OPINION: A portrait of the woman voter in the Trump era
As women, we face discrimination on many levels, every day. The political sphere is no stranger to this ubiquitous phenomenon. Even though little over a 100 years have passed since the 19th Amendment was ratified, which granted women the right to vote in the United States, democracy has done little for women over the century. Sure, theoretically, we are on equal footing with men, but to what extent does that translate into our everyday lives? Sexism pervades the world around us, from our homes to the education system and the workplace; and this isn’t even to say anything about the discrimination against women of color. This problem exacerbates multifold when we cross over into the realm of intersectionality. What I am referring to is the active exclusion of people who identify as womxn, such as trans women or non-binary individuals. I can confidently say I speak for all the womxn around me when I say we have not been accorded equal rights — rights we deserve as law-abiding and contributing citizens of this country. Much work needs to be put in so that one day, this equality can be achieved. This is where politics comes into the picture.
As elected representatives of this country’s citizens, politicians carry the responsibility of identifying problems prevalent in society and formulating viable policies that, when translated into action, galvanize real change. Unfortunately, politics is no less than a joke these days — and a badly-constructed one at that. Recently, this levity took the form of Rep. Ted Yoho issuing aggressive, insulting and certainly unwarranted comments against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who later addressed these on the floor in nothing less than classic, fiery "AOC" fashion. Now, this is problematic on so many levels, right? On the most fundamental level, it is just not right to insult anyone in that way, especially in public. If we delve into the nuances of the matter, it is important to note that AOC has literally broken new and quite obstinate ground by becoming the youngest woman ever to serve in the United States Congress. Not only that, she is a woman of color who has been inspiringly vocal about the various challenges she has had to face to hold a position where she is able to command respect in a world dominated by men — many of whom feel comfortable vociferously voicing opinions (that, by the way, inform policy) on women’s issues that they have no right to. However, the disappointing truth remains — women are hardly accorded dignity in the political sphere, much less well-deserved respect.
When talking of women and politics, it is hard to ignore the inflammatorily sexist and downright-disgusting remarks put forward by President Donald Trump. Half a decade ago, it would have been impossible to imagine a man indulging in “locker room talk” in public taking command as the president of the United States. Sadly, this is now a lived reality.
The GOP, it seems, has come to realize the harm that Trump’s rhetoric has been causing to their re-election campaign. According to an August poll from the Wall Street Journal and NBC News, former Vice President Joe Biden is ahead of Trump by 21 percentage-points when it comes to registered women-voters — a trend that has remained consistent throughout summer and now, beyond. Because women have historically turned out in higher numbers to vote and because they are an influential constituency in the suburbs, these statistics have sounded alarms within GOP leaders, who recently took it upon themselves to address this concern at the Republican National Convention late last month. With the objective of bridging this gender-gap in the polls, the GOP used the age-old pathetic appeal to bring women-voters into the fold — getting “prominent” women-figures in the party to take to the lectern.
The night of the RNC, Kellyanne Conway – Trump’s departing counselor – was quick to point out that they were speaking on the 100th anniversary of the signing of the 19th Amendment. Lara Trump – the president’s daughter-in-law – lauded his mentorship of women in senior administrative roles. Kayleigh McEnany – Trump’s Press-Secretary – shed light on his support post her preventative double mastectomy. The message intended by these testimonials was clear — Trump’s is a brand of feminism that supports women both in the workplace and beyond, one that champions hard work and places results and qualifications above petty gender politics. Well, we all know what the subtext there is, don’t we?
The well-informed woman voter knows that she is being used as a mere pawn in the election game, that all these women’s testimonies simply reduce her hard-earned suffrage rights to token feminism. She is also aware that no amount of pro-woman rhetoric will take away from the entrenched misogyny in the political sphere and the rampant objectification of women even outside it. She knows that this show of allyship is simply that – a show – staged to garner votes that could change the tide of the election. However, where this really begins to cause problems is for women who are not as exposed to the harsh realities of politics; they wield the power of the vote, yes, but are susceptible to believing the many lies woven by the Trump Administration.
The hard, cold truth is this: while we work hard to shape the future of politics to render it free from such bias, there is only so much we can change overnight. Change comes slow and it comes with great difficulty. Right now, the onus is on us to unmask the deceptive façade worn by the GOP and actively engage in civil discourse that works towards building a fairer world for all.
Pavas Gupta is a sophomore studying English and economics. She has a keen interest in philosophy, social justice issues and politics.