Since the early primaries began for the 2018 midterm elections, it’s been a year of firsts and to many, a year of the woman. In the midst of this election, the first significant national vote since the election of Donald Trump, Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination and confirmation battle only amped up the existing pressure on questions of gender, power, women’s health and women in elected office.
CNN Opinion asked thinkers to weigh in on 2018 as a Year of the Woman. The views expressed here are solely theirs.
Laura Coates: The only thing coming to save us is a ballot in shining armor
One can be heard without being listened to. Women voters have long felt the impact of this nuance, and the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing exemplified it. Both sides of the political aisle preached that women, particularly women alleging sexual misconduct, should be heard. Cries for due process, notice of the charges against someone accused and meaningful opportunity to be heard echoed throughout both chambers of Congress and reverberated throughout the nation. The actual mechanisms to facilitate sound were provided: a microphone, a camera, and a platform. The intangible mechanisms of listening, however, were regrettably absent. Women noticed.
Hearing is passive and non-purposeful. Listening is an action. Women voters should and are demanding more than patronizing passivity. As was the case in the year following Anita Hill’s testimony more than a quarter century ago, women are keenly aware (perhaps now more than ever) that they cannot afford to wait for receptive ears. Women are prepared and capable of voting for (or being elected by) those whose policies in practice reflect our collective values, strengths, empathy, intellect, and power.
The Venus symbol for women is thought to represent a bronze mirror atop a handle. For at least the past two years, women have held a mirror up to America and recoiled at its reflection. The democratic fairy tale doesn’t exist. The only thing coming to save us is a ballot in shining armor. When we raise our voices on Election Day to ask the proverbial “Mirror Mirror on the wall, who’s the right candidate to listen to us all?” - - a woman will respond.
Laura Coates is a CNN legal analyst. She is a former assistant US attorney for the District of Columbia and trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. She is the host of “The Laura Coates Show” on SiriusXM. Follow her @thelauracoates.
Helen Alvaré : A ‘Year of the Woman’ won’t be enough
It’s more than a little difficult to get excited about this so-called “Year of the Woman” in politics. While I would love to believe that a larger female share of federal lawmakers will mean a better life for US women, I don’t have the evidence to support this, especially considering women’s record since the last year of the woman, 1992.
I think this is because a lot of female politicians – like a lot of male politicians – mistake legalized abortion or free contraception for the sum of “feminism,” while failing to solve the problems women suffer most.
Women are pro-life and pro-choice, while indisputably in serious need of other kinds of laws and policies. Women suffer more poverty than men and need state action prioritizing the poor. Women practice religion more than men, being more likely to pray daily, attend services weekly, and report that God is very important in their lives. Women are more likely than men to report that they would like to have more flexible work arrangements and paid family leave to care for loved ones.
To date, however, both female and male politicians spend most of their time attending to middle-class and wealthier Americans. And I can’t point to sustained, bold action on the part of female representatives on religious freedom or paid or flexible leave.
I haven’t given up hope that elected women will bring women’s needs to the table more forcefully. I am only saying that their sex doesn’t guarantee it, and that female citizens will not be absolved of their duty to agitate for what women need most.
Helen Alvaré is a professor of law at George Mason University who has published widely on issues of marriage, family, parenting and First Amendment religion clauses. Her recent book with Cambridge University Press is about putting children’s interests first in US family law.
Karine Jean-Pierre: If 1992 was Year of the Woman, 2018 must be Year of Accountability
The year 1992 was the first election year to be proclaimed the “Year of the Woman.” It was the year after the Anita Hill hearings – and the year when an unprecedented number of women ran for office. Illinois’ Carol Moseley-Braun won her race, becoming the first black woman ever elected to the Senate. Along with her, a wave of women took political office.
Now, in 2018, it’s been 26 years since the “Year of the Woman” – and yet, we still live in a country where women are treated as lesser, where medicine is designed often without women in mind, where maternal mortality rates are far higher than those of our peer countries. And where a man credibly accused of sexual assault and harassment can still be confirmed to the US Supreme Court.
