Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mid-terms: Mom read-out

Following up on my Falling-Mama Grizzlies blogpost, here’s a quick bit of post-match analysis...
Female political representation has taken a pretty bad knock this election.  In line with predictions I reported in my earlier post, all the fanfare around women candidates has amounted to little. Female Republican wins have been off-set by Democrat losses overall and the number of women in Congress is down by three - the first decline in 30 years according to an NPR report.   
Regardless, it might be argued that the whole ‘its cool to be a mom’ tone that was present throughout the campaign has been in of itself a victory of sorts for gender equity.  In last week’s New York Times supplement Judith Warner described the ‘new momism’: ‘being a mom is now frequently spun as a prime career asset... “Mom” in both Democrat and Republican speak is political shorthand now for good common sense and authenticity, an antidote to the effete sensibilities of the so-called Washington elite’.  
But the problem with seeing this election as a success for women even in these terms is that a lot of the candidates who became most associated with the ‘mom’ brand faired particularly badly. The electorate apparently didn't buy the whole authenticity, common sense thing. My favourite young-blood Democrat mom Krystal Ball suffered a harsh defeat in Virginia’s 1st District.  And from the twenty or so Mama Grizzly candidates Palin endorsed, first time women won governorships in three states but the most high profile candidates (Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell...) floundered.  Terms such as; shrill, rational, stupid have increasingly been used to describe these women. Deserved or not, this is far from new momism - negative maternal stereotypes have been reinforced. 
One final observation: the greatest impact of this election on moms, and on all of us, will be through policies taken forward - yet the precise shape of those policies is still largely unknown. Much of the uncertainty is down to split party control. Healthcare reform is unlikely to be repealed though is sure to be compromised, but nobody knows by how much. Gridlock is expected on whole range of tax and spending issues - helpful explanation here from the Brookings Institute.  All this has been heavily reported, yet the unpredictability is not merely down to the result..
The Republicans, whilst repeatedly calling for cuts, have been very elusive about where exactly they’d like to see the axe fall.  When challenged some murmur 'discretionary spending' whilst others, more bold, say 'federal entitlements'.  Stunningly, no-one has managed to pin them down about whether its education, social security, defence or what.  There was a similar scenario in the run-up to the UK election but ultimately politicians were forced to get into far greater detail so that people knew what they were voting for.  The fact that this hasn't happened in the US suggests to me something about how the negative (masculine?) style of campaigning which currently prevails in American politics can obscure important democratic principles.

1 comment:

  1. 'Momism' should not just be a label of lifestyle choice. It ought to be a policy lever to ensure that women and children are taken into account when it comes to evidence based policy making.