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Ruth Rosen: What about Josephine the waitress?

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Ruth Rosen points out a troubling silence on women's issues in the presidential race. She calls on the candidates to "Woo us with things that really matter; don't insult us."
*Cross-posted from Talking Points Memo Cafe

For months, women's groups across the country have been petitioning--practically begging--the moderators of the presidential debates to include questions that addressed, specifically, the problems that women face at work and in their families.

As early as August 14, 2008, The Women's Media Center in New York launched "Show Me the Women," an email petition campaign reminding all three moderators that women are part of the "diversity" of this country. Bob Shieffer even invited the WMC to offer questions., which emerged out of, also launched an email campaign to persuade the moderators to include women's and family's issues in the debates.

Did it work? Not really.

I would argue that any discussion of universal health care is of course a "women's or family issue." As is the collapse of the economy, which according to recent studies, has hurt women workers the worst. Energy independence also falls into this category, as does our national security policies. All of these--and more--affect women and men, children and families.

But there are specific issues that affect women's lives differently. And if people ignorantly view half the population as a "special interest group" or as part of "identity politics," they have yet to embrace the gender revolution that has upended our culture and society during the last thirty years.

Some examples. Sen. Joe Biden practically skipped over his historic role in legislation the Violence against Women Act. To his credit, Sen. Barack Obama mentioned the importance of women's earning the same as men, their right to control their own reproductive health, and his support for early education. But he didn't discuss the desperate Care Crisis experienced by working mothers--women who are expected to take care of the young, the elderly and the disabled while they provide for their families. Nor did he discuss policies such as paid family leave or twenty other family friendly policies that women's groups have advocated for decades.

I've worked as a waitress. In fact, that's how I got through my undergraduate education. I met many Josephines and none of them imagined, like Joe the plumber, that they would ever earn $250,000. If they're lucky, they earn just barely enough to provide for their families.

As Obama has insisted, they are the ones who need his proposed tax cuts. So why did he and Sen. McCain continually talk to Joe the Plumber, who was a Republican and had already made up his mind? Why didn't Obama change the subject and talk about Josephine the waitress? Or Jane, the single mom, who has just lost her home? Or Joanna, who has just lost her job and has no health care?

When all the examples are of men's travails, guess who feels excluded, indeed invisible.

And what a politically foolish move on both their parts. Both political parties know that women are the ones who are going to swing this election. Fortunately, from my point of view, Obama is enjoying a rather generous gender gap, with far more women supporting him than McCain.

But don't take women for granted. Court us; don't ignore us. Woo us with things that really matter; don't insult us. We have very, very long memories.

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