Obama and the women's vote

Early on in these primaries it seemed quite clear cut, Hillary had the women’s vote and because there were enough women, she was winning the race to the Democratic nomination.

All the US commentators are now saying that one reason that Barack Obama is pulling ahead from Hillary is that the women’s vote is abandoning her and has gone to vote for Obama. Now, I know women don’t vote as a block etc, etc but there are significant amounts of movement in voter’s demographics to see a trend that aligns women and voting intentions.

This new development does seem to be flying in the face of my pretty strong defence, yesterday, of identity politics as a rational way forward. Having slightly sophist tendencies I have been for some days now putting this move towards Obama as a result of his wooing of female voters and the attention his campaign has paid in the last few weeks to them and matters of interest to women voters. I mean you would, wouldn’t you if you were looking at your campaign strategy? I still think this is the case.

However, here on the CBS News website Elizabeth Cline does an interesting analysis of the young female voter and the fact that it is them, as far as anybody can tell, that are voting in increasing numbers for Obama. So what makes a young female voter make different decisions from an older female voter?

“College has become one corner of American life where hardworking females are consistently and fairly rewarded, and they are succeeding there, to a much greater degree than their male counterparts. It's possible, maybe even likely, to graduate college with little sense and zero experience of institutionalized gender discrimination -- with almost complete freedom from the type of covert, daily setbacks that drive blacks to the polls for Obama and older women to vote for Clinton.”

This resonates with me. I can’t say that I left University with no feminist consciousness. I identified myself as a feminist before I went to University the roots of my feminism going deep, deep into my upbringing and experiences growing up (or at least, watching the experiences of the women around me). Whilst at Aberystwyth, studying International Relations, I took courses on feminist theories of international relations and indeed that was where I got a grounding in the various feminist political theories which allow me as great an understanding of them as I have of say liberalism or fascism. I arrived at University a feminist and left a slightly better educated one!

But I will say that at University I had never felt or had any personal experience of discrimination myself – although I had seen it, especially, weirdly, in the Drama Department; despite there being many times more women in the department than men, the plays used for people’s practical examinations tended to have very strong male roles and hardly any substantial female parts at all; rather concerning if you are trying to achieve a 1st or even a 2:1 by playing the third washer woman from the right! But, I am digressing…..

No, it’s only as I have got older that I have become more and more aware of the under the radar, structuralised, many faceted, drip, drip, drip of barriers to women’s progress and equality and, indeed, have experienced them myself. And I consider myself one of the lucky ones, one of the least oppressed women on the planet!

It makes me sad that it’s the case, but I think as you get older and come across these barriers, you do get to understand that no matter how you think the world should be theoretically, in fact, it isn’t like that! As Cline says:

“…the advantage women have in college quickly slips away in the working world. Women get paid a lot less than the men they graduate with, no matter how much extra work or hours they put in. One year out of school, women working full-time are earning 80 percent of what their former male classmates are making, according to a 2007 study by American Association of University Women Educational Foundation. And this fact hasn't budged over the past ten years -- despite the advances women have made on campus”.

The positive thing is that when you do have a meritocracy, which people believe in, then they do start to drift away from identity politics, as can be seen in, what Cline terms, the ‘girl-positive’ environment of college and/or University. But out in the real world where there’s power and money at stake, not just good grades, it’s not so ‘girl-positive’ and the identity politics and an understanding of how the world really does work drifts back in. Cline summarises:

“Young people are going to continue to impact this election in unprecedented ways -- a force of history that leaves me simultaneously in love with young people's fervor and optimism and unnerved by their lack of interest in Hillary. For the candidate, the parallels between college and the real world are striking. She has worked hard and done what's expected of her, but may very well get passed over by a less qualified guy when payday comes”.


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