Friday, November 07, 2008

Women as a voting bloc (by Suzie)


         In 1994, I questioned (in print) why women don't elect more women to office, considering that we constitute a majority of voters. Because this question continues, I thought people might be interested in an excerpt from that article:
         Voters value ethnicity, religion and party politics more than gender, explains Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida. These values start in the home: Black children learn early about slavery, as do Jewish children about the Holocaust. But many girls don't hear about women's history until sometime later in school, MacManus says.
          Society has not paid as much attention to discrimination against women, she says, and people are less likely to agree about it - and less likely to think about it when they go to the polls.
          Women don't have the sort of group consciousness that creates a voting bloc, says Pamela Conover, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. "The core of group politics is us vs. them."
          Ethnic groups that are somewhat segregated can see how ethnicity affects their lives and can recognize shared interests. Integration breaks down that group thinking, Conover says, and no group is more integrated than women.
          "We sleep with the enemy. We live with them. We love them. They are our families. It's harder to get women to think in "us vs. them' terms."
           After women won the vote, men ... convinced many women that politics should be left up to the men, Conover says. Many women who were adults when the suffrage amendment passed never voted.
           "In my mother's generation, you voted, but you voted how your husband told you to," she adds.
       This article relates to Ann Nixon Cooper, a 106-year-old voter mentioned in Obama's victory speech. An Associated Press story notes that she first registered to vote in 1941.
Though she was friends with elite black Atlantans like W.E.B. Du Bois, John Hope Franklin and Benjamin E. Mays, because of her status as a black woman in a segregated and sexist society, she didn’t exercise her right to vote for years.

Instead, she deferred to her husband — Dr Albert B. Cooper, a prominent Atlanta dentist — who “voted for the house.”
          Black men began to vote in Atlanta in 1867 and at least some continued to do so, despite violence and statutory limitations. Women got the right to vote in 1920. Here's a good essay on the history of black voting in Atlanta. But it has little on black women, an issue raised in this article.
           For a related post, please see what Echidne wrote in her back-to-the-basics series: "That women are so integrated on that most primal of levels probably explains why sexism is harder to see than other -isms which oppress people."