Second Presidential Debate TONIGHT @ 9 PM EST

As we reflect on what is and is not said tonight at the second debate, let us remember that we are not simply voting for a leader for the next four years; we are electing the future of women’s choice in the United States.

Read about Romney/Ryan’s terrifying plans to outlaw abortion across the country, via NY Times:

“We do not need to guess about the brutal consequences of overturning Roe. We know from our own country’s pre-Roe history and from the experience around the world. Women desperate to end a pregnancy would find a way to do so. Well-to-do women living in places where abortion is illegal would travel to other states where it is legal to obtain the procedure. Women lacking the resources would either be forced by the government and politicians to go through with an unwanted or risky pregnancy, attempt to self-abort or turn to an illegal — and potentially unsafe — provider for help. Women’s health, privacy and equality would suffer.”

Women’s Campaign Fund Urges Women to be Politically Active

Brittany Chevalier

As a student of American and Women’s History, I have always been passionate about women’s participation in the political realm. When I found out that I received the summer fellowship at the Women’s Campaign Fund in Washington, D.C., I was overjoyed because I knew it would be a learning experience that would determine my future and, perhaps, help me figure out what would I like to do with my life.

The Women’s Campaign Fund (WCF) is an umbrella nonpartisan organization dedicated to dramatically increasing the number of women in elected office who support reproductive choices for all. Under the WCF is their PAC- Political Action Committee- that is a 501(c)4, political organization. This part of the Fund provides money from members or donors to endorsed candidates. Although it is non-partisan, the candidates must be pro-choice. This PAC is different from their non-profit (c)3 side of the Fund. The non-profit side of the Women’s Campaign Fund, a foundation called She Should Run, is their product–the “meat” of the organization. I wanted to work specifically for She Should Run because it deals with how women actually get to the point of running for office at both local and national levels.

There are two programs and one research study under the She Should Run (SSR) side of the Fund. The first is She Should Run In Action. This program presents the problem that women make up only 17 percent of the seats in congress, 23 percent of state legislatures, and only 6 out of 50 gubernatorial seats. How can we as women, over 50 percent of the nation, be adequately represented with such small numbers in our government? SSRIA’s main goal is increase the number of women in government across the country by seriously asking them to run for office.

Statistically speaking, women are less likely to run for office, even at the highest levels of professional life; usually, this is because they do not think they are qualified. However, it is shown that when women do run, they win at equal rates to men. SSRIA is nonpartisan and accepts ALL women running for office. Although the WCF ultimately works toward electing women who believe in reproductive choices, SO few women actually run for office that we need to work on getting more women in races and on the ballots- even if they do not support reproductive choices. Although I personally support only candidates that believe in choice, I see the necessity to be inclusive of all women, no matter their reproductive stances. The foundation’s first step is to have everyone ask a woman to run for office- on a local or national level. Next, after a woman decides to run, She Should Run provides her with local and national resources, monthly e-newletters, tip sheets on basic campaigning, and guidance on how to run a political campaign. We want women to know that they are capable of running for office and that they are not alone in the process.

The second program we run, along with the Women’s Media Center, is Name It. Change It. NICI, as we called it for short, is a vital program that works to end widespread media sexism that women candidates face. The ever-changing media landscape creates an unmonitored atmosphere that often allows damaging comments to exist without accountability. In the past, when women were faced with these disparaging comments, they were told to just ignore them, but this is obviously wrong. In order to erase the pervasive sexism against all women candidates–irrespective of political party or level of office–we must call out the sexism. At Name It. Change It., we teach candidates to hold a press conference or release a statement as soon as the comment in the media is made that the verbalized slander was sexist and unacceptable. If anyone sees or hears sexist remarks against a candidate, she or he can report it to NICI and Women’s Media Center’s blog, which acts a third party to call out the statements as wrong.

The third part of SSR is called Vote With Your Purse. It is a research study that examines trends in women’s political giving and financial power as well as their political fundraising results in election years. Additionally, it provides concrete ideas on how to tap the “power of the purse” for the 2012 elections and beyond. Their data explains that women invest in political campaigns at lower rates because they do not think their money matters in showing support for a candidate and championing her or his issues. The study also shows that when women contribute more to political campaigns, especially to those of women, those candidates attain more power in the political landscape. It is important to give money– even $5– to women candidates that are running, because sadly, money is power.

