Missing from the Presidential Debate, Missing from the National Conversation
I had, obviously mistakenly, anticipated that the 2016 election season would offer an opportunity, especially during the presidential primary and general election debates, to both name and dive deeply into public policy matters of consequence to women. Not just because of the presence of the first female nominated candidate by a major political party, but because of the enormous sway held by women voters in determining the winner of this contest.
I was therefore grateful to learn about the American Association of University Women’s issues bingo cards, and also to the National Partnership for Women and Families for their We The Families platform, intended to “make America more healthy, fair and family friendly,” and demanding that women be treated “with dignity, fairness and respect.” Armed with these thoughtful and clever tools, I had hoped to hear relevant and pointed gender-specific questions posed, either by the debate moderators or, during the most recent face-off in St. Louis, by the selected undecided town hall audience members.
Disappointingly, my bingo card of key words about women was practically empty following the first presidential debate a couple of weeks back. Sunday evening, I was looking once again to fill up my game card and score a win for at least some air time devoted to acknowledging the long overdue need for equal and fair pay, full reproductive justice, and workplaces free of discrimination and harassment. But once again my card came up nearly empty. The notable exception was a question from a private citizen posed toward the end of the 90-minute forum about the candidates’ views on the qualities necessary in Supreme Court nominees. This led to a mention, at least, of Roe v. Wade and keeping abortion legal nationwide.
The entire debate was held in the context of fresh evidence of societal misogyny and rape culture, and in an atmosphere of abusive and bullying lurking and hulking, well beyond the mansplaining I had come to expect. But rather than a rote defense of (or professed love for) women, I fully expected that the grossly disturbing developments preceding the debate would rightfully have sparked more – not less – attention paid to the systemic ways in which women and girls are still treated as “less than.” We don’t need our public leaders to adore us or protect us. We need them to use their positions and power in the service of genuine and unconditional equity and justice.
Noteworthy: In response to national outrage over the six-month county jail sentence given to former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner for a campus sexual assault of an unconscious woman, California has passed and signed into law two new laws requiring longer minimum sentences be served in state prison for this crime. The judge had used a provision for “extraordinary circumstances,” in Turner’s case – his youth and clean prior record – to impose a much shorter sentence than the six years that had been recommended by the prosecutor. Turner was released after only three months. Future convicted defendants may serve as many as 14 years.