Op-Ed: For women, this election is it

Tuesday, October 4, 2016 - 4:28pm

Since the beginning of this election cycle, my women friends and I have frequently had conversations about what would happen to our rights if a Republican is elected as our next president. Where would we be able to get birth control? Would groups on college campuses receive support from federal initiatives like the It’s On Us campaign to help create a healthier sex culture? Will Title IX be challenged? If any of us unintentionally got pregnant, would we be able to seek help from University Health Service? Would Planned Parenthood still exist?

It may be difficult to conceptualize what is at stake in this election. The hate and polarization that have evolved throughout this presidential race obscure the policies, beliefs and platform pieces that are usually the cornerstone of political discourse. What we may not realize is that progress on entire categories of issues that encompass millions of people’s well-beings hang in the balance this time around.

One such category is women’s rights, where Democrats and Republicans differ most in their response or strategy for change. This includes reproductive justice, equality in the workplace and gender-based violence. For years, but particularly in this election cycle, Clinton and the Democratic Party have highlighted issues of sexual assault on college campuses, abortion access, family leave, police brutality and equal pay, among others. Each of these issues directly affects the physical and emotional safety of women, our ability to decide if and when we want to have children, the kinds of educational and occupational opportunities we have, and our abilities to participate in economic and political realms of society.

All of this may be overwhelming, but it’s for that very reason these points are so important to understand. While state laws have tremendous ability to shape the everyday experiences of women, the White House yields heavy power to influence federal, state and international policymaking. Democrats have proven time and again that they will stand up for and protect women and families. In fact, many issues that pertain to supporting women and families are the centerpiece of the 2016 Democratic platform, Clinton’s campaign and down-ticket campaigns across the country.

In a category of his own, Donald Trump — once publicly pro-choice — has since declared himself anti-choice, going so far as to suggest that women who choose to get an abortion should be punished for it. Trump has also made countless sexist comments directed at individuals and about women as a group. He has joked about the assassination of Clinton more than once and allowed a woman reporter to be beaten at one of his rallies. He has suggested that his daughter would not let herself be subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace and has been completely silent regarding campus sexual assault.

Not only will electing Trump alienate more than half of the population by devaluing women in public discourse, but it will significantly decrease women’s access to health care and prevent progress on issues including family leave, scheduling stability, interactions with law enforcement and sexual assault prevention — issues that particularly affect lower-income women, queer women and women of color who more often lack resources to seek help outside the public system which is stacked against them.

It is important for me to acknowledge the privileges I bring to the table when writing this piece. Growing up as a privileged, white millennial woman, I have understood my right to vote, my right to be treated as an equal in public spaces, and my right to access comprehensive health care as concrete and the remaining fight was to make those legal rights a reality for all women. Of course, there would be times when I would be treated differently by individuals — in the classroom, on the soccer field, at drivers ed — but I thought that my basic rights would be unchanging in the law. Mr. Trump poses a threat to that understanding — one that generations before us worked so hard to achieve, one that we are not willing to lose. Perhaps that is why this attack feels so extreme and so particularly offensive.

My friends and I are part of a developing fourth wave of feminism that aims to bring the reality of intersectionality and systemic, institutionalized oppression to the forefront of our theories, actions and solutions. To be truly inclusive, we must understand that encroachments on women’s rights affect all women differently, but do affect all women. One way to support women is by electing candidates — Democrats — who share that understanding and who will include our varied interests in all policies, not just the few in which we are specifically enumerated.

So, here’s to women taking time off from the classroom, the chemistry lab, the basketball court, family life, the tech company and whatever else we are choosing to do to be vocal about and vote for candidates that will respect us as human beings ensure us those basic rights for decades to come. Register to vote or update your address by Oct. 11 and get to the polls on Nov. 8. It’s your responsibility if you have the right.

Leah Schneck is an executive board member and is the outreach director and social media coordinator of the University's chapter of College Democrats.