In 2018, another “Year of the Woman” won’t be enough. It isn’t enough to elect women – though we urgently should do that. And it isn’t enough to believe women like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford if you still choose to confirm her alleged attacker to the Supreme Court.
So if 1992 was the “Year of the Woman”, then 2018 must be the “Year of Accountability.” And in the “Year of Accountability”, we must demand accountability from everyone who fails to support women and our needs, no matter their race, gender, or political party.
We will demand accountability from the 45 men who voted for Brett Kavanaugh, as well as Susan Collins and the four other Republican women in the Senate who joined her.
We will demand accountability from the 53% of white women who voted for Donald Trump.
We will demand accountability from every member of Congress and local government who fails to adequately address the maternal health crisis that disproportionately affects black women.
In 1992, the “Year of the Woman” was an important and consequential feat, bringing our country’s electoral representation closer to our demographics. But we’ve learned from time and experience, and from our greatest teachers, that simply supporting women isn’t enough. In 2018, women need more than just support and votes. We need full accountability.
Karine Jean-Pierre is the senior adviser and national spokeswoman for MoveOn. She is also a lecturer in international and public affairs at Columbia University.
Sally Kohn: Win or lose, women are changing politics, permanently
No matter what happens on Tuesday, the record number of women running for election this year is undoubtedly going to change politics permanently, for the better. But what’s also significant is that many of the women running aren’t conventional candidates. These aren’t elite career politicians making their run at the next rung of politics. They’re single moms and school teachers and public interest lawyers who want to make a difference for their communities and their countries.
Take Kara Eastman, a Democrat running in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District. Raised by a single mom, Eastman started the Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance to ensure that children have access to homes free of lead and other environmental hazards. And she was on the board of her region’s community college. She’s running against an incumbent Republican who has vowed to gut the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Labor.
Or consider Katie Porter, a Democrat running for California’s 45th Congressional District. Porter has spent her career as a consumer protection attorney going after big banks financial institutions that cheat consumers. She teaches consumer law and was appointed a few years ago by then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris to be the state’s watchdog against big banks. Porter is running against a Republican incumbent who was an investment banker until entering politics 22 years ago.
A community-based environmental activist challenging an anti-EPA climate-change denier and a banking consumer watchdog challenging a big-bank friendly career politician. These challengers aren’t just changing politics because they’re women. They’re changing the game with their range of expertise and experience they bring to the table as candidates who represent real people and their concerns, not just special interest elites. Politics will hopefully never be the same.
Sally Kohn is a CNN political commentator and author of the book, “The Opposite of Hate.”
Van Jones: Women of color are starting to get the respect that they deserve
A scandal-tarred, extremist Republican. Accusations of sexual misconduct. A southern state where Democrats rarely compete. Attempts to suppress the black vote. A multi-racial, populist coalition putting in the work.
That was the scene in December 2017, when Doug Jones upset Roy Moore in a special election for Alabama’s Senate seat.
Now, with 2018 tagged as a successor to 1992’s “Year of the woman,” that Alabama contest deserves a second look. In the wake of Jones’ surprise victory, it quickly became clear who was responsible for it: black women. Black women put in the long hard volunteer hours. Black women got their families, friends, neighbors and churches to the polls. Black women voted 98% for Doug Jones.
It is really no surprise. Black women have been the backbone of the Democratic Party for decades. All that has changed is that women of color are starting to get the credit they deserve.
They are also in leadership roles. That is an overdue and welcome development. From Ayanna Pressley in Massachusetts to Ilhan Omar in Minnesota to Stacey Abrams’ historic bid for governor in Georgia, black women are not just singing in the choir but preaching from the pulpit.
That fact is even more true when you pull back the lens and look at the waves of all women of color – Native American, Palestinian, Latina, more than I can mention – determined to make history in November. In the GOP stronghold of Idaho, a young Democrat named Paulette Jordan could become the first-ever Native American governor.
