RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Women Can Make the Difference

Greetings from the land of Todd Akin and Rush Limbaugh! It’s almost time to vote, and while the parties concentrate on their few differences in the economic arena, both parties being willing to hand tax dollars over to industry, with only subtle differences in how to do it, we the people can think about the social agenda and how that may or may not change under new political management. It’s pretty dang clear, and if the young ’uns are confused about why it’s important to vote, we might remind them of all the privileges awarded women in our lifetimes. And how much there is to do.

It hasn’t been too long, for example, since women’s career choices were limited to teaching, nursing and, oh yeah, housekeeping. When women got into the food service business, the first working as waitresses at Harvey House, it was a big breakthrough. I was a little later than those ladies, but I remember the earliest female news reporter. One of them, Betty Cook Rottman, made waves here in Missouri. I was lucky enough to travel with her to Vietnam back before the country was open to Americans, and I remember her full of energy and spirit, taking notes about everything. I knew she had been an early female journalist but I hadn’t really thought about how much courage it took to pursue a career that took a woman from the safety of her home and into the streets. I took for granted the rights she had won for me and my daughters.

If Betty could come back, I would ask her what those first days were like. I will speculate that she was snubbed, ignored, called names, and that she survived because other women and a few men saw the injustice and helped her out. Still, there’s lots to do. Through most of history including today, men have the power in the marketplace of ideas.

Today, we women are in a position to help each other out, even here in the misinformed land of Rush Limbaugh and Todd Akin. But sometimes we don’t speak. According to “Harper’s Index” this month, 75% of statements about birth control in election coverage in major US newspapers are statements by men. 81% of statements about abortion are by men. And, worse news for us writers, only one in five op-eds in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or Washington Post, is written by a woman. Ironically, that issue of Harper’s, which lists a few women as editors, ran no woman-authored articles.

We hear a lot about the wages gap — an average male college graduate’s salary maxes out at $95,000 while an average woman’s at $60,000 — but less about the free speech gap, but today there are more women than men in college, and more of us getting advanced degrees. It’s time that women’s history is taught as a part of the mainstream, and all we need is a few professors, men and women, to take charge.

And, take note Rush and Todd … women are voting.

A couple of weeks ago, Emma Gray posted this information on the Huffington Post. The data comes from the 2008 elections, when 64% of eligible voters turned out. Specifically, 65.7% of women voted in 2008 vs. 61.5% of men. In addition, more education means more voting. Only 50.5% of eligible Americans who didn’t graduate from high school voted in 2008, while 85.5% of people with advanced degrees (masters, PhDs, etc.) turned out. As I mentioned, more women than men are getting more advanced degrees.

The data adds that Obama would have lost the 2008 election without the support of the growing population of unmarried women, who currently make up 26% of the voting population and is increasing. In other words, women have tremendous power and we need to be sure that every woman who is able to vote has the opportunity to get to the polls.

Now, as we all know, voting rights are under attack and there’s a national movement to disenfranchise voters who lack certain kinds of identification, but knowing that women have the power to change elections, especially educated women, we should take this power, which is less than 100 years old, seriously.

And here’s where we begin: Young people are less likely to vote than those over 50. Only 48.5% of voters between 18 and 24 cast ballots in 2008, compared to 71.5% of 55 to 64-year-olds and 72.4% of 65 to 74-year-olds.

Our path for the future is clear. More work with young folks, more advocacy, more writing, more speaking out. Betty Cook Rottman would certainly have endorsed this path, it is the right path for us, and we must continue the work that she and her generation so courageously began.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. She blogs at Email:

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2012

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