For the last year and a half, I've been working on a book about the increasing involvement of mothers in the world of politics as a result of our new social-media world. When I submitted my manuscript (what feels like a decade ago!), few were really writing about or analyzing the idea of motherhood and politics. I did a lot of research to go along with the essays I'd collected for Mothers of Intention, but it was pretty manageable even in a post-Sarah Palin world.
Something happened in the last year and now just about every political pundit wants a piece of the pop culture political motherhood pie. Yet, recognizing the actual power of mothers in the political arena is rare. More often when there is commentary, the crazy idea of political motherhood is scoffed at, unless they're talking about a handful of high profile women, including Palin and some of her anointed "mama grizzlies."
As I get down to final edits in these days before the 2010 midterm elections, I've been thinking about what the lessons learned have been for politicians when it comes to women because I'm not sure they ever truly get them. So here are five things that I believe the world of pollsters and talking heads should be thinking about this election season and all those to come:
1. The GOP doesn't have a lock on political motherhood. Sure, the whole "mama grizzly" thing has been a nice marketing tool for Sarah Palin, what with the imagery and all. But to the extent that people look at moms in the political arena, they need to remember that mothers have been pretty darn political for a long time -- most people just haven't seen it because it's usually under the radar of traditional media. With the rise of social media, though, women who've had a hard time getting past the glass editorial room doors have a place now to raise their voices and connect with like-minded women, no matter where they live, and become more hands-on with activism and social causes.
2. Women are not fungible in elections. Pollsters and politicians have made a nice living in the last few election cycles trying to put voting mothers in neat little boxes -- "soccer moms," "security moms," "weary moms." I guess they think if they give us a tidy little label, they can talk about us as an easily definable "momolith," and then move on to more important or complicated voting blocks. That's not a mistake candidates should make, especially as more mothers become social media savvy.
3. We're interested in a lot more than coupons and minivans. Pollsters hired by Walmart this year to take a look at the motherhood voting demographic came up with research they thought was surprising -- that while mothers focus on getting their kids around in the minivan and how they're putting dinner on the table, we also think about fixing the economy, health care and the wars. I could have clued them in on that for probably a lot less money. The sad thing, though, is that since the economy is high on everybody's radar (as it seems to be in every national election), the story that gets filtered through to the media is that moms are worried only about those kitchen-table issues. If they looked a little more closely, they'd find that we moms can multitask about our families and our politics. They might want to keep that in mind for 2012.
4. We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore. There is some disagreement on whether 2010 was the Year of the GOP Woman, as so many have dubbed it. Way more women gave running for elective office a chance, but the vast majority of non-incumbent women who ran for office lost in their primaries. Incumbents should be on the lookout, though. I have a feeling those women who lost are going to come back stronger the next time around. After all, just as Richard Nixon learned, losing once doesn't mean you're out of politics forever.
5. We have really long memories. Women are fired up politically now more than ever before. With the new-found confidence many women gained this year, either by running for office or speaking out for causes and candidates they believed in, that will only continue. And as our kids know, we don't forget things easily -- we don't forget the fibs, we don't forget when we're taken for granted, and we don't forget who didn't keep their promises. Those are a few lessons all politicians would do well to remember when it comes to getting the votes of those of us in this country's majority.
And by the way... we have long memories when it comes to those who appreciate us, too.
Joanne Bamberger is the founder of the political blog, PunditMom, and the author of the forthcoming book, Mothers of Intention: How Women & Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America (Bright Sky Press, 2011). Joanne is a journalist, attorney and former deputy director of public affairs of a government agency who also writes the weekly political column, Speaker of the House.
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