Vote like a girl

Gabriel Hackett

You know who is amazing at voting? Black women who came out in force during the Trump/Clinton campaign.

By Amy Gray

We asked an interesting question over at the QVWC Facebook page the other day: do gender rights and feminism change your vote? Everyone said it was a large factor.

Over in America, this positivity doesn’t hold much water.  A Washington Post survey into American feminism found 58% of women would not vote for a politician based on their position on women’s rights. When questioned further in the survey about what prevents women achieving full equality with men, answers were split: 44% believed sexist discrimination, while another 44% maintained it was because of “the choices women make themselves”.

While we may not be identical, it’s safe to assume some similarity between (generally white) women voters in America and Australia view womens’ rights and voting…and it’s not a great view, to be honest.

To be fair, it’s hard to see a place for women’s rights in politics given how male-dominated the space is.  While some political parties may try to boost the number of women candidates, most election campaigns are simply the sausage fest before the sausage sizzle: bland men in bland suits spouting bland talking points.

Where are the women in all of this?

Normally, women are seen when paternal politicians grab a nearby wife or woman candidate, head to the local kindergarten and talk about childcare rebates or paid parental leave.  The subtext is clear: progressive or conservative, most politicians think the women’s vote can be snared with a childcare rebate because women only care about children.

If childcare, baby bonuses and paid parental leave is all geared towards the “women’s vote”, it’s tempting to see all other policies as either male or gender neutral – you know, they’re considered generic or affect all people equally. But when we erase gender (and race and class) from view, we’re often left with the “default”, which is often viewed as a white, heterosexual man.

It’s hard to argue that any policy or ministerial portfolio is truly gender neutral. The economy may not be explicitly female, but the economy impacts women in very specific ways from which men are immune. Yet, these issues are rarely discussed in our analysis or addressed in political campaigning.

But what if women’s rights truly became a voting issue? The Washington Post survey highlighted that around 60% considered themselves either fully-fledged or somewhat feminists – if we can assume the same percentage for Australian women, wouldn’t that make a giant vote politicians would have to take notice of?

More so when you consider what has taken place since that 2016 survey, where the world has become far more political thanks to the actions of black women. Black Lives Matters (created by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi) has thrived and become a colossal movement. Tarana Burke unleashed #MeToo upon the world, and millions of people have taken it as the moment to say “Time’s Up”. All of this has combined to forge activists out of apathists and there’s never been a better time to be a loud woman demanding more for her vote.

But only if women seize this chance and demand answers from politicians and media. Emailing candidates and standing politicians for policy statements and letting them know what you want and why. Campaigning every minister and collectively working to let them know just how powerful women can be.

This means more than questioning them about the gender pay gap or what they did last White Ribbon day.

  • It could mean pressing them to address environmental issues, which should be a feminist cause given women are far more affected by climate change than men.
  • Depending on your economic bent, it could be campaigning for an end to the free market system which has removed services for women and tends to reward already privileged men more, because they are unburded by unpaid labour.
  • Your feminist vote could be for the indigenous matters that mean the most to you, or in solidarity with Indigenous women – a reminder for any white or ethnic woman that feminism transcends individual choice; it is a vote in solidarity for other’s liberation. This could be elevating the issue of racial profiling and high incarceration rates, the continuing forced removal of children, reduced access to health services and ongoing discrimination and oppression.
  • Foreign Affairs? Foreign Feminism. What are the candidates or ministers doing to ensure there are more women negotiating in matters of Foreign Affairs (yes, more than one)? This is a central focus for the UN, looking to increase representation in the hopes women are actually represented in peace talks and deals. What about foreign aid that specifically focuses on women, an approach that often yields greater stability for their local communities. Refugees are another feminist issue, as is our treatment of asylum seekers in Australia, many of whom require protection from sexual assault and are often blocked access to medical services and their human rights.
  • Workers rights – oh you better believe that is a feminist issue. Women’s work can often be precarious and the gig economy is not just about Uber drivers – it is  definitely affecting women, particularly those working in hospitality, child care and cleaning. More women are working more for less money and entitlements, with little career progression or superannuation. But it’s not just local workers rights – don’t we have an obligation to ensure women around the world hold similar rights and start to question the amount of sweatshop labour performed by women to give Australian’s everything from fast fashion to the tinned tomatoes on our supermarket shelves?

There are a lot of elections coming up and there are even more issues than the ones mentioned here, which means that women’s rights are a huge issue for politicians…if we make it one.

Go out. Demand answers. Elevate your questions and the voices of women around you.

Vote like a girl.

 

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Amy Gray is a Melbourne writer whose work focuses on feminism, culture and parenting. She tweets via @_amygray_

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