What Women Need to Do

The fall midterm elections are approaching. What are you doing about it?

If you’re a man, you may be thinking about the candidates and their positions on the issues. The outcome may have some bearing on your future, but it most likely won’t have a huge impact on your daily life.

If you’re a woman, the outcome is much more important, and you should be paying a lot of attention to what the candidates are saying. You should scrutinize their rhetoric and try to determine whether their conduct aligns with their words. And once you discover which candidates stand for the positions you endorse, you should get behind those candidates and give them your support.

Unfortunately, I question how many women follow this route. Polls show that women tend to support the positions endorsed by most Democratic rather than Republican candidates and incumbents. Politico magazine recently reported that two major Republican groups have jointly issued a detailed report concluding that women view the GOP as “intolerant” and “stuck in the past” and that women are “barely receptive” to Republican policies. But how many women reach for their wallets to lend financial support to Democratic or independent candidates? How many are willing to give up one or two days this fall to work on behalf of the candidates they prefer? And most important: How many women will turn up at the polls to vote for these candidates in November?

The truth is that many women focus more on superficial concerns like their appearance and their apparel than on their ability to impact who will make the decisions that affect their daily lives and the lives of their families. They may be unhappy about earning less money than a man doing the same job. But have they urged members of Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act? They may be concerned about losing their right to a potentially needed abortion. But are they supporting candidates who consistently support that right? They may be aware that many of the world’s children, including American children, are going hungry, or that two-thirds of minimum-wage earners in the U.S. are women. But what are they doing about it?

Where Democrats are in the majority, there’s hope for change. Governor Jerry Brown just signed legislation requiring that most California employers give their workers three paid sick days a year. This will allow the 40 percent of the workforce who have never had paid sick leave a chance to stay home when they or their children are sick. Businesses fought this legislation tooth and nail, but the Democratic-majority state legislature passed the bill later signed by a Democratic governor. This demonstrates how candidates who advocate women-friendly outcomes can make a real difference.

Let’s be honest. Many women can afford to give financial support—in the form of cold hard cash—to candidates who stand for the positions important to them. But are they? I’m constantly reminded that women spend large sums of money on frivolous items instead. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that women are spending thousands of dollars on trendy handbags made of fur. Even the Journal conceded that a fur handbag costing from $1,150 for a clutch to $6,500 for a tote is a “let-them-eat-cake extravagance,” but it noted that designers are competing to outdo each other, and stores are stocked with furry bags from Valentino, Burberry, and Fendi. “Let them eat cake” also applies elsewhere in the fashion industry, where the Journal noted that “fashion brands” report “their most expensive products sell out first.”

A brand-new brochure featuring “hot” items from Bloomingdale’s included an ordinary-looking Salvatore Ferragamo leather handbag for $2,950. Even Nordstrom, a somewhat less indulgent source for women’s apparel and accessories, highlighted items like these in a recent catalog: a wool/rayon cardigan sweater for $995 (the matching tee is $295); a wool/leather/rayon jacket for $1,495; and a status-brand tote bag for $625.

Last month the San Francisco Chronicle featured a new nail “lacquer” from Christian Louboutin costing $50 (at $50 a pop, it’s no longer just plain nail polish). According to the Chronicle, the polish “floats in a faceted bottle” meant to resemble “a drop of color encased in a block of crystal.” Seriously?

Instead of buying expensive and unnecessary items like these, women should consider donating money to political candidates who deserve their support–candidates and incumbents who support women on the issues that matter to them. They should be aware that, as the Chronicle reported earlier this year, enormous sums of money are flowing from hedge funds and big corporations to GOP candidates. Because these donors don’t look out for women’s interests, it’s crucial that women attempt to counter their influence.

How about putting money to use other ways? Women who can afford it should also consider supporting charitable causes they want to foster. Entities working towards a healthier environment, for example, or those seeking funds for medical research. Charities that provide food to the hungry both here and abroad, or those that help women establish small businesses so they can provide for their families without being dependent on others.

Do you remember Anita Hill? If you were old enough to watch the 1991 Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination of Clarence Thomas to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, you remember Anita Hill. She gave dramatic testimony before the Senate committee, bravely describing Thomas’s sexual harassment when she worked for him at the EEOC. Hill’s credibility was attacked and her testimony disparaged by members of the all-male committee (the entire Senate included only two women at the time). Thomas assumed a seat on the Court, where he has served without distinction.

Hill, who’s now a professor at Brandeis University, recently visited San Francisco, speaking to a group called Equal Rights Advocates, and I was in the audience. She wanted everyone to know she didn’t regret coming forward to testify about Thomas because of the positive change that happened after she testified. It was vital to her to reveal how he, like many male employers, treated women in the workplace. She also spoke up because she believed in the integrity of the Supreme Court.

“The political effort to silence us” didn’t work, she said. Her testimony in fact led to increased awareness of sexual harassment and a spike in the number of women running for–and winning–public office. Hill made clear that she continues to work to effect change for girls and women. She concluded by encouraging women to be more courageous, to work for change, and to vote. As she noted, voting is especially important in determining who sits on the Supreme Court.

So what do women need to do? Above all, TO VOTE. Some pundits are predicting that GOP voters will come out to the polls this November while Democrats will not. Dan Balz just wrote in the Washington Post that even though the “national mood” favors the Republicans, and Democrats historically don’t turn out for midterm elections, many races are too close to call, and it’s too early to predict exactly what will happen.

Women must change history this fall. Even if they choose to buy $50 nail polish and splurge on tote bags costing more than minimum-wage workers earn in a week, even if they do nothing else to support women-friendly candidates, they must go to the polls in November and vote for those candidates who support women’s interests.

That’s what women need to do.

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2 responses to “What Women Need to Do

  1. You’re right! There are so many deserving candidates and causes that need our attention and support… I am shocked by the prices of the luxury goods you mention here and hope folks can find a better use for their (hard-earned, as women) cash! And yes, I do remember Anita Hill and will always admire that she spoke up.

  2. excellent! —Chip

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