BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY
Published October 22, 2012
If this year’s presidential debates have proven anything, it’s that candidates will do or say anything it takes to sway voters. In the second debate, issues pertaining specifically to women were discussed at length. Both candidates spoke about their concern for women’s salaries, what they’ve done in the past to level the playing field and future plans to continue their efforts. This discussion (and lack thereof) demonstrated the need for a more progressive understanding of women and women’s issues in the political sphere, particularly that political candidates need to change their approach when appealing to women voters.
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In the second debate between President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, the candidates were asked how gender and other inequalities would be rectified. Obama spoke to the enactment of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act during his first week in office, which offers equal pay to women and men who perform the same jobs. He also mentioned his belief that insurance companies should provide coverage for contraceptives, calling it an economic issue as well as a health care concern.
Romney touted his decision to hire women in his cabinet as governor of Massachusetts and promised a stronger economy, which would provide women with the opportunity for more flexible scheduling. The former Massachusetts governor also stated that employers shouldn't be coerced into providing contraception coverage, and that Planned Parenthood funding should be cut.
The last debate showed the need to alter the campaign's approach to female voters. Women account for 52 percent of voters and it really isn’t enough to merely speak to women’s issues — politicians must act to rectify them.
But the way the candidates are approaching female voters makes it seem as though women are not the core of the voters, but rather just another small constituency or demographic whose votes are needed to win the election. It’s simply not enough to speak of past legislation — there has to be a concerted effort to make changes.
Both Obama and Romney's approaches toward women cannot be superficial or offensive. It’s not just enough to wear pink bracelets like those that adorn Obama’s wrists or have “binders full of women” to hire during Romney's term as governor. These issues need to be addressed directly through legislation. The candidates are only inclined to speak to their past accomplishments rather than bringing about actual legislative change in terms of equal pay and job availability.
Each candidate must realize the need to approach women’s issues as topics that pertain to everyone, not a special interest group. The gender pay gap does not just affect underpaid women — it also affects their families and dependents. Issues such as contraception availability and abortion also provide broader implications for American society as a whole. On Nov. 6, American voters — predominantly women — will choose the next president, and that president should be one who understands that women’s issues don’t pertain solely to American women, but to society as a whole.