What do women want? It's a question often asked and more often gotten wrong.
At a recent Centennial Institute gubernatorial debate focused on Women and Colorado's Future, four women challenged Republican candidates Bob Beauprez, Scott Gessler and Mike Kopp to respond to issues important to us and to the women in the audience.
The range of topics was broad. Debbie Brown asked about energy development, an issue of obvious importance to a mother of three who pays the electric bill. Helen Raleigh, a businesswoman, inquired how candidates would change Colorado's reputation for being less than business friendly.
Kenzie Hughes, a recent college graduate and former state Senate intern, wondered how the candidates would work with the opposition to advance their priorities. I asked how the candidates would appeal to the hearts and minds of women. As a single woman, I find the left's relentless focus on other female parts insulting.
We also selected questions from the audience about education reform, protecting kids from marijuana, and improving job growth, to name a few.
That the debate did not mention birth control, abortion, domestic violence, or discrimination was met by incredulity by at least one man in the audience who took time to write about it. Why didn't we, the panel, focus on his "women's issues?"
For starters, birth control is legal and widely available. No candidate or politician has to the power to make it illegal. And no one wants to. Abortion is also legal and frankly, women do not agree on the subject. According to a 2013 Gallup poll, 57 percent of women believe abortion should be illegal or legal only in a few circumstances while 40 percent want few or no restrictions on abortion (results were nearly identical for male respondents). Still, there is little a state governor can do about the issue one way or the other. Likewise, there are already laws on the books regarding domestic violence and gender discrimination.
Both are illegal.
These issues are not unimportant but they are largely irrelevant to the upcoming election. Moreover, to suggest that women care mainly about such issues is demeaning. Women are students, businesswomen, employees, self-employed, retired, moms, grandmas, wives, singles, volunteers, friends, outdoorswomen, leaders, consumers, learners, teachers, caregivers, dreamers, and achievers. All issues are women's issues.
Imagine if a Men and Colorado's Future gubernatorial debate focused exclusively on government funding for prostate research, male auto insurance rates, excise taxes on beer and the availability of power tools. Such stereotyping wouldn't happen to men, and shouldn't happen to women.
Women are not a monolithic block, as Secretary of State Gessler pointed out in the debate, and should not be treated as one. In the last election — and in all but one election since 1980 — more married women voted for the Republican presidential nominee while a greater percentage of single women (and single men) voted for President Obama. In voting preferences, age matters, as do income, education, religiosity, ethnicity and geography.
Washington Post exit polling from 2012 on how the vote has shifted found virtually no gender gap in Colorado and large gaps in other swing states. Clearly, other demographic characteristics are better predictors of political preference than our double X chromosomes.
Women are individuals. The question of what women want from our candidates and elected officials does not have an answer, but answers. The one thing we do have in common, however, is that we'd like a little respect.
Sexist stereotypes in elections should become a thing of the past.
Reprinted from the 6/4/14 Denver Post