By Susan Rose
Special to Calbuzz
Gender balance in public office is a long-sought goal of the women’s movement. What is politically crucial for feminists, however, is not simply electing equal numbers of women and men to office, but electing women and men who will further a feminist agenda.
While the mainstream media spew coverage about the success of Republican women candidates in last week’s primaries — including Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina in California, Nikki Haley in South Carolina and Sharron Angle in Nevada — the plain fact is that there was an utter lack of focus on feminist issues in these races.
Despite rhetorical declarations about “mama grizzly” feminism by Sarah Palin, none of these women has actively worked for women’s rights or advocated for social and political equality of the sexes. They are not your mother’s feminists, nor your grandmother’s suffragists; they are conservative Republicans following the party line.
The California Republican party’s nomination of Whitman for governor and Fiorina for Senate, the first time the state GOP has ever selected a woman for either office, is historic, to be sure. But will they be voices for women in the general election?
It is instructive to note that the day after their victories, Whitman and Fiorina posed together in a politically crafted tableau, captured in the June 10th LA Times front page photo of the two “united in victory.” The image seemed clearly intended to recall the energy and enthusiasm of 1992’s “Year of the Woman,” when Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein made history as the state’s first female U.S. Senators.
But a review of the platforms of Whitman and Fiorina, as presented on their web sites, shows no policy statements specific to women’s issues or language aimed at reaching out to women: Where do they stand on childcare, violence against women, economic justice, sex and race discrimination, to name a few of the social and political concerns of women? As a billionaire and a multi-millionaire, respectively, how much do they care about such issues, or are they even aware of them? Apparently not, from the evidence to date.
On the threshold feminist issue of reproductive rights, Whitman declares herself pro-choice but with so many qualifiers that Planned Parenthood’s California political action committee opposes her candidacy. In “The Truth About Meg Whitman,” PPAC notes that she does not support a minor’s right to access abortion services nor funding for family planning services.
Fiorina is adamant in her opposition to abortion rights and defines herself as pro-life. She is endorsed by the National Right to Life Committee and the California Pro-Life Council. [Editor's note: Calbuzz has already called attention to Fiorina's statement cited in the New Yorker: “I absolutely would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade if the opportunity presented itself.” ]
With three of the four top candidates in the general election being women, will we see a gender focus in the general election? How much will the women’s vote count in November? And who will win it?
Attorney General Jerry Brown and Senator Barbara Boxer, two longtime Democratic elected officeholders, both have long histories in California of supporting progressive issues and feminist goals. Each has a legislative track record. Boxer has been a passionate voice for pro-choice issues and Brown has a strong record of including women and minorities in his administrations.
They will be challenged by two female wealthy former CEOs with corporate experience, huge resources and no record of commitment to issues affecting women. Can these GOP women convince women voters they will do a better job in Sacramento and Washington?
In the world according to Sarah Palin, feminism can be defined by a working mother who is running for office. But these female candidates are not feminist advocates. Their platforms reflect no commitment to the advancement of women.
Gender balance is about having a voice inside the halls of government. If Whitman and Fiorina should win, they will not make women’s issues a priority. It will be a big loss for women and years before we can regain those voices.
Once again California will be a test case for the nation.
Susan Rose is a former Santa Barbara County Supervisor and served as Executive Director of the Los Angeles City Commission on the Status of Women. She was a founding member of the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee, an organization dedicated to helping women achieve elected and appointive office.
*An earlier version of this post included a summary of Susan Rose’s bio that included an out-of-date description of her connection to California Women Lead.