When Obama won re-election, the media story went that “women voters” rejected Romney because of his stance on reproductive rights*. This framing is not a false claim in itself; women as a group really were more likely to vote for Obama than for Romney (55% and 44% respectively). And since many sites that present demographic stats on such elections are doing so by sorting people into single-demographic-marker categories**, that tends to look like the entirety of the story. But it isn’t. When you take apart these large demographic lumps, as CNN did here, it becomes obvious that “women voters” didn’t vote as a block at all. Only 42% of white women voted for Obama, while 96% of black women and 76% of Latina voters did; they’re the ones who won the “women vote” for Obama***
Why am I bringing this up now, a year after the presidential election?
Because the same narrative about “women voters” is being dragged out to explain the Virginia Governor race which Ken Cuccinelli just lost and in which according to the exit polls(pdf) barely over half the women voted for the Democrat in the race. Such articles were being written before the race (and Rachel Maddow talked about the gender gap as well), but the election results show a much smaller gap than had been predicted. And yet, despite that tiny number, people are writing articles again about how “women” elected the Democratic candidate****. Granted, they’re a bit more nuanced this time than during the presidential race, actually looking a bit deeper at the demographics; but the overall narrative and the headlines stay the same. Even though white women, again, voted for the Republican candidate (54%), while only 38% of them voted for the Democrat.
What bothers me about the narrative of “Women” deciding these elections is not that they’re not strictly speaking true; statistically they’re true but incomplete. What bothers me is that the narrative exemplified in these articles then gets picked up by individual white women as well as organizations with few minority women as a story about a collective “us” that voted for Democrats (or against Republicans) that completely erases the regressiveness of the average white woman voter as well as the heavy lifting done by progressive minority women; a heavy lifting done in the face of ongoing voter suppression, to boot. This appropriation of positive actions is in many ways the twin of the appropriation of violence statistics in which a too large demographic “we” is made out to be victims of violence, when most of the incidences come from oppressed groups within that huge demographic but they are used as talking points to promote the agenda of the (relatively) dominant groups within it.
Not only is this erasure and appropriation rather disgusting in itself, it will also assure a complete lack of self-reflection, a lack of trying to figure out how to stop the white, wealthier, and/or married women from voting against the interests of all other women, and to some degree even against their own. There will be too little analysis of race and class, even though they are so eminently relevant to why a particular group of women keeps on voting for the most toxic candidates available.
***and by the way, the same thing was true for the “youth vote”, since only 44% of white 20-somethings voted for Obama.