breaking 102 women in Congress thus far and pending elections possibly increasing that number.

1992 was the previous “Year of the Woman,” seen as the first major rise in the number of women in Congress. However, with this social progression, we must keep in mind that reforms shouldn’t be based on quantitative diversity, but rather the specific platforms of each individual candidate.

While I believe having women in Congress is a major step toward increasing gender equality, we should elect not just women, but all politicians to Congress based on their policies rather than their gender.

People often believe that women are more liberal, and to some extent that is true. Tiffany D. Barnes, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Kentucky, did find that women tend to be more liberal than their male counterparts. But there are plenty of candidates that prove this trend untrue; simply because women are perceived as liberal compared to men shouldn’t mean we automatically vote for them without taking a careful look at their propositions.

It has been proven empirically that a majority of voters vote for women for the sake of diversity, often ignoring their policies, introducing a wave of ignorance into a movement that has potential to produce a much more progressive government.

Sady Doyle, a feminist writer for several magazines, writes for Medium Politics that 65 percent of all female candidates win their primary races. She continues, writing, “Being female has helped a candidate more than almost any other factor, including previous experience, military status, or endorsement by name-brand politicians.”

In fact, Margie Omero, the External Vice President of Public Affairs at PSB Research, writes that women voters cross party lines to get more women into office: a trend that may serve to increase diversity in the government, but also undermines the purpose of voting and representing the public.

Female candidates, either inadvertently or not, use their identity as a woman to garner more voters. However, the role of identity politics, political allegiances formed on the basis of demographic similarites, has served to undermine the feminist movement, rather than further it. Feminism has diminished into a term associated with anything a woman does, rather than the assessment of the quality of the actions pursued by those women.

Feminism is advocating for women’s rights.

Feminism is calling for social progression.

Feminism is not decreasing funding for Planned Parenthood, or endorsing a candidate with several sexual allegations made against them. However, these are the very policies that women such as Diane Black and Marsha Blackburn, primarily conservative woman in Congress, have advocated for.

Although these women benefit from identifying with the feminist movement, many women, primarily Republican women, tend to align with their party beliefs rather than make decisions to help women overall.

For example, take the GOP Healthcare Bill passed last year; it lessened care for sexual assault victims and decreased coverage for pregnant women. However, only three of the 21 women in Congress at the time vetoed the bill. While some may argue that simply having more women in government is progression by itself, the passing of such bills narrows opportunities for women and hinders future opportunities for reform.

More recently, look at Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination. A whopping 69 percent of Republican women supported Kavanaugh, and Susan Collins’ decision to nominate Kavanaugh swayed Joe Manchin’s decision as well, giving Kavanaugh just the number of votes needed to attain his seat as Associate Justice.

This sends a questionable message to the country. Not only does it undermine the gender equality movement as a whole, primarily the #MeToo movement, but to elect Kavanaugh to such a high government position, while ignoring the woman that he very likely could have abused, essentially gives the “go ahead” signal to other men to do the same. When women in positions with power choose not to believe the woman, women everywhere are hurt. These precedents are particularly more detrimental, as sexual abuse victims once again take a backseat, and are put there by someone who they thought would understand.

With such little representation in Congress, every action that the few women that have government positions take is perceived as the decision of all women in the country. To continue to accept current policies and shamelessly follow their conservative male counterparts stagnates future change.

The race between Mike Espy, Cindy Hyde-Smith and Chris McDaniel for Mississippi’s Senator position is the epitome of pseudo feminism. While Mike Espy, a Democratic male, is personally against abortion, he still advocates for the importance of a woman’s right to choose. Meanwhile, Cindy Hyde-Smith is firmly pro-life, and plans to defund Planned Parenthood further.

However, many voters and even writers are deluded by her gender rather than her policies. Cindy Hyde-Smith is glorified as “Mississippi’s First Potential Woman Senator,” rather than “Mississippi’s Conservative Anti-Abortion Candidate for Senator.”

It is one thing to identify with a group, and quite another to enact change for that group. Sadly, several woman candidates capitalize on their identity, and use their gender as a banner to attract votes so they can then push for right-wing policies. To vote for such conservative feminists is to ultimately vote for a woman who hurts other woman.

The most common argument made is that shaming other women in Congress is even worse for the movement.

Nancy Pelosi, for example, considers it ridiculous to not vote for a woman as a woman; gender is the reason she is running for campaign, stating “‘If Hillary had won, I could go home.’” Yes, equality is important, but there has to be more substance to a campaign than that. There shouldn’t be a gender quota that needs to be met in order for their presence to serve a purpose.

Moreover,  when female candidates promote themselves as strong women who will change what it means to be a woman in America, we applaud them. Yet, when these same powerful, independent women endorse the domestic gag rule, choose to separate the Dreamers from their undocumented immigrant mothers and remove insurance coverage for sexual assault victims, we cheer and declare that a step has been taken for womankind.

Yes, a step has been taken. Backward.

I’m not saying that no change has been made. A number of strong, Democratic women have been elected Congress. Nonetheless, it is essential to remember the importance of continuing to prioritize platforms above identity to ensure the constancy of this reform.

The solution is simple, but execution isn’t. Taking the time to read a candidate’s platform, and instead of categorizing them by gender, categorizing them based on your own political beliefs, can make all the difference.

The harder part is acknowledging that not all women are feminists and being brave enough to stand up to those blinded by the pseudo feminist movement. It isn’t wrong to denounce a feminist movement that doesn’t represent true feminism.

We shouldn’t be striving for more “Years of the Woman;” instead, we should strive for the “Year of the Feminist.”