These are the three programs that the Programs Director and Programs Fellow promote. Although it is hard to believe with so few women who run for office, there are hundreds of different organizations all over the country, partisan and not, that work toward motivating women to run for office. My job at as the Programs Fellow was to maintain our connections and promote our materials to the 94 organizations in the 45 states we represent. Since it is important to maintain these mutual relationships, the Programs Fellow touches base with these entities bi-annually to update them on what is happening with the program and to get feedback on their own organizations. I spoke with the Executive Directors and Programs Directors, updating them on our programs and the roundtable discussions we hosted at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. I fashioned new promotional material for all three SSR programs to offer to our current partners and future partners.

When I arrived we had partners in 45 of the states, but this was something I wanted to change. I was able to research and find various organizations in fifteen states. By the end of the summer, I made partnerships with four new organizations that represented three of the five missing states. She Should Run In Action now has 98 partnerships in 48 states– I am very proud of this accomplishment.

Brittany, far right, with other WCF fellows and the President and CEO, Sam Bennett, second from left.

I also helped to build our Leadership Circle Briefings (LCBs) in various states. Our President/ CEO, Sam Bennett, traveled around the country this summer to San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York City (at Annette Taylor and Mayor Bloomberg’s home), Chicago, and Columbus to discuss the political economy and the importance of women running for office. LCBs used to be small salon-like gatherings for donors and members, but this summer they grew to include our partnering organizations, featuring panel discussions by candidates running in these areas. My job was to reach out to our partners, invite them to our events, and discuss whether their Executive Directors would be willing to speak for five minutes about their organizations. All of these LCBs were wildly successful.

Since I am also interested in non-profit development, I asked to be included in some of the developmental tasks of the office. I helped schedule Sam’s time in each city with organizational heads and staffed her at the WCF’s Union-endorsed luncheon. I also attended many political fundraisers for Congresswomen, such as Yvette Clarke of New York’s 11th district, and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin’s 2nd district. One of the most invigorating, self-determined, and amazingly vibrant women I have ever met, Sam Bennett is an outstanding CEO/President, and I learned so much from her. She is a true idol when it comes to being a self-starting, motivated woman who is passionate about electing women into office.

My time at the Women’s Campaign Fund not only taught me how a nonprofit geared towards women’s activism is run or how important it is for women to enter politics, but also that I can do whatever it is that I want– and that is to ultimately run for a political office. My first year as a Women’s History student taught me the deeper limitations of women’s freedom in the past and their inability to fight and change the status quo, and my fellowship reaffirmed that we are still fighting the same battles. If we feel the urge, which we should, to change our current positions and the futures of our children, we must take action, change laws and create new legislation. The first step toward change is equal and fair representation in the United States government.

Do you know a woman who has innovative and serious ideas for community, state or national growth? YOU should ask her to run for a local, state or national seat. Are you interested in a summer, fall or spring Fellowship? Please visit SheShouldRun and WCF to learn more. Subscribe to MsRepresentation to receive your weekly dose of irreverent political analysis, bringing election realness to your inbox every Wednesday.

Brittany Chevalier attended undergrad at Wellesley College and is currently a Women’s History grad student at Sarah Lawrence College. Aside from her interest in politics and encouraging women to run for office, she is intensely passionate about New York City history. She self-admittedly watches too much television, loves anything Hello Kitty and is probably going to get a dog soon.

The “Wicked Woodhull”: Still Waiting for a Woman!

Marion Sader

One hundred and thirty-eight years before Hillary Rodham Clinton decided to seek her party’s nomination for President of the United States, Victoria Claflin Woodhull announced that she would become the first female candidate for America’s highest political office. In 1872 Woodhull’s name was placed on the ballot as the nominee of the National Equal Rights Party, a third party she herself had established two years earlier.

Frederick Douglass, former slave and abolitionist, received the party’s nomination for vice-president, though it is believed he never formally accepted it. What an extraordinary, progressive ticket: a woman and a black man! And just think:  black men had only received the right to vote two years before and women still could not cast a ballot!

From the start, however, Woodhull’s candidacy was doomed to failure; her opponents were Ulysses S. Grant, seeking a second term (which he won), and Horace Greeley, well-known publisher of the influential New York Tribune. Woodhull tried her best, but ran out of funds early in the campaign, even though she had become wealthy via the stock market and her weekly newspaper. She was an able campaign organizer, forming “Victoria Leagues” and opening her home for meetings of supporters and potential supporters. She was also a charismatic speaker. However, she was faced with opponents and their followers who were not gentlemen, calling her “witch,” “prostitute,” and other such epithets as they attacked her personally.