With all the attention on the new “Year of the woman,” I hope we do not lose sight of the beautiful rainbow of women of color who are leading the charge and organizing behind the scenes. Whether or not a blue wave materializes, their voices and concerns deserve to be at the center of conversation in 2019 and beyond.
Carrie Sheffield: Painting Republicans as anti-woman is backfiring
Women are the backbone of American democracy. We made up 55% (far greater than men’s 45%) of the 2016 electorate, and we are an undeniable force for social change. Women are running for office in record numbers this year, and when the Election Day dust settles, I’d wager we’ll be positioned for historic impact on Capitol Hill and legislatures nationwide.
In 2014, when Democrats tried to project a phony “War On Women” mantra against Republicans, accusing them of holding women back, I found it ironic that on Election Night 2014, it was the first female combat veteran to be elected to the Senate – Republican Joni Ernst – whose victory tipped the balance of the Senate into Republican hands. Ernst is a fighter for women – and for all people, both at home and overseas.
We’re seeing Democrats reaching for this familiar but tired tactic in 2018, and I believe we’ll see a similar outcome to 2014. America’s women are smarter than to fall for a manufactured “anti-woman” narrative against Republicans, who are economically empowering America’s middle class, both men and women. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, annualized, median weekly take-home pay was just $43,368 at Q3 in 2016, compared to $46,436 at Q3 in 2018. This is an increase of $3,068, which is a substantial raise of 7%. The weekly pay increase was roughly the same for women and men.
The polling is mixed among GOP women about Judge Kavanaugh in the wake of the Christine Blasey Ford hearings, but I personally was incredibly motivated to speak out about the unfair way that Democrats exploited the #MeToo movement for political points. I know many other conservative women who feel the same way. Democrats’ rejection of due process for Kavanaugh is backfiring – it’s motivating conservatives to turn any Blue Wave into a Blue Trickle.
Carrie Sheffield, a conservative commentator, is National Editor for Accuracy in Media, a citizens’ media watchdog whose mission is to promote accuracy, fairness and balance in news reporting.
Tami Sawyer: Stacey Abrams is a game-changer for women like me
Stacey Abrams is on the cusp of breaking one of the tallest glass ceilings in our country. Should her campaign to be governor of Georgia prove successful on November 6, she will be the first black woman governor in the United States. The possibility of this historic moment is breathtaking for all of us, but it is a particular game-changer for women like me, who grew up under a monolithic prescription for success.
As a girl and later as a woman, I was often told to wait until I was married or to go make more money or to lose weight. When I was in high school in the late 90s, my mom used to have “the talk” with me. “Tam, you’re a black woman, you have to work extra hard, dress impeccably, and be above reproach.”
Back then, I thought success included being a certain dress size, wearing your hair straight and long, getting married and having children. When Hollywood cast black actresses as successful working women, they looked like Robin Givens. I spent a ridiculous amount of money to add bundles of hair to my head. I tried every fad diet. When I got a little older, my heart sank with every friend’s engagement and birth announcement that came my way. Even as I achieved recognition for my community and professional work, there were times that I still felt unfulfilled because I didn’t look like Gabrielle Union in “Two Can Play That Game” nor have a husband and children like Rainbow on “Blackish.”
Last fall, I was scrolling through Facebook when a video popped on my timeline. The video introduced me to Stacey Abrams: a Yale law school graduate, former deputy city attorney of Atlanta and then-Minority Leader of the Georgia House of Representatives. I was in awe as I watched, but not because of her enormous levels of success, but because Stacey Abrams looked like me. She wore her hair in a short natural style and she had curves and cushions like many Southern girls. And also like me, she was not married, had no children, and had student debt.
At the time, I was weighing the possibility of running for office in my hometown of Memphis for a second time. Stacey Abrams was a needed affirmation that my body type, my hair, my finances nor my marital status discounted my potential to lead or make change.
Stacey Abrams empowered me to see myself and my future through a different lens. I went on to run for office with renewed confidence. I won my election for County Commissioner in August of this year and I’ve never been prouder to stand tall and lead as a black woman than I am in this moment in time because of the rise of women like Stacey. On November 6th, I hope Stacey will be victorious and that her victory is even sweeter knowing she has broken the mold of success.
