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More Hype than Truth to 2012 as the Year of the Woman

By December 30, 2012

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If I had a dime for every year that some pundit, op-ed columnist, advertiser or thought leader pronounced as "The Year of " female this or that, I'd have $5.10.

Okay, granted, I just gave up my age and named an amount that isn't all that impressive, but you get the drift.

At one time or another during the course of any given year, somebody gets the bright idea to say how marvelous, how terrific, how groundbreaking something is by declaring it to be instrumental to the advancement of women in that particular span of time.

To which I say, yada yada yada...then yawn in their general direction.

This past year we've been force-fed the syrupy notion that the London Olympics was "The Year of the Woman" because (supposedly) every nation had a female Olympian on their respective teams. In the case of first-timers Qatar and Brunei, I'll agree...but Saudi Arabia's two "Olympians" were tokenism at its worst.

The first was a judo "champion" who had never competed but instead had trained with her father, a international judo referee, in the privacy of her own home. (Had she attempted to physically interact with real-world competitors in her home country, she would have violated every law on the books regarding proper contact between unrelated females and males outside of marriage.)

The second was a California born-and-bred college student at Pepperdine University who had dual Saudi/American citizenship by dint of her father who'd retained his Saudi citizenship while living in the U.S.; Sarah Attar thus "qualified" as a runner even though her times were nowhere near Olympic qualifying times. Both got on the Saudi team due to special dispensations issued by the IOC.

Here in the States, we're being told to open wide and swallow the candy-coated idea that women did so well in 2012 (exemplified by the fact that more women than ever before will be seated in the Congress next year) because "gender bias is declining!" declares Danny Hayes in the Washington Post Wonk Blog. Danny decided this was the case based on studying local newspaper coverage of U.S. House candidates and a congressional election study of voters' attitudes toward U.S. House candidates.

How is his assumption flawed? Let me count the ways.

First of all, by focusing his research on candidates who've already earned their major party's nomination, he ignores the larger picture: political newbies who are "female while running" find it hard to even compete at the early stages because they don't have access to the same types and amounts of funding as male candidates who are already hooked into an old boys' network of financial resources and patronage. (This is why groups like Emily's List and the National Women's Political Caucus exist -- to offer support to women candidates.) Because a successful run for public office relies more on the candidate's ability to fund raise than her/his ability to make wise decisions, the "best" candidate isn't always the one who gets the slot on the ballot. Hayes may not "see" gender bias, but the bias is inherent in the system and is tough to overcome.

Second, his research is based on local newspaper coverage. In small cities and towns where candidates are rooted in the community and hail from families with long local histories, there is a level of civility and courtesy that is lacking in media coverage of candidates not personally known to newspaper publishers, editors and reporters, such as statewide candidates or national figures. Newspaper articles are also prone to more rigorous fact-checking, editing and scrutiny because the words on the printed page are more permanent than the sort of "here then gone" reporting that happens on radio and TV where it's harder to obtain a transcript of what's said.

Third, there is a type of gender bias that is insidious and hard to spot; words that may appear innocuous can be delivered with a wink and a nod, and sexist innuendo of this sort, especially that of radio talk show hosts who blather on over the course of several hours, can be much more damaging than the news report that is delivered in under 90 seconds. This kind of "media coverage" is tremendously biased, and to ignore the impact of these sources is akin to reporting a story with blinders on.

As for voter attitudes toward their local House representatives, again they differ from attitudes toward statewide or national figures because we tend to be more accepting of -- and lenient toward -- our own candidates who are frequently local boys and girls who made good. This would fall under the category of "some of my best friends are (fill in the blank)" -- examples of support for a group or class of individuals based on a single relationship with one person that offers convenient cover for a preexisting bias.

If gender bias were on the decline, men would understand women better -- well enough to know that we can't just "shut down" unwanted pregnancy from rape or don't agree that babies born out of rape are part of God's plan for us. If gender bias were on the decline, Mitt Romney would not have experienced as big a gender gap as he did with women voters.

Danny Hayes tried too hard to make 2012 a great year for us "gals" when in reality we had to fight to keep Planned Parenthood solvent and convince Susan G. Komen to not pull funding; boycott the advertisers on Rush Limbaugh's radio show to send a message that calling a woman a slut and a prostitute is not acceptable behavior; break out of the binders that one presidential candidate thought was the proper place for competent, capable professional women; constantly reach out to our representatives and senators to keep the Affordable Care Act from being overturned; and protest ignorant rape remarks from men who seem to not understand basic human biology.

Like every other year I've witnessed, 2012 had its good and bad moments. In the end, it's another ten cents added to the total. We'll know we've reached "The Year of the Woman" only when it's so obvious that it doesn't need to be said. Until then, hold onto your dimes. You'll need 'em.

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