Support for her campaign came from trade union members, women suffragists, and socialists, but to no avail. There is no accurate number of votes she received, but it is known that it was very low.  Sadly, on Election Day Victoria was incarcerated in jail for a trumped-up charge of obscenity; her enemies were many and stopped at nothing to defeat her.

Who was Victoria Woodhull?  Born into a dysfunctional, lower-class family in Ohio in 1838, Victoria, who claimed to have been named for Britain’s Queen Victoria, began making money at an early age catering to the national rage for hypnotism, fortune telling, magnetism and spiritualism. Victoria would remain a disciple of these pseudo-sciences for the rest of her life. In fact, many members of her Equal Rights Party were spiritualists as well as free thinkers and reformers.

When Woodhull, her second husband and her two children moved to New York City in 1868, she struck up a friendship with railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt who helped her open a brokerage office in 1870, called Woodhull, Claflin & Company (Claflin was her sister and partner). A fortune was made and with it they were able to found a weekly newspaper, which became indispensable during the campaign. They were the first woman stockbrokers in New York. Victoria was an outspoken advocate of sex education, the eight-hour workday, a graduated income tax, profit sharing, and a number of social welfare programs. All her ideas were controversial and not specially designed to please. In fact, because of her radical ideas she was continually faced with mockery, caricatures, laughter (and worse) by both men and women.

Woodhull was outspoken and militant, traits that a proper nineteenth-century middle class woman should not demonstrate. Controversy surrounded her life and activities, but through it all she held fast to the revolutionary ideas she firmly believed in. Though her nomination did not end in a successful election to the highest office, it may have sent a message to Washington that it was time for women to speak up politically and be heard. We have come a long way since 1872 and let’s hope we will soon see a woman as President.

Marion Sader is a second-year graduate student in the SLC Women’s History program; she can often be seen on campus with her husband Ray, who helps carry her  books to and from the library.

Won’t Somebody Think of the Children?: Sex Scandals in US Politics

Katy Gehred

Women have been actively barred from taking part in elections in America for a very large portion of our country’s history. It took suffragettes almost a century of hard battling to scrape our way up to the vote in 1920. But there is one particularly unimaginative way that women have been active in US politics since the birth of our nation. Sex scandals. The way that sex scandals are handled in US politics says a lot about gender and power in our culture.

Sex scandals are interesting political phenomena. They’re like the Snooki of political news coverage, ubiquitous, and yet never really taken seriously. Even in cases where crimes have been committed (actual illegal crimes not just crimes against morality) a lot of the time they aren’t even prosecuted. Eliot Spitzer violated the Mann Act when he asked that sex worker Ashley Dupre cross state lines to see him while he was in Washington. This made him guilty of a federal crime, and yet he received no legal repercussions [1]. Frequently sex scandals don’t even cause much political backlash. Most senators who are embroiled in sex scandals lose points at the polls, but not enough to undo an incumbency advantage.  And hey, Bill Clinton lied to our faces about Monica Lewinsky and we couldn’t even manage to impeach him.

This isn’t to say that there are no consequences to political sex scandals. Remember Mark Sanford? Back in 2009 there were rumors that he’d be a GOP candidate in this election. Until it came out that instead of “hiking the Appalachian Trail” (still my favorite euphemism for sex ever) he was crying in the arms of his Argentinian mistress. In the flurry of embarrassing press releases that followed, he resigned as Head of the Republican Governors association.  Anthony Weiner, of course, fulfilled the destiny imparted on him by his name by sexting lewd images to a number of young women via Facebook and Twitter. He too, resigned. Herman Cain provided the first juicy scandal of this election when it was released that two female employees of the National Restaurant Association had accused him of sexual harassment. And here we sit, right in the middle of the NObama vs. Mittens showdown, not a Cain in sight. This isn’t France, in the U.S. sex scandals are actually scandalous.

And it’s not as though this is new. Before women got the vote they were still influencing elections and ruining all kinds of men’s lives with their sexy intrigues. (Note: I am fully aware that even before women had the vote they were politically active and influenced elections without using their vaginas as a weapon even once. I just prefer to roll around in the muck with my fellow mudslingers.) Alexander Hamilton caused something of s stir back in 1797 when he admitted to having sex with Maria Reynolds, a poor 23-year-old woman who had come to his door asking for monetary assistance. As Hamilton himself said, “it was quickly apparent that other than pecuniary consolation would be acceptable [2].” How exactly he thought that his particular kind of consolation was going to help her pay her bills I have no idea, but you know, these scandals don’t tend to make a lot of sense. But here’s the thing about this one, Hamilton admitted freely to this seedy sexual affair in order to divert attention away from a financial scandal of which he was being accused. Being guilty of having an affair with a destitute woman 10 years his junior (who was actually being prostituted out by her husband) was less bad in his eyes than being financially corrupt. It certainly didn’t help his political career, but it didn’t stop his face from ending up on the 10-dollar bill either.