Tami Sawyer is a commissioner on the Shelby County Commission in Memphis and a social justice advocate.
Kurt Bardella: Weinstein didn’t spark this movement, Donald Trump did
In many ways, I think the fact that Donald Trump, an accused serial sexual harasser, got away with his abhorrent conduct and rhetoric to win the presidency helped ignite the #MeToo #TimesUp movement. The power dynamics used against women were no longer restricted to the shadows. In his words and actions, Trump put this behavior front and center.
It became clear to me things would be different from now on when the Women’s March drew three times the turnout that Trump’s inauguration did. This was a turning point. Passive resistance was not an option. The visual of half-a-million Americans uniting to support the empowerment of women would inspire a higher level of participation in the political process that is unprecedented and historic.
The events of the past few weeks have only fanned the flames of the women’s movement in this country. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford facing a Senate Republican Judiciary Committee that was made up of all white men. Trump labeling multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh a “hoax.” Trump attacking Stormy Daniels by calling her “horseface.” Trump attacking multiple female journalists accusing one of “not thinking” and telling CNN’s Kaitlan Collins “don’t do that” when she asked him a question.
The coming November midterms amount to a reckoning against all the men in Congress who have enabled Trump to continue degrading women and protecting those who oppress them. Make no mistake about it, this isn’t the culmination of this movement, it’s just the beginning of a process that will permanently change the political dynamics in this country.
Kurt Bardella is the former spokesperson for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and for U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) who left the Republican Party last year to join the Democratic Party. Follow him on Twitter: @kurtbardella.
Dawn Laguens: It’s not just about women candidates, it’s about the women organizers, activists, donors and voters
Since January 21, 2017, we knew this day was coming. More than 4 million people around the world joined the Women’s March. In the last two years, according to the Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation, 1 in 5 Americans have marched or protested. The number one issue motivating them is women’s rights. The #MeToo movement has swept our culture, bringing stories of sexual assault and harassment out of the shadows.
Women’s marches and protests have not stopped the Trump administration from following through with his threats to women’s rights. He tried (and repeatedly failed) to overturn the Affordable Care Act and block patients from coming to Planned Parenthood for care with defunding efforts. He’s since proposed a gag rule to prevent doctors and nurses who participate in the nation’s family planning program from telling patients all their options when it comes to pregnancy. And he’s appointed two blatantly anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court, one despite accusations of sexual assault and a national outcry against the nomination.
President Donald Trump and his allies in Congress have ignored women’s outrage at every turn, attacking our rights and our ability to make our own decisions about our bodies and futures.
During the last “Year of the Woman” election, the 1992 midterms, a record four women were elected to the US Senate, and a record 24 to the House. It was an important moment. But as then-Sen. Barbara Mikulski said, “Calling 1992 the Year of the Woman makes it sound like the Year of the Caribou or the Year of the Asparagus. We’re not a fad, a fancy, or a year.”
This year, with our health and lives on the line, we need more than a moment. So we’ve built a movement. Planned Parenthood Action Fund is running its largest-ever midterm effort to turn out voters who believe in reproductive health and rights. November 6, 2018 will not just usher in “The Year of the Woman.” It will mark a shift in who holds political power in this country. Not only because a record number of women are running for office, but also because the vast majority of organizers, activists, donors, and voters for progressive candidates are women. And together, these women aren’t giving up or backing down.
Dawn Laguens is the executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
Jeff Yang: 2018 is the year of the women, plural
I think the biggest difference between this year and 1992’s “Year of the Woman” (and – as Slate’s Lila Thulin has pointed out – the many years that have been dubbed “Year of the Woman” before and since) is the breadth of diversity among the candidates. Among the female candidates running serious races with real chance of winning are out lesbians and bisexual and transgender individuals. There are an unprecedented number of female military veterans and there are disabled woman candidates.
