Much has been written recently on the millions of single women in the US who sat out the last presidential elections in 2000, and who look unlikely to be breaking any nails over voting machines this coming November, either. So far, though, neither the incumbent Republican president (sic) or his rival, the presumptive Democratic nominee, have shown much interest in winning the lonely hearts and minds of these approximately 38 million political wallflowers.
In what is expected to be a tightly contested race, these untapped “swingle” voters could determine the outcome of the election, yet Bush and Kerry seem as unenamoured with this voting bloc as these women are to the candidates themselves. To give apathy its due, “swingle” voters looking for the qualities of a suitor among the candidate are faced with some pretty uninspiring choices: a dry drunk who jaws on about “partial birth abortions” (yuck) or a stiff necked bore who flashes his war medals around (yawn). Looking at it from the “yuck” and “yawn” perspective, who can honestly blame these women for staying home in droves on November 30 -- a day they believe will announce the results of yet another inconsequential pissing contest. At the end of the day, they know they will still be underpaid, under-insured and under-employed.
The administration has taken its indifference to women's issues to the extreme, going as far as purging the Whitehouse Office of Women's Affairs from its website including any mention of equal pay for equal work. From the administration's point of view, having the “w” word on a government website (when it doesn't stand for “Dubya” or even “wife”) only encourages internet trawling baby killers of a decidedly “liberal” bent.
On foreign policy, the Bush Whitehouse can be proud of its record defending the rights of women in the countries they have decimated. Thanks to the U.S., the women of Iraq are no longer protected by a secular constitution. If they have any rights under their new puppet government, it's the right to remain silent on their bleak prospects for employment and education. For American women, the administration has this to say to them on the situation in Iraq and the “war on terror”: “If it weren't for us, you'd be stuck in a sand dune wearing a beekeeper's suit, so shut your pie hole.”
While not as openly hostile to women as their Republican counterparts, the non-opposition is busy grooming John Edwards -- the swoony Senator from North Carolina, (and running mate for John Kerry) to be their party's prom date offering to these unwed and undecided voters. So far, the best they can come up with is Dan Quayle plus a brainstem to swing these crucial votes in their direction.
Much of the indifference among women to voting can be attributed to the irrelevance of the single party “Demopub/Republicrat” system, which narrows the field down to either a candidate from the right of center, or one from the far fringes of the religious right. Still, we might also want to examine the role market populism (a belief advanced by the Clinton administration and adopted as religion by the Bush Whitehouse that democracy and a free market are inseparable) has played in de-politicizing the issues facing women today.
In the November 2001 issue of Harper's, journalist Barbara Ehrenreich took a torch to the pink ribbons festooned on breast cancer awareness campaigns in her groundbreaking and controversial essay, “Welcome to Cancer Land.” The corporatization of social movements like breast cancer awareness, she argued, siphoned attention away from the root causes of such diseases and infantilized its victims through a prescribed regiment of colored crayons and teddy bears along with the less nauseating chemotherapy treatments. This is no doubt a strategy aimed at stifling the dissenting impulses of those who might otherwise demand accountability from their elected leaders and the pharmaceutical interests they serve. The chirpy “Nike” -- “Just Do It” style emphasis on breast cancer survival subtly blames the disease's unluckier patients if they are anything less than upbeat about their prognosis. The positive, feel-good emphasis on the companies who sponsor these kinds of high profile “fun-raising” events effectively conveys the message in the popular media that corporate America is the solution to the social and health problems among women, but of course, never the cause.
Allowing corporations to go unexamined in their faux activist roles has largely been responsible for reversing the course of social movements, trivializing them to the level of a “Hallmark After School Special.” As a result, women learn to apply the principles of new-age cosmetology to all social ills. Bummed out about global warming? Just add an herbal rainforest scented mask to the afflicted area. Or better yet, talk to your teddy bear about it. By filtering public debate through a lens inscribed with a corporate logo, America's behemoth media organizations have done much to advance the myth of corporate benevolence and further the agenda of backlash politics at the same time.
While politicians may be less than keen to mingle among the “swingles” for fear of rousing the wrath of unborn voters on both sides of the abortion debate, Hollywood and the entertainment media has literally crawled into their single beds. Judging by the spate of recent titles offered up by the so called “Liberal Hollywood Establishment,” a celluloid bridal boom is well under way -- a clever move on the part of the moguls to counter political opposition to the forces which seek to separate them from their "big fat" tax breaks.
While the entertainment industry likes nothing more than to give the impression of pushing the envelope (and conservative buttons) by being refreshingly candid about female sexuality, their real agenda is to promote the principles of a free and unfettered marketplace. Consumer icons like the forty-something “girls” of “Sex and the City” give rise to the assumption that “choice” for women should be limited to shoes and “candidate” describes someone who, with any luck, will one day walk with them down the aisle.
Popular entertainment has proved a useful tool in reinforcing damaging stereotypes about single, working women as desperate nutcases who use the workplace as little more than a hunting ground for husbands. Inexplicably, these certifiable neurotics always end up with an impressive sounding job like “District Attorney,” which entails little more than appearing feisty while wielding a briefcase. So what if their imaginary jobs have a tacked on “NASA Barbie” quality to them, completely at odds with reality? With few exceptions, “working women” on television and the big screen are seldom ever seen actually working, and they most certainly never work at anything that doesn't require pinstripes or stilettos. However, they do spend a lot of time bingeing on brand name ice cream and waiting for the phone to ring.
Notably, quite a few of them ended up going to Harvard because that's where their boyfriends were headed. TV lawyer “Ally McBeal,” “Legally Blonde's” Elle Wood and simpering co-ed “Felicity” all attended institutes of higher learning to track down an errant love interest before another trophy wife-in-training could get her claws on him. Luckily for them, stalking is an accredited course in the Ivy-Leagues and affirmative action applies equally to white girls with nothing more than love on the brain.
The complaints laid out in a class action sex-discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart on behalf of 1.6 million of its current and former female employees seem laughably at odds with the enviable conditions enjoyed by working women on-screen and in the retro-fiction of “chick lit.” The suit against Wal-Mart -- the largest private civil rights case in U.S. history, is a cause unlikely to be given the “Erin Brokovich” treatment by the media and entertainment establishment given the current political climate. Instead we have “The Apprentice,” which pits “Boardroom Barbie” against “Corporate Ken” to prop up the fictional assumption of a level playing field in the American workplace, not to mention countless “reality shows” which pit gold diggers against each other in a hot tub for a tuxedo-ed trophy.
Just as “counterculture” was co-opted by Madison Avenue in the 1960s to cash in on its consumer potential, “feminism” (like hip hop culture) in the 21st century has become synonymous with little more than a wide range of consumer choices. By doing away with traditional forms of dissent by branding it for commercial purposes, free marketeers and their corporate partners in the media, have ideologically realigned feminism (among other social movements) to serve the interests of a market state.
With the recent economic downturn and an increasingly outsourced job market threatening to wean them from their consumer impulses, Stepford Singles may very well snap out of their trances and become a force to be reckoned with .... in 2008.
Leilla Matsui is a freelance writer living in Tokyo, Japan. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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