We’re delighted to announce the winners of The Nation’s seventh annual Student Writing Contest. This year we asked students to send us an original, unpublished, 800-word essay detailing what they think is the most important issue of Election 2012. We received close to 1,000 submissions from high school and college students in forty-two states. We chose one college and one high school winner and ten finalists total. The winners are Tess Saperstein of Dreyfoos School of the Arts in Boca Raton, Florida, and Andrew Giambrone of Yale University. The winners receive a cash award of $1,000 and the finalists $200 each. All receive Nation subscriptions. Read all the winning essays here. —The Editors


In 1895, civil rights leader Susan B. Anthony said, “No man is good enough to govern any woman without her consent.” Despite gaining equal rights to men, it is ironic that almost 120 years later a congressional hearing to discuss women’s issues was convened, but no women were allowed to speak. Within recent months, women’s rights to equal pay and birth control are being debated and women are being admonished for defending those rights.

In his book, Rick Santorum wrote:

What happened in America so that mothers and fathers who leave their children in the care of someone else—or worse yet, home alone after school between three and six in the afternoon—find themselves more affirmed by society? Here, we can thank the influence of radical feminism.

One hundred and twenty years ago, Susan B. Anthony was considered a “radical feminist.” Without this radical feminism, the push for women’s rights wouldn’t have occurred. Although Rick Santorum did not win the Republican nomination, his beliefs resonated with a shockingly large number of people. Within recent years, regressive stances on women’s issues have permeated the political scene. This retrogression in the way women are treated, and the deterioration of women’s rights, will be the biggest issue in the 2012 Election.

For some reason, issues that we thought were resolved over thirty years ago are now resurfacing. One of the biggest accomplishments in the fight for women’s rights, Roe v. Wade, is being questioned. Planned Parenthood is being threatened and criticized as an abortion provider, even though only 3 percent of its services go towards providing women with abortions. Since they are unable to completely outlaw abortion, some states have begun instituting laws that create great obstacles for a woman to obtain one. Seven states require that a woman seeking an abortion must first have and pay for an ultrasound. In addition to this, many states are proposing requiring women to undergo an invasive transvaginal ultrasound. These intrusive new requirements have been heavily debated over the past months.

In April, President Obama rightly responded to these attempts by saying “I’m always puzzled by this. These are folks who claim to believe in freedom from government influence and meddling, but it doesn’t seem to bother them when it comes to women’s health.”

The women’s issues that have resurfaced are not just social but economic as well. The “radical feminists” of the 1960s pushed to give women opportunities in the workplace and, because of their efforts, women can now be found working in all professions. However, vast wage disparities still exist between men and women. Significant progress was made in 1963, when women were earning just fifty-nine cents for every dollar their male counterparts earned, with the passage of the Equal Pay Act. Over the course of almost fifty years, that gap has narrowed by only eighteen cents. In an attempt to close existing loopholes that prevent women from earning as much as their male counterparts, the Paycheck Fairness Act was proposed to the Senate in early June. After being heavily debated, the bill failed. Despite this, the idea of paycheck equality caught the public’s attention and brought women’s issues to the forefront of the 2012 election.

President Obama stated, “We’ve got to realize that they are not just women’s issues, they are family issues, they are economic issues, they are growth issues, they are issues about American competitiveness. They are issues that impact all of us.” The Reuters Center for American Women and Politics reported that women have surpassed men in voter turnout in every presidential election since 1980. Recognizing that women have become a key demographic to appeal to in the 2012 Election, President Obama launched a campaign on his website called “The Life of Julia” in which he outlines how Obama policies would benefit the average women throughout her life. This led Mitt Romney to criticize the Obama administration for allowing women to be at an economic disadvantage in the first place. Mitt Romney said, “The real war upon women has been waged by [Obama’s] economic policies.”

Contrary to Rick Santorum, I feel I owe a debt of gratitude to radical feminists. They paved the way for my grandmother to vote when she turned 18 and for my mother to follow her dream and become a lawyer. They’ve made it possible for me to have choices about the direction of my life and for that, I am eternally grateful. We cannot afford the backward slide of the advances in women’s issues that were made during the last century. For that reason, issues affecting women must be in the forefront of the debates of the 2012 presidential election.