Piles of campaign pamphlets scatter across campus as temperatures mimic the frigid descent taken by politicians’ tones as they address opponents. It’s evident that election season is in full swing. For voters possessing the desire to acquire more information about potential options, sifting through the myriad of pamphlets, articles and television ads poses a daunting task. Voters — while they simply wish to select the candidate whose platform most accurately reflects their own interests — risk ensnarement in superficial, partisan power plays between candidates.

Melissa Scholke

In my brief experience as a spectator and as a participant in the electoral process, I find it difficult to recall a campaign unsullied by mudslinging or ridiculous tactics. The endless barrage of campaign literature has fortified my cynicism. If an ad or article isn’t focused upon attacking a politician, it utilizes some ridiculous attempt to capture voters’ attention. As a result, I’ve embraced the mindset that elections present a choice between two imperfect options. Likewise, negative campaign strategies are inevitable, but they shouldn’t detract from the issues. My attempts to avoid ridiculous campaign literature were effective until sexism became a viable strategy.

I’ll admit I don’t possess authority to state whether or not Republicans are, in fact, waging a war on women; however, I will say recent attempts by the Grand Old Party to attract female voters are extremely flawed. Considering its reliance upon stereotypes, it’s not surprising the GOP is experiencing a bit of trouble attracting this demographic. The College Republican National Committee recently released an ad that reduces women’s participation in elections down to the trivial debate that occurs in a dress shop. Utilizing the tagline “Say Yes to Rick Snyder,” the light-hearted, patronizing ad depicts a college grad as she makes the mentally taxing decision between two wedding dress styles: the sleek, “trusted brand” of Rick Snyder or the “outdated,” gaudy Mark Schauer. The ad alludes to “Say Yes to the Dress,” and perhaps it was meant to be taken jokingly. At least, I hope so. If not, the ad begs me to ask whether members of the CRNC honestly believe college-aged women can’t comprehend political matters and can’t decide upon a candidate unless the options are presented in the superficial context of pretty dresses and reality TV references.

“Say Yes to Rick Snyder” is merely one example of GOP strategy laden with sexism. The wedding dress narrative was modified with various other candidates’ information and displayed in other states including Illinois, Arkansas, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Florida. Michigan GOP officials tried to showcase their knowledge of female voters earlier this year. In a tweet this past June, three male Republican members of the Michigan House of Representatives were depicted reading glossy fashion magazines while state Rep. Peter Pettalia humorously (R–M-106) remarked: “Don’t say we don’t understand women.” Understanding women appears to be important to the GOP, but the party is demonstrating it horribly. Even the attempt by Republican female senatorial candidate, Terri Lynn Land, demonstrates flaws. Her ad addresses a comment from her Democratic opponent, Gary Peters, who says she is “waging a war on women.” She counters the attack by silently drinking coffee and checking her watch. She ends this clip by stating, “As a woman, I might know a little bit more about women than Gary Peters.” Land provides female perspective in a male-dominated realm, and in some respects, she probably does know more; however, biology and political ideology don’t correlate. Land may be female, but stating women are “more interested in flexibility in a job than pay” doesn’t ease voters’ concerns about the wage gap.

Eliminating gendered pay discrepancies is a goal for which I want elected officials to strive. Currently, in Michigan, women earn 74 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Issues should take precedence over a candidate’s image and amassing votes. College-aged women possess a litany of concerns about the quality of women’s rights in Michigan, and we want candidates who will clearly state solutions. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, voter turnout has been higher amongst women aged 18-24 than men of the same age from 1998-2012. Women are intelligent enough to fully comprehend how unemployment, education budgets, right-to-work laws and reproductive rights affect our futures, and we understand the consequences are graver than looking frumpy in a dress. (Oh, the horror!) If candidates truly want to appeal to women, provide serious discussion and debate rather than presenting platforms beneath a haze of gossamer, lace and silk.

Melissa Scholke can be reached at melikaye@umich.edu.

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