Does It Matter if Obama’s Overtures to Women Are Genuine?

What Women Really Think
March 7 2012 6:57 PM

Does It Matter if Obama’s Overtures to Women Are Genuine?


Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Earlier this week, my colleague Hanna Rosin wrote a brief post observing that women are dominating the presidential election these days. Noting the swiftness with which Obama turned Rush Limbaugh’s recent attack on Sandra Fluke to his advantage by way of a sympathetic phone call, Hanna argued that “the left seems to be playing this one perfectly.” Women statistically control the vote in this country, and Obama and the Democrats seem well along in their wooing of the demographic.

But, given the atrocious attacks we’ve witnessed on women’s bodies and character these past few weeks, I wonder if women will cotton to being “played” as political pawns, even if the outcome might be in their interest. The New York Review of Books published a post by Elizabeth Drew touching on this question a few days ago, and it’s an argument that’s stuck with me. Drew concludes her piece with the somewhat unsavory observation that, in the end, all this talk about contraception and “sluts” amounts to so much political maneuvering:


In the end the noisy and often passionate argument over insurance coverage for contraception came down not to “religious freedom,” nor even to women’s health, but to a contest over whether the issue would be more efficacious for turning out the Democrats’ or the Republicans’ base in November.

Now, it’s entirely possible for the President to be sincerely interested in the well-being of women—a fact which I think he touchingly illustrated via his recent comments regarding his own daughters—while reaping more calculated political benefits. But perception is reality in campaign season and taking too Machiavellian a tone could make women think twice about Obama’s true commitments, especially considering the President’s checkered reputation among the similarly courted LGBT community. Still, even a mercenary championing of women’s issues will appeal to left-leaning voters of all genders, suggesting that instead of controlling the election, as Hanna put it, women have simply become an effective political decoy.

And to be sure, it’s a decoy that draws out the vilest sides of certain people, as demonstrated by the recent explosion of misogyny at Columbia University (full-disclosure: my alma mater) over Obama’s decision to speak at sister college Barnard’s commencement, just as well as by Limbaugh’s outbursts. Considering this, maybe being a political ploy is a worthy price for knowing one’s enemies—it’s just that such victories have a way of feeling pyrrhic. 

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.



Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy

Even if You Don’t Like Batman, You Might Like Gotham

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

Nicolas Sarkozy, Thrice Married, Says Gay Marriage Humiliates the Family

  News & Politics
Over There
Sept. 22 2014 1:29 PM “That’s Called Jim Crow” Philip Gourevitch on America’s hypocritical interventions in Africa.
Sept. 22 2014 1:37 PM Subprime Loans Are Back! And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.
Sept. 22 2014 4:45 PM Why Can’t the Census