Sex Scandals aren’t great, but they certainly aren’t the worst political misstep you can make. Sure, they might destroy someone’s career, and most definitely somebody’s marriage, but they aren’t like, serious business. The concept of the public sphere vs. private sphere (work and politics vs. home and family) keeps men’s lives neatly compartmentalized. General knowledge (and oh how I am loath to quote that dubious source) seems to state that a man can be a total freakin’ player in his personal life and still do a fine job as a leader of our nation. What goes on behind closed doors (or on intimate cell phone pics) is just fluff, and doesn’t have anything to do with the public sphere. From the news sometimes it looks like Washington is a sort of orgy of awkward middle aged men who want to get a little of that rock star lifestyle along with their, you know, well respected positions of actual power and authority

I fully recognize that my position on this issue actually puts me on the same side as Republicans, who face more consequences for their sex scandals than Democrats do. As you might imagine, that’s a rare thing for the co-editor of a women’s history blog (Watch this moment as it shoots past like a falling star). However, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I don’t like it when a politician can’t keep it in his pants. I don’t believe that integrity only matters when it does not involve your penis.  The whole “boys will be boys” attitude that implies that male politicians are obviously going to be unfaithful to their wives, and in fact have a god given right to due to their sexual drive, is a perspective for which I have absolutely no sympathy [3].  Now, do I believe that these men should be forced to parade around the square with a scarlet letter A pinned to their chests whilst I throw rotten fruit at them and shout abuse?  Or get anything like the huge amount of backlash Kristen Stewart has gotten for cheating on RPatz? No, I’m just saying that it will make me less likely to vote for them. And I’m not ashamed of that.

Everybody has an opinion on sex scandals. Politics, for people who are not constantly enmeshed in it, can be confusing and frustrating. As much as the media attempts to simplify issues and politicians water things down for voters, there are some intricacies of foreign policy and economics that are just impossible to encompass in a sound byte.  But everybody understands a sex scandal. As most feminists are well aware, just about everybody has an opinion on gender politics because just about everybody experiences it on a daily basis. I may not quite understand the reasoning behind the drone bombings of the Middle East, but I know that if my boyfriend was cheating on me with somebody younger and hotter I’d be pissed.

Just because everybody can have an opinion on a sex scandal doesn’t mean that sex scandals don’t matter. The line between the public and the private sphere is not actually all that clear, when examined closely. When a politician’s actions actually hurt someone, like cheating on a spouse, or harassing someone, that says something about their character.

And it affects how I vote.

Katy Gehred is a pop-culture obsessed feminist who is too enthusiastic about too many things. Hobbies include co-editing this blog, knitting, smashing the patriarchy with a hammer, and nerdfighting. She is currently working on her master’s degree in Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence College, and if you have any questions at all about Thomas Jefferson, she is the person to contact.

[1] Girard, Stephanie. “It May Be Wrong, But It Is Not a Crime: The Negligible Legal Consequences for the Amoral Sexual Activity of Men in Public Office.” In Sex Scandals and American Politics. Edited by Alison Dagnes. Continuum International Publishing Group: New York. 2011.

[2] Cogan, Jacob Katz. “The Reynolds Affair and the Politics of Character.” Journal of the Early Republic. Vol. 16, Issue 3. 09/01/1996. 390.

[3] Sachleben, Mark. “A Framework for Understanding: Sex Scandals in Comparison.” In Sex Scandals and American Politics. Edited by Alison Dagnes. Continuum International Publishing Group: New York. 2011.

Modern-Day Coverture Still Limiting Women’s Voices

Sian Leach

Under the system of coverture, women were denied a political voice of their own, but as a nation we have come a long way since our founding. While we have moved beyond seeing women as perpetual dependents, we have not moved beyond the idea that women are not capable of making decisions regarding their own bodies.

Coverture came over to the American colonies as part of British common law. Women were considered either “feme soles,” single women, or “feme covert,” married women. These categories separated women by their legal status, giving single women,  access to some of the same rights as men. However, with marriage, women’s civil identity became part of their husband’s.  functioned as “virtual representation,” which according to Joan Gunderson, “assumed a community of interest so that those who could vote had identical interests to those who could not.” Women were denied suffrage, but it was assumed that their husbands and fathers represented their interests for them. The ideology of “virtual representation” was flawed, and was part of what lead to the American Revolution.

