Tuesday, September 14, 2004

"W is NOT for Women", but I still feel left behind

panties with slogan 'expose bush'While BOP'sMatt Stoller has been exposing Republican strategies for reaching out to women, and exploring why these techniques are effective, the Bush v Choice blog has been discussing whether political fashion, such as sloganeering underpants, galvanizes or offends women.

The Republicans are attempting to gild a turd, and misconstrue the reality of their candidate to fool women into supporting a politician who works blatantly against their expressed interests. But from my perspective, both the Republican and Democrat strategies pander and condescend to women. The difference is, the Republican strategy is professional and effective.

I agree that the underpants can be smart and funny, but look at the subtext of this kind of "outreach":

- it pays to engage women as consumers, not as voters
- you can buy women's votes with shiny trinkets
- you don't need to engage women about issues--or, by extension, deliver on the issues they care about

The issue, yet again, is about framing--framing women's political participation as frivolous, framing women voters as impulse shoppers, framing women's political decision-making as childish. I have to agree with Bella DePaulo that the "lipstick and panty pitch trivializes and caricatures" women.

Granted, it isn't the Kerry campaign that is giving out the underpants, but Axis of Eve et al are part of the Democratic Campaign machine this year, and are perceived as such by the general public, just as MoveOn or the SwiftBoats are.

I don't begrudge anyone a gimicky campaign device--hell, if it picks up even one new voter I'm all for it. My concern is that I don't see a lot of meaningful, substantial outreach to women from the Democrats at the same time. (Is it there? Am I just missing it? I don't pretend to have an omniscient eye.) On the other hand, while Matt's fabulous new haircut may be voting for Bush, do gimicks like this persuade anyone to turn out to vote or to change their vote? If the research on yard signs and bumperstickers extends to political underwear, the answer is...No. Visibility gewgaws are like voter registration: an investment of resources in touchy-feelies to make the base feel good that at the end of the day accomplish nothing: i.e., they do not turn out OUR vote.

One more side note on yard signs, etc.: campaign tchotchkes are supposed to be about visibility. So, um...how many people are going to see these underpants? (Or should I ask?) And what kind of promiscuity message is part of the subtext there? I.e., how do Democrats characterise the visibility of single women's underwear, and what message does that give to the women we want to vote for our candidates?

Let me try to explain this from a different angle. Would there be more of a fuss if outreach to the Business community consisted solely or primarily of giving away sloganed boxers? Or wife-beaters to NASCAR dads? Or collard greens to African Americans? Or any other gimick that went straight to the heart of the most basic stereotypes of gender or socioeconomics or race?

Back to framing. Elizabeth Edwards nailed it when she recently talked to the New York Times about women and voting:

"There are 22 million unmarried women who did not vote last time -- women who would not let someone else order their food in a restaurant or pick out their clothing. So why would they let someone else choose their president?"
(I'm not surprised to hear this from Elizabeth Edwards. I had the pleasure of hearing her speak in person and meeting her in November at a fundraiser hosted by democratic powerhouse Maryanne Hovis. Edwards is truly phenomenal.)

Now here is some framing I can get excited about: benefit selling and empowering women. I hope we can keep the Democrats moving in this direction.

Back to Bush v Choice's original question: does political fashion galvanize or offend women?

I'm afraid the question sets up a false dichotomy. I don't find the underpants offensive (and I applaud the creativity), but I also don't believe they galvanize the "woman vote." In a way, it goes back to what Matt just wrote about staying on message: the underpants are a diversion, at a time when I'd rather see our limited collective Democratic resources funnelled into programs that are more productive and effective and substantial--and on-message.


Speaking of projects of substance...

I received a timely email today (2004.09.10) from the Women's Caucus of the College Democrats of America on their new project, Young Women for Kerry:

We are currently working to create a website that will work as a resource for pro-Kerry young women across the country. We want to educate not only college women, but also working single women across the country. On this website we will be including talking points, information and resources for you to use on your campus and in your neighborhood, as well as a state contact list. While we are putting this together we are looking for help on a couple things:

1. Op-eds. We are looking for op-eds specifically on healthcare, but also for things on the importance of the young women's vote or other issues of your concern. This can be anywhere from a short paragraph to a page, whatever space you feel you need to voice your opinion. We hope to send these out to newspapers and other press resources.

2. Personal Stories. Just in the same way Women for Kerry/Edwards website has personal reasons why women are voting for Kerry/Edwards, we would like to spotlight young women across the country and their reasons for voting for the team. Also writing about things such as why you have decided to volunteer or work for the campaign would be great!

3. State Contact. Who have you contacted in your state that has helped you find volunteer opportunities or is the closest to the young women'ss organizer in your state?

I wish that DCA/DNC had started the ball rolling on this project earlier, but I'm glad to see it happen.

To get involved and support Young Women for Kerry, contact Emily Amick, Women's Caucus Chair, at [womenscaucus (at) collegedems.com].