10/12/2012 08:41 am ET Updated Dec 12, 2012

Women and the 2012 Vote: It's Our Year!

The economy may be sagging, the unemployment rate may be dispiriting, and the presidential candidates may be at each other's throats -- but here's the good news:

Women are in position to decide the fate of the nation.

U.S. News and World Report calls us "the key voting bloc." Political commentator Julie Menin has declared us "the New Majority." And Stephanie Schriock, the president of EMILY's List, laid it all on the line:

"Women are watching," she told the Christian Science Monitor. "They're definitely not sitting this one out quietly."

Granted, this election year has been a pretty noisy one. But why all the sudden attention on women? Because pollsters and pundits have begun to catch on: We vote in bigger numbers and, this year in particular, we've got a few scores to settle.

It began in February, when Rush Limbaugh called women's activist Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" after she testified before a House committee about the importance of insurance plans covering birth control. Even women who didn't agree with Fluke took offense. Then Rep. Todd Akin joined the fray, coining the phrase "legitimate rape," and dumbfounding millions with his bizarre theory that women can actually stop conception from happening.

Is it any wonder that there's a growing concern about an actual "war on women?"

And it's not just hype. Who would have thought that in 2012 we would be discussing whether or not a woman in America should have free access to contraception? "I've never seen a presidential election where women's access to birth control is practically on the ballot," Planned Parenthood's Cecile Richards, told the Washington Post.

But the numbers are on our side. Women are an increasingly powerful coalition. Since 1980, we have been a consistently larger voting bloc than men, and statistics point out that we return more frequently to the polls. In the 2008 presidential race, women outvoted men by 9 million.

Maybe this is because we really fought for the vote, having won the right to it only 92 years ago. Measured against the age of our country, that's practically yesterday. And in that time we have paid hard attention to the issues that matter most to us, always keeping an eye on tomorrow for our daughters. I'd like to believe that women have been the secret weapon behind some of our country's most historic strides, supporting leaders who dared to tackle our greatest challenges -- from civil rights, to environmental protection, to ending gun violence, to raising their voices about the futility of war.

We cannot take this power -- and privilege -- for granted. The word on the street is that many will stay home on Election Day this year. That's why both campaigns are working harder than ever to get out the vote. This may be the one issue on which we all agree.

Optimist that I am, I'm assuming that women will come out in record numbers again on November 6. But it will take an extra commitment on our part to get everyone else out on that day, too. That means your reluctant aunt or uncle; your grouchy neighbor next door, or a homebound senior who needs a lift.

I know I'm leaving myself open to those who might scoff at my flag-waving. But the fact is, a lot of men and women in other countries have fought and died for the right to vote. We've got it. Let's use it.

So whichever way you are voting, to psych you up for Election Day, here's a slide show that looks back at the American woman's noble march to the right to vote. It's worth remembering.

The Fight To Vote