Women now have the right to vote, but white men like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are making it clear that they do not think women are capable of making their own decisions about their bodies.  We may have moved passed the official structure of coverture, but the current debates on women’s access to healthcare suggests that women’s suffrage has not fully eliminated the idea that men can make decisions for women, and that these decisions are in the best interest of women. Mitt Romney has said that he would end funding for Planned Parenthood and eliminate contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act if he is elected. And when asked where women should go for healthcare instead, he casually answered that they can go anywhere they want.

Without access to Planned Parenthood, many women, especially low-income women, have no other options for healthcare access. Mitt Romney and other Republican politicians imply that women who choose abortion are not actually capable of making that decision without the guidance of male politicians who decide what circumstances are “legitimate” reasons for abortions. By focusing the discussion on women who choose abortion for medical reasons, rape, or incest, they marginalize all women’s choices. Women have had the right to vote for over 90 years, isn’t it time for men like Mitt Romney to realize that women are capable of making decisions about their own bodies?

For more information about the politicization of women in the Revolutionary period and Early Republic and coverture see: Linda Kerber’s Women of the Republic and Rosemarie Zagarri’s Revolutionary Backlash.

Sian Leach is a second year Women’s History student at Sarah Lawrence College, with research interests on the Revolutionary period and Early Republic. Hobbies include Joss Whedon shows, vegetarian cooking, and playing with her two kittens.

Voter ID Laws target women, transgender persons

Emilie Egger

This November, several states will implement their new Voter Identification laws, many of which require the presentation of a valid photo ID at the time of casting the ballot. These laws were ostensibly designed to eliminate voter fraud at the polls; however, instead of actually preventing voter fraud (of which there appears to be very little, according to a Brennan Center for Justice Report), these laws will prevent up to 5 million registered voters from casting their ballots, through photo-ID, citizenship, and registration restrictions.These laws specifically target low-income, minority, women, and transgender voters.

The new voter ID laws are almost completely supported by Republicans. Why would the Republican party want to suppress female voter turnout? Because women are more likely than men to vote and are more likely to vote Democratic. Recent research from the Pew Hispanic Center showed that women outnumbered men at the polls during the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections. This is especially true of black women, who were the had the highest voter turnout of any demographic in 2008, with almost 69 percent. Black women overwhelmingly supported Obama in that election, and they have consistently been the Democratic Party’s most consistent voting bloc. Furthermore, Barack Obama leads in the latest polls among all women nationwide–in many states by 10 to 25 points.

Here’s how voter identification laws could keep women and transgender people from casting their votes:

The biggest risk for women being turned away from the polls is because of a recent name change. The Brennan Center reports that American women change their surnames in about 90 percent of marriages and divorces. These women often have to wait several weeks or months to receive a form of identification with their corresponding new last name. Previously, an older ID card would have sufficed at the polls, but now these women could find themselves unable to vote. Instead, they will be asked to fill out a separate ballot and provide a court-issued proof of their marriage or divorce, which takes time and money to obtain. According to the Brennan Center, only 48 percent of American women have a birth certificate with their current name. The American Prospect reports that only  66 percent of American women possess current legal identification with their current last name, so this could affect millions of voters.

Getting to the polls is already difficult enough for women, especially for those with children, work, and who do not drive. Requiring an extra trip to the courthouse to obtain a legal document, not to mention the new provisions outlawing same-day voter registration, could prevent many women from being able to complete the voting process.

Transgender voters, who are also more likely to vote for Democrats, face a difficult fight as well. The Williams Institute, an LGBT think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles law school, estimates that 25,000 transgender voters will be disenfranchised this year, as 41 percent do not have updated driver’s licenses and 74 percent do not have a passport. Although the burden of obtaining a state-issued ID is costly and time-consuming for all those affected by voter ID laws, transgender voters face even more obstacles; in some cases they will have to present proof of their gender change in order to receive a new ID card, which typically requires gender-reassignment surgeries costing between $40 and 50,000.The burden increases for transgender people of color; blacks and Native Americans are even less likely than white transgender people to have an updated gender on their driver’s licenses.

The states that have legislated these new rules have a total of 171 electoral votes. Voter-ID law proponents know that suppressing women and other minorities could drastically affect the election.

In fact, many Republicans are banking on it. On June 23, Pennsylvania State House Leader Mike Turzai expressed confidence in the laws at a Republican State Committee meeting.“Voter ID…is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania,” he said.


For complete voting-identification laws, visit the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Emilie Egger is a first-year student in Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence College.