It's barely two months old, but 2012 has already been incredibly interesting - and specifically, interesting for women. From an instant bestseller focusing on the Obama presidency as a partnership with the First Lady to the massive Komen backlash to the sudden and furious contraception debate, the power and influence and voice of women have suddenly been impossible to ignore.
I say "suddenly" because, well, it hasn't been so impossible in the past. Even in 2008, in a historic race with the first-ever viable female presidential candidate and a (sometimes scarily viable) female vice-presidential candidate, the race was less about issues relating to women as a whole than these women, and what they represented and
That chip, mostly ignored over the ramp-up to 2012 (hi, GOP race!), has now come sharply into focus. Women as a raw demographic unit exercise incredible power across every element of American life. They control the lion's share of household spending, drive product, move merch, and unleash markets. They are the engine of the online social explosion - and they put their money there, too. So it only makes sense that in 2012, that raw demographic power would bring its heft to electoral politics.
In 2012, far more than in 2008, there is social media - an amped-up, globe-spanning Facebook and Twitter; the incredible instant window of Instagram; even a budding political tool in Pinterest. In 2012, our social networks are so far developed as to regularly supplant the distribution tools we relied upon in 2008. And in 2012, those social networks are making the difference for women, flexing political might with a fist that swings larger, comes faster and hits harder than ever before.
From "The New Networked Feminism" posted yesterday on Forbes.com:
"[I]n the last two years or so specifically, women have been leading the charge online to campaign for themselves...largely thanks to advances in social networking," said media technologist Deanna Zandt, author of Share This! How You Will Change the World with Social Networking. "In the past, we'd have to wait for some organization to take up the cause create a petition, launch an email campaign -- and outside of traditional feminist movement types, those campaigns rarely reached widespread acceptance."
"Women aren't waiting to be told what to do or which petition to sign, they're just doing what we do best: talking and connecting," agreed Allison Fine, senior fellow for progressive think tank Demos.
I admit that over this past primary season I've found myself thinking back on 2008, and how different it all was - specifically with respect to the treatment of Hillary Clinton. To be a Hillary supporter in the early days of 2008 was to feel like you were in an alterna-universe where everybody who was supposed to stand up against sexism looked the other way or dismissed the egregious examples of gender-based Clinton bashing as not sexist, it was just about disliking her. Back then, the remedy of choice for pushback was mostly blogging - blogging furiously to deconstruct the various examples, hold them up, wave them around, and hope someone noticed. I've wondered a fair bit what we -- women looking around incredulously at "iron my shirt" and Hillary nutcrackers and "Bros Before Hos" shirts and blatantly vulgar acronyms and comparisons to first wives, scolding mothers, witches, bitches and
Today, all that feels very far in the rearview mirror (except for the odd PTSD flashback or two). Four years later, Hillary Clinton is not only well-respected but arguably well-loved as an extremely effective Secretary of State and stalwart of the Obama administration. So this isn't about Hillary (though I admit it felt good to get back into that old 2008 groove!). It's about how now, more than ever before, women are positioned to be a hugely decisive engine of political power.
To this end, of all the tools available to women - and any underrepresented group, really - the one that I am most excited about in this sphere is Votizen. Votizen is a web service that surfaces patterns, preferences and social connections between voters across social networks, allowing for connection and interaction around voters, their choices and the issues that matter to them. It engages the electorate online by empowering voter-to-voter connections, directly and in way that consolidates like-minded individuals together into groups that can speak louder together and make their voice heard. It's pretty awesome actually. (This is the part where I note that I am proud to be one of their advisers.)
Votizen is just in time to harness - and reflect - the voting heft of women. Highly networked? Check? Highly social? Check. Not that interested in keeping quiet while the men discuss the issues? Check check check. It's where network influence alchemizes into political power to promote the candidates they want and to advance the causes they care about. No need for a $5 million check from Sheldon Adelson.
What I like about Votizen is its potential to change the ratio across the board - to exist as a natural organizing tool for any demographic slice of voterdom (Hispanics, you're the next wave. And when it happens, grab your popcorn.) What I like even more is that the slicing and dicing of such blocs across issues, regions, age groups and other factors re-districts slightly differently each time, so that connections between voters can potentially criss-cross across each other into an ever-strengthening web. That makes for a pretty robust political infrastructure - the kind where more people are actively having an impact than just those with the checkbooks
We already know that homogeneous slates of decision-makers lead to a narrow range of decisions (hello, Oscar!). In 2012, we are already seeing how a new paradigm of network activity is upending this. Who knows what we'll see by November. I can't wait.