September 29 2010
There is a great TV ad that depicts the hunting prowess of a woman in a shoe store - complete with safari-like music in the background. The woman traverses through each aisle looking for the prefect pair that makes the right statement that complements her lifestyle and can be obtained at a good value.
Perhaps a similar ad could be made for women "shopping for candidates" in 2010. Today's female voter is issue savvy, capable of doing comparison analysis and is searching for the new candidate that suits her lifestyle. These candidates better have answers to correcting a shaky economy and must offer more than a hopeful feeling when it comes to sloganeering.
At what point will political pundits realize that calling each new election cycle "the year of the woman" grows tiresome and trite? So much has changed since 1984, when Geraldine Ferraro was placed on the ballot as a vice presidential candidate and a "year of the woman" was declared. Today, we have a stronger, more educated and vibrant voting bloc of female activists; together, women constitute a nearly 52 percent majority of the nationwide electorate.
And yet, the diversity within this particular voting bloc is wide and varied, although most women say they prefer to vote for someone they "can relate to." From the "soccer mom" to the "unmarrieds" to the "box-store shoppers," analysts struggle to identify the segments within this large, diverse population. Time magazine even included a group titled "maxed out moms" who were deemed too busy to vote, much less care about who was running.
A group worth paying attention to is young conservative women. When speaking to such young women to determine what motivates them to be more involved in political affairs, it is interesting to hear them describe why they are stepping up in terms of political activism today. Some say it is because they now see more women to whom they can relate in positions of power. Others feel emboldened by the increasing numbers of conservative women speaking out on either a national stage or at the local level. There is a sense of "safety" in numbers.
A college campus-based group geared toward uniting conservative women in what often seems to be the unfriendly surroundings of academia has successfully brought like-minded young women together to teach them about conservative philosophy and have open discussions on how to foster these concepts among their peers. The Network of Enlightened Women (NeW) was founded at the University of Virginia by Karin Agness and has now spread across the county to other campuses.
If you ask Karin what motivates her peers to engage in conservative politics, she would tell you that in the last two years, a growing number of young women have recognized the quick impact of a single election. In fact, so much has changed since the 2008 elections that young people are feeling the effects dramatically and quickly as they look on the horizon of life beyond college and see that real job opportunities are fewer and farther between. Young people are beginning to take issues and elections more seriously. "Many of the young women in NeW have been seeking out ways to become more educated on economic issues facing our nation and have asked about books with a more economic focus," according to Agness. "Voters in general, including youth voters and single women, are looking for candidates who understand how markets work and believe in a limited government that exercises fiscal responsibility."
In a new age of witnessing the female voting bloc, pundits may take note: women generally like or tolerate change, but want change that produces positive results for their lives. They want checks and balances rather than slogans of change or progress. Women prefer incremental approaches to addressing problems and definitely shun any indication of "backroom deals."
In this important 2010 election cycle, the activism of conservative women will be a force of positive influence. Perhaps even as important as the outcome of this year's election will be the growing number of conservative women running as candidates at all levels of elective office, serving in campaigns, writing policy and sharing and teaching these skills to other women. Raising a larger generation of conservative women for future involvement is a legacy worth praising and one that the pundits may have difficulty explaining. To call each year "the year of the woman" may no longer carry weight, but the uprising of conservative activists who understand the founding principles of our country and strive to restore fiscal sanity to our government may be the real story of 2010.
Susan Allen is the former First Lady of Virginia. Hers is the fourth piece in a fall series of op-eds focused on women's issues from the Independent Women's Forum.