Last night, author Martha Burk spoke at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in downtown Grand Rapids. Burk–who received much notoriety in the fight to open the Augusta National Gulf Club to women in 2003–delivered a lecture on the 2008 elections and the women’s vote. While the talk hit on some important themes–particularly the cost of the Iraq War as it relates to funding for domestic programs–much of the talk was vague largely missed its goal of convincing those who consider themselves feminists, people of conscience, or supporters of social justice to vote.
Burk began by sharing that while the anti-suffragists campaigned against giving women the right to vote by saying that they would either vote how their husbands do or would take over the world, women really did not vote in great numbers until 1980. That year Republican Ronald Reagan ran on an anti-Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and anti-abortion platform, both of which drove women to the polls. That year a “gender gap” emerged in which women voted dramatically differently then men. Since that year, women have voted in high numbers in every election.
Her insights on what are important issues for women–most based on poll data obtained while working on her new book Your Money and Your Life–were interesting. She said that the economy is a major issue for women right now, although women tend to see it more personally and are concerned more about if they are going to lose their job than the stock market. She said that women also oppose the Iraq War as many women make the connection between spending on the war and cuts in Medicare, childcare programs, and other domestic programs–many of which poor women rely on. She returned to this theme later saying that spending on the war is a major reason why the United States does not have paid family medical leave, healthcare, or federal childcare programs.
Burk said that this election women’s issues are not getting a lot of coverage. Instead, there is a focus on side issues that she called “false prophets.” These include issues related to “God, Guns, and Gays.” She said that they are popular for politicians who do not want to talk about serious issues. She stressed the importance of really looking into what candidates are saying because we are “getting so much crap” through the media. She also chided the media for focusing on issues that were not popular with voters–such as immigration–during the primaries.
Despite some interesting insights, Burk did not provide much substance. She said relatively little about where the two major party candidates stood on women’s issues, mentioning only that Obama supports stronger legislation in favor of pay equity while McCain thinks the market should decide. The talk certainly could have benefited from a detailed exploration of McCain and Obama’s positions on a variety of issues. She also completely ignored third party candidates including Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney and her vice presidential candidate Rosa Clemente, who are the first all women of color ticket. She also repeatedly implored the audience to “ask candidates hard questions” about where they stand, but she seemed to ignore the fact that presidential candidates are inherently inaccessible and its difficult to ask them. Moreover, at one point she spoke about having to sift through several pages on a candidate’s website to find some mention of women, a fact which suggests the two major party candidates don’t see them as much of a priority.
Burk concluded by telling the audience that this country has been through a lot of “majorities”–the Moral Majority, the Green Majority, and the Silent Majority–but that there is one majority that has been ignored: women. She said that women have the power to control in any election if they vote for their interests as a group.