And where race and ethnicity are concerned, the number of nonwhite women running for office – black, Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern and Native American – has outstripped any prior electoral field. In short, while prior years might have deserved the designation “Year of the Woman,” in 2018 we are finally seeing the “Year of the Women” – a plural, inclusive and intersectional representation that’s poised to shatter our preexisting stereotypes of female leadership.
Jeff Yang is a frequent contributor to CNN Opinion, a featured writer for Quartz and other publications, and the co-host of the podcast “They Call Us Bruce.” He co-wrote Jackie Chan’s best-selling autobiography, “I Am Jackie Chan,” and is the editor of three graphic novels: “Secret Identities,” “Shattered” and the forthcoming “New Frontiers.”
Kristin Kanthak: In 2018, it’s all about millennial women
Part of the reason why incumbents in Congress nearly always win reelection is that really good candidates almost never run against them. But what if a new type of candidate started running, one who is motivated not by getting to win public office itself, but by having the opportunity to help their communities? These new candidates, according to a study in “Political Psychology,” are more likely to be women.
It’s no surprise that the GOP is on a collision course with demographics as their party ages. Millennials prefer the Democratic Party by nearly 60%, but as the youngest generation in the electorate, they are also the least likely to vote. Importantly, though, the question of how long the Republicans are safe remains almost entirely up to one group: Millennial women, 70% of whom identify most closely with the Democratic Party and who are most enthusiastic about voting in the upcoming midterm elections.
Indeed, millennial women have likely already changed the political landscape with the record-breaking surge of women candidates running for office, not only because they are a different gender of candidate, but they may be a different type of candidate altogether.
Democrat Joe Crowley is perhaps the best-known of the 2018 class of heretofore-entrenched incumbents. He became a Congressman when his boss, the previous incumbent, hand-picked him in 1998. With a loss being inevitable, no high-quality candidates stepped forward until Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a political activist who had previously not considered running for office, decided “on a lark” to run because she wanted to affect change. She did not wait for the most strategic time to run. She just ran. And she defeated him soundly.
Republicans may also be robbing future turnout to pay for current turnout. Older women are much more supportive of #metoo than are older men, but no such gender gap exists for younger people. Being on the “wrong” side of #metoo may hurt the Republicans not only with women in the future, but with men, too.
The only question is how long it will take for millennials to start making their political mark. If some projections are correct and millennials vote in record numbers in this election, the future is already here.
Kristin Kanthak is an associate professor in the University of Pittsburgh’s political science department. She is co-editor of the State Politics and Policy Quarterly, a political science journal focusing on state politics.
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner: The patriarchy fought back this year, but we’re still strong
2018 has been a year when more women have recognized how intertwined gender, economic, and racial justice are – that one doesn’t happen without the others, so we must unite to rise together. It’s also been a year of tremendous backlash.
From Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation, to rolling back protections for women’s healthcare provided by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and even to a man on a plane groping a woman and trying to excuse his behavior to officers with, “the president of the United States says it’s OK to grab women by their private parts”; the backlash has been strong and ubiquitous.
To say the “patriarchy” has fought back from a place of fear is an understatement.
Ironically, the strength of that backlash is one of the best measures of the power of these intersecting concerns can have when women of different racial, regional, and economic backgrounds – and their allies – unite to rise together. That backlash only strengthens our resolve. Women are not giving up. 2018 is the year that the “Decade of Women” begins.
In our last midterm election, only 36% of eligible voters bothered to vote. This year, it’s time to use the election as a launching point into a new era when having this many women on the ballot and winning primaries and elections is commonplace, not cause to deem it a “Year of the Woman.” That starts by making sure all our friends, family, and neighbors vote along with us, next Tuesday and in every election.
Women hold the hope, the dreams, the joy, and also the rage, as well as the will and the strength to build a nation where everyone can thrive. We are half our population and we brought the other half into the world. Together we are the loud, visible, and necessary force our nation needs right now.
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner is executive director and co-founder of MomsRising.org, a nonprofit national organization that supports policies to improve family economic security. She is the author of the recently released book, “Keep Marching: How Every Woman Can Take Action and Change Our World.”