2012 is shaping up to be a powerful year for women, especially American women. At the Olympics, American women won 29 gold medals, more than the total gold medal wins of all countries except China and Great Britain. Currently women earn more undergraduate and graduate degrees than men. In the recently published book, The End of Men: And the Rise Women, author Hanna Rosin makes the case that in the new economy, women are not only catching up to men, but often surpassing them in job growth and income.
Now, on the heels of these achievements, women are poised to make significant gains in Congress and the Senate, prompting political pundits and the media to label 2012 the Year of the Woman. This brings us to the problem I'm having with this election season.
While these achievements are cause for celebration, singling them out to declare a Year of the Woman feels like pandering. Before we get too excited about these accolades, we might want to ask ourselves: Is it really necessary to resort to flattery to win our votes? The fact is, no U.S. citizen needs flattery in order to go out and vote in an educated manner about the issues that matter to her most.
The Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) reports that not only are more women than men registered to vote, but they are more likely to vote as well. Women have outnumbered male voters in every presidential election since 1964. This year promises to be no exception. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 54 percent of undecided voters are women. In a tight presidential race, women may very well hold the key to the Oval Office, along with several congressional and Senate offices.
At this important juncture in American history, we would be wise to heed the words of Voltaire, "With great power, comes great responsibility." That responsibility means that we need to continue to think for ourselves and make educated decisions on November 6, not as a targeted demographic, but as responsible American citizens. Women can see right through manipulative jargon and attempts to spin the issues. These tactics underestimate our ability to make sound decisions based on facts -- not propaganda. Women don't want to be divided and pitted against each other because of differences in our work and family decisions, our sexuality, or our beliefs about topics deemed to be more important to women.
We represent more than half the population of our diverse country. We are Republicans and Democrats and Independents. We love men and we love women. We are stay-at-home mothers doing the important work of raising children. We are employed mothers and single mothers struggling to pay the bills. We are women without children by design or by circumstance with our own family and economic issues. We are retired and elderly and worried about social security and healthcare just like everyone else.
One of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, believed that the key to democracy is an educated electorate. He said, "Educate and inform the whole mass of the people... they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty." Of course, women didn't have the right to vote back then, and that may be a story for another blog entry, but Jefferson had the right idea.
As the President of a women's college, I have seen firsthand how education can transform and empower women. At Mills College, we have partnered with the U.S. State Department and several other prominent women's colleges in The Women in Public Service Project (WPSP). Under the auspices of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the WPSP is working to educate, encourage, and support women to become agents of change in political, social, and economic transitions around the world. As leading women's colleges we are compelled by a shared vision to educate a new generation of leaders who will invest in their countries and communities, provide leadership in their governments, and change the way global solutions are forged. However, we are not content with only one Year of the Woman. We want women to participate in governing every day of every year. We are working toward a future in which women hold more positions at every level of government, so that when women win elections, it is no longer remarkable, but normal.
In order to be effective leaders and participants in democracy, we must operate from a position of knowledge. We must look beyond the rhetoric served up by both the left and the right. We must educate ourselves about the issues and how they affect ourselves, our families, our communities, and our country. We need to learn specifically what candidates will do to solve our problems and move us forward as a nation. We need to focus on real data and real plans -- even if they are not always the blue-sky story we want to hear. We need to listen not only to what the candidates say, but also to the fact-checkers who separate the truth from the fiction that is spun in the battle for our attention and votes. When we educate ourselves about the candidates and issues, we can confidently vote for our beliefs, our values, and what we think is the best path for the greater good of our nation.
Jefferson also said, "We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate." As a majority of voters, women have the power to effect change. By voting with our hearts and minds, we will impact not only this election but also the future of our country and our world.