I spent a half-hour yesterday cutting and pasting the presidential debate transcript into Word and then using the search function to look for the term “women.” When the ABC transcript came up empty, I tried the CNN one. When that also returned no results, I decided to change my search parameters to “woman”—i.e., singular. Booyah! I got four, count ’em, four hits! All four were in anecdotes about a “woman I met…”
Perplexed, I went to recheck the debate schedule. Maybe there wasn’t any mention because a future debate was dedicating time to the topic? Nope. Economics and foreign policy are where these debates are headed.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who noticed. My e-mail inbox is full of outreaches from women’s groups who note that Romney’s extreme positions were neither defended or challenged. From stalwart NARAL to new on-line group UltraViolet, women’s groups are once again left to point out that women were left out of the debate.
To be honest, I am annoyed as I write. Women are 52 percent of the population, so dedicating one section of one debate to “women’s issues” would be absurd. But the complete absence of discussion about the enhanced barriers women face in a bad economy is staggering. The economic and social well-being of women is integral to that of the country, and highlighting this, and forcing Romney to defend his regressive policies on everything from choice to the economic fairness for women is not only good political strategy, it would start to open up a real conversation about closing the gap on gender-based inequality. How hard is it to go from anecdote to analysis?
Here are these four women the candidates met along the campaign trail that merited mention in Wednesday’s debate:
The Unemployed Woman—Mitt Romney spoke of an Ohio woman who had been out of work for six months. Accordingly to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national average time of unemployment is almost eleven months, so this woman was faring OK among her peers. But she’s right to be concerned. Women continue to recover from the recession more slowly than men, largely due to the loss of public sector jobs. The private sector has added 3.5 million jobs since the recovery started, but only 28.8 percent of those have gone to women, and they are likely to be paid seventy-seven cents per the dollar for their male counterparts. The Romney/Ryan “jobs” plan would result in millions more jobs lost, the bulk in the public sector. Even if Unemployed Woman was able to buck the trend and get a private sector job, she shouldn’t expect to be paid like the boys in the office, since Romney refuses to confirm his support for equal pay.
The Foreclosed Woman—Romney met a woman in Nevada facing foreclosure after her husband lost his job. Foreclosed Woman is probably not alone, but she’s going to have a challenge organizing a meet-up. Gender-based foreclosure stats are extremely hard to come by, as I learned after asking several organizations leading on this issue for a breakdown. What we do know is that predatory lenders pushed subprime mortgages on women at a much higher rate than on men, despite women’s having a generally higher foreclosure rate. African-American women fared the worst; they were 236 percent more likely to receive a subprime mortgage than white men. Neither candidate have a serious plan to deal with the human and economic impact of the record foreclosures, but given Romney’s stance on regulation and allegiance to trickle-down economics, it’s safe to assume he would let the banks run amok and certainly principal reduction would become a distant dream.
The Uninsured Woman—Romney also encountered an uninsured woman along the course of his travels. This is not shocking given the 19 million adult women nationally who were uninsured in 2011. Some of this is because of cost; some women have lost their jobs; some are unable to get coverage because of pre-existing conditions. Women of color make up half that number, despite their making up roughly a third of the population. Repealing the Affordable Care Act as Romney has said he would do his first day in office would be disastrous for Uninsured Woman, who will benefit from Medicaid expansion and from access to traditional insurance through the elimination of surcharges based exclusively on gender.
The Back-to-School Woman—President Obama told one story of a North Carolina woman who went back to school at the age of 55 and was able to get a better job as a result of it. Women are more likely to enroll in and graduate from college than their male counterparts. This is true across all ethnicities. We know that more adults went back to school as the recession hit. Adults and regular-aged students alike depend on Pell Grants for their college education, a program far more likely to be preserved under an Obama presidency than a Romney one. Romney has also been an advocate for profit-driven universities, which by some estimates are funded up to 90 percent with taxpayer dollars while proving disastrous in terms of graduation rates and employment stats post-graduation.
Apparently, none of the women on the campaign trail approached the candidates with a question about reproductive choice. So allow me to assert that all aspects of our lives get categorically more difficult when we lose control over decisions about family planning and reproduction.
We’re less six weeks from two party conventions that spent the better part of their allotted time paying homage to the critical role women play in American families, in the American workforce and certainly in deciding American elections. President Obama is clearly the leader on issues as they relate to women, and the Democrats have made hay with the Republican War on Women. As the election moves into the final stretch, we need to be more visible in the conversation, not less.
Be sure to also check out Bryce Covert’s take on the “invisible women.”