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Get Real by Abby Arnold

An ongoing series of unflinching commentary

October 2004

A Different Vote

It’s great to be a woman during the campaign season. Everybody wants us.

W is for Women, George Bush declares, as he speaks emotionally about encounters with grieving mothers. Women for Kerry signs pop up all over Kerry’s rallies. John Edwards speaks movingly, and often, about the hard working single mother, and Dick Cheney— well, no one expects Dick Cheney to do anything other than growl. Still, we have three out of four of the national candidates acknowledging us and the work we do, speaking to us about their feelings, promising that this time they are paying attention. I get the feeling they’d be happy to come over and do the housework, if only they weren’t busy protecting us.

So why am I so unmoved?

Don’t get me wrong—I am ferociously partisan in this election. I will be voting, loudly, for Kerry. But his Women for Kerry signs irritate me almost as much as Bush’s smirky self-righteousness.

Can you imagine signs reading Men for Kerry? Or George is for Guys?

There’s a group called Mothers Opposing Bush, and, as the mother of two small children, I was thrilled when I first discovered their organization. But only momentarily. Because, rather than using language of reason to make their case, rather than saying mothers are people who think deeply about political issues, this organization calls upon “the collective power and moral responsibility [of mothers] to transform our nation.” This is the exact same thinking which has been used throughout time to keep women/mothers in whatever place society has wanted them kept. Saying that mothers have a higher moral responsibility so they shouldn’t vote for Bush is no different from saying mothers have a higher moral responsibility so they shouldn’t work, or own property, or have the vote. I agree with their politics, but I won’t sign on.

The cover of the Fall 2004 Ms Magazine does the same thing. It asks: Will it take 22 million women to save the world? Oh, grow up, I answer. Ms. Magazine should know better than to lump all those women into one indistinguishable whole. 22 million women voters do not constitute a higher moral force out to save the world. They are not going to all vote the same way. They don’t have the same interests, ideologies, political persuasion or internal moral compass, and to suggest that they do is to participate in the exact same infantilizing and control of women that feminism has fought so hard to overcome.

Then there’s the Safety Mom, the one who has replaced the Soccer Mom, and is voting for Bush because she is afraid of terrorism and wants to keep her kids safe. Well, don’t we all? And isn’t it possible that the group called Safety Mom is actually made up of millions of individual women who are each voting for Bush for his other agendas as well? Caring for her kids is one of them, I’ve no doubt, but so might be taxes, gun control, wanting to snow mobile in Yosemite. Different women, different agendas.

Of course, men get lumped into political groups as well, but these are determined as much by activity as gender: NASCAR Men, Swift Boat Veterans— stereotyping is going on, but at least it acknowledges that these guys get out of the house.

George Bush, John Kerry, John Edwards and all the special interest groups out there, read my lips: Being a mother and a woman does not dictate who I am in this world. Informs my sense of self, yes, but neither my gender nor my reproductive organs define who I am, what I believe, or how I will vote.

And that’s my problem with all these people courting my vote. They each campaign as if women, and mothers, have only one agenda, only one voice. That we only act out of morality or fear and that we can be reached through simplistic rhetoric. That we are all forces for good, or forces for caring, or simply, forcefully, afraid.

Well, gentlemen, watch out. Eventually there will be a candidate who recognizes the invalidity of the patronizing, paternalistic way you address us. And when that candidate acknowledges the individuality of women, the ways in which each one of us is unique, complex and motivated by a host of forces— well, then, maybe, the revolution will truly begin. 

: mmo :

Get Real is an ongoing series of original essays and commentary by Abby Arnold. She is a teacher, writer and the mother of a 4 year old son and 2 year old daughter. She lives with her family in North Carolina.

Feel like getting real? Send your comments to Abby Arnold at getreal@mothersmovement.org

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