According to the New York Times, the gender gap among voters is nearing historic highs. With a reported 18-point gap between male and female voters, it's possible that women will have the deciding voice on the nation's next president. The gap is just the latest development that has Americans wondering if 2012 will be another "Year of the Woman." It certainly seems headed that way, and the year isn't over. With the election fast approaching and a record number of women running for public office, women are realizing that we may be facing our best opportunity yet to make our voices heard.
This past year, America has been talking about women's issues -- and not just for a "one-and-done" minute in the 24-hour news cycle. Women took center stage with prominent speaking roles at both political conventions. This summer marked not only the 40th anniversary of Title IX but also the first year that every Olympic team included female athletes. What's more, U.S. women earned more medals than women from any other nation as well as more medals than the American men. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina businesswoman Darla Moore became the first female members of the Augusta National Golf Club. In the business world, Marissa Mayer took the reins as the first female president and CEO of Yahoo.
This is all great news for women, but it's coming amid plenty of reminders that much work remains to be done. Not only did Congress kill a major fair pay bill this year, it also failed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). By now, we've all heard Todd Akin's infamous claims trivializing the trauma of rape, as well as Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock's recent remarks that pregnancy from rape can be "something God intended." Adding insult to injury, women have been publicly criticized for speaking out against such political injustices. Earlier this year, Sandra Fluke was vilified when she testified about life-saving birth control, and just recently, 24-old teacher Katherine Fenton was attacked after asking the presidential candidates about fair pay.
We have to keep this year fresh in our memories and continue to make sure our voices are part of the conversation. Just look at the power and determination of the three high school girls whose online petition helped get Candy Crowley on the docket to moderate the second debate. And here's the kicker: Crowley was the first woman in 20 years to moderate a presidential debate. We hope this activism and success don't stop. Women and girls have real power in social media and have already had a huge impact. The word "women" didn't come up once in the first presidential debate. After the second debate and a concerted push by women, a national conversation has developed about pay equity, among other issues affecting women, their families and the American economy.
Women must remember Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's words that "women's rights are human rights," and we must realize that our voices deserve to be anything but censured; rather, they should be valued and respected. Most importantly, though, women must vote. The millennial generation is the biggest since the baby boomers, but too many young women have yet to establish the habit of voting. They must realize that voting means fighting for everything from Social Security benefits to reproductive rights, from co-pays to college tuitions. Choosing not to vote is choosing to remain silent while laws and policies are made affecting every part of our daily lives.
While this election will definitively shape the next four years, its effects will last far beyond 2016. It will shape the rights that we have now as well as the rights that our sons and daughters will have. But first, we need every woman --millennial, Gen X or Y, baby boomer, Republican, Democrat, Independent or none of the above -- to refuse to be shamed, silenced or unequally represented and to do so by committing to vote on November 6.