This article has been cross-posted from The New Agenda.
I will never forget the night in 2008 when I was accused of being a “Vagina Warrior.” This accusation came from a young female writer who patronized the same beer joint I did, and who I had previously understood to be a thoughtful politically interested party.
Not in the heat of 2008. Gone was our friendly familiarity as she and her young group of friends discussed their liberal politics. After announcing snidely to her friends that I was voting for McCain/Palin, (which she knew based on previous conversations) she exclaimed, “She’s a bona fide Vagina Warrior!” I can still see the backward tilt of her head and hear the ugly peal of laughter that escaped her lips.
A year earlier I might have shrunk from it. I’d have felt the sting and walked away, getting over it by the next time we met. That night I walked away angry and we have not had a decent conversation since, which I very much regret. This is not a winning strategy. We have to find a way to talk about how we can support women with people who have different political perspectives.
See, I want more women in office, period. I don’t care if they are corrupt or crazy, or even unqualified, considering the current slate of mostly male corrupt, crazy, unqualified office holders. We can work out the content later. This is what I have come to after 20 years of political activity and working for women’s progress.
In order to get those women in office, we need young women like the one who called me a “Vagina Warrior.” They don’t have 20 years of experience to show them the way, and we don’t have 20 years to wait while they gain it. We’re going to have to take the time to convince these young women that it’s not just “vagina voting,” that there are sound reasons for an electoral strategy that puts women first. Equality in the negatives will not be enough. We need a bridge, and the bridge is reason.
What are the reasons we need to vote for women? What talking points should we use to convince others? After a few years of ruminating on the topic and trying out different approaches, three arguments seem more persuasive than others, what I’m calling “the three Ps:” Percentages, Policy, & Patriotism. Each has a corresponding talking point. These talking points are not only effective on young feminists. They work on just about anyone who sees the disparity and wants parity for women. Use them anywhere and everywhere!
We often argue the fairness of percentages, but we have not maximized the data in our arguments. It’s one thing to say, “We only have 17% representation at the national level.” This data point needs to be set comparatively among the numbers of other underrepresented groups. This will remind the young feminists that they support parity for some groups, laying bare the inconsistency of not carrying that support across the board. It also demonstrates the level to which women are disadvantaged. Demographically speaking, women have much farther to go in terms of achieving parity in representation in the House and Senate. Here are some data points to consider discussing.
- African-Americans comprise 12% of the United States population. They have achieved 10% representation in the House, which is near parity. They have 1% representation in the Senate.
- Hispanics/Latinos comprise 15% of the U.S. population. They have achieved 6% representation in the House and 2% in the Senate. They are just over a third of the way to reaching parity in the House .
- Asians comprise roughly 4% of the U. S. population and are farther along than any other group in terms of achieving parity in representation: they hold 1.5% of House seats and 2% of Senate seats, putting them nearly halfway there in both chambers.
- Women comprise 51% of the U. S. population. They are represented by 17% of the House and 14% of the Senate, and thus have the hardest hill to climb.
Women are just barely a third of the way there. Furthermore, women have as much right as other groups to achieve representation commiserate with their portion of the population. These other groups take pride in supporting candidates who look and sound like them, and share their experience in the world. Women should too.
Most people support diversity in the workplace. This is another argument we can use.
When discussing the idea of voting for women with a potential target, appeal to notions of diversity. Does your target work at a business that embraces diversity? Does their employer have a diversity or equal opportunity commitment or statement? How does the person feel about diversity in the workplace? Why?
A diverse and integrated workforce is a “best business practice” because it makes sure a company gives opportunity to anyone who wants to work hard enough for it. Talent is rarely lost and not overlooked in this kind of environment. Integrating this practice into the institutions that run our government ensures that America is at the top of its game, able to offer the absolute best.
Increasing the number of women in office is good policy. Voting for women is the only way to increase those numbers.
Appeal to a person’s patriotism. Equality and fairness are hallmark American values going back to the Revolution. Having a Congress that reflects the makeup of the American people is congruent with the ideals of our founding documents.
Play with this one; it’s fun. Use your knowledge of history. I like to ask people how Abigail Adams would vote. There are other historical candidates to use, depending upon the target’s political views. For example, I’ll use Elizabeth Cady Stanton if I’m talking to an atheist. I ask them: Do you think Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was anti-religion by the end of her life, would have hesitated to vote for a female preacher given the opportunity?
It’s All About Proportion
Feel free to use these appeals and talking points. Spread them around online (you have my permission). Better yet, discuss these talking points with your daughters and nieces, if you have them, or any young people in your life. If you have arguments that work, please post them in comments.
Inevitably there will be comments about how these appeals won’t work, young women don’t care, it’s a lost cause yada, yada, yada. I don’t buy that, so let me pre-empt it right now. Young women do care, and those that don’t can be convinced. And don’t forget there’s a whole class of young men who could stand to hear these messages too. No human is ever out of reach of rhetorical persuasion, unless they are isolated from humanity. It is our job to articulate a new way, a meaningful and welcoming way. It’s the only way to achieve what really matters.
Right now numbers, not consensus, are what matter.