In 2008, history was made in the United States. For the first time, a black man was elected president of the United States (and in the primaries he fought Hillary Rodham Clinton, a woman, and Bill Richardson, a Latino). Not only was Barack Hussein Obama II elected as the 44th President of the United States, but he was elected with a landslide victory, with 365 electoral votes (270 are needed to win the presidency) and 52.9% of the popular vote.
The 2012 election was a little different. Though Willard Mitt Romney has conceded the race to President Obama, votes are still being counted. NBC, CNN, and even FOX News are calling 303 electoral votes for Obama, with seven of the eight battleground states declared for Obama (the eighth, Florida, has not declared a winner yet, though it is leaning toward Obama with 97% of the votes in). Though this election isn’t the landslide that it was in 2008, in many ways, the 2012 November elections and ballot measures may be more important to women than they were four years ago.
As an expatriate living in the United Kingdom, I’ve been blessed in that I haven’t faced the deluge of political ads that are so common in election season (though to be fair, my home state of Oregon isn’t a battleground state and and thus gets fewer ads anyway). That doesn’t mean, however, that I haven’t been keeping a close eye on elections and ballot measures throughout the country. More than usual, it seems that this election has been a fight for women’s rights and women’s bodies, and by extension a fight for the rights of girls. Abortion rights have always been a part of presidential campaigns, but this election cycle has been particularly nasty, filled with hateful and hurtful phrases like “legitimate rape” and implications that rape is “God’s will.”
For me, the obvious attacks on womens’ and girls’ rights began just over a year ago, in a September 2011 debate between the Republican candidates for president.¬†Representative Michele Bachmann (Minnesota) made a claim that the HPV vaccination can cause mental retardation, going well beyond the usual claims that vaccinating against the¬†human papillomavirus will encourage promiscuity. In fact, the HPV vaccine is important because there is a direct causal link between HPV and cervical cancer; the fact that HPV is a sexually transmitted disease is secondary.Shortly thereafter, voters in Mississippi rejected a “personhood” amendment, which would have outlawed abortion, along with many types of birth control and in-vitro fertilization. Thankfully the voters of Mississippi felt that the wording of the constitutional amendment was too vague, but the fact that it made it on the ballot is frightening enough, particularly in a state with such a high number of teen pregnancies–nearly double the national average.This year, a woman’s right to decide if she wants an abortion has been attacked from all angles, but particularly in instances of rape. Missouri Representative Todd Akin (who was defeated by Claire McCaskill last night) said in response to a question about his views on rape and abortion, “First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that‚Äôs really rare. If it‚Äôs a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Not only being far from medically sound–one doctor referred to this theory as “nuts”–the implication that women “cry rape” when they’re having a bad day or want to “get even” with someone is nothing less than victim blaming, and in fact comes dangerously close to condoning rape. A few weeks later, Richard Mourdock (apparently not learning from the outcry that surrounded Akin’s claims) stated, “I just struggled with it myself for a long time but I came to realize life is that gift from God that I think even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” Although Mourdock went on to clarify his statement¬†and insist that rape wasn’t condoned by God (just the unwanted pregnancy), he lost Indiana’s Senate race.

Additionally, Wisconsin elected Tammy Baldwin as it’s first female Senator, who is also the first openly gay Senator. California increased the penalties for human trafficking, and Florida voters chose not to further restrict access to abortion. Maine and Maryland both voted to allow same-sex marriages (Washington is still counting ballots, but is currently leaning toward allowing same-sex marriages), while Minnesota rejected defining marriage as between only a man and a woman. Massachusetts is still counting ballots for their “Death with Dignity” act (Oregon was the first state in the nation to pass such a ballot measure in 1994, and though it’s been contested, it’s never been repealed). Lastly, Oklahoma passed affirmative action legislation.

So what do the results of this election mean for women and girls? It’s too early to be certain of anything, of course, but there is hope for four more years of federal funding to Planned Parenthood for family planning and reproductive health, sex education, and general health care needs (no federal funding goes to abortions). Hopefully “Obamacare” will expand, ensuring more people get the access they need and deserve to affordable, quality health services. And lastly, maybe we’ll see a drawdown in the attacks on women and their right to make decisions regarding their bodies. This culture of legitimizing rape and denying women the choice to decide how they wish to deal with their uterus has gone on long enough. Had the election turned out differently, I shudder to think about the struggles today’s girls would face, fighting to regain rights that their mothers had. Thankfully, the clock wasn’t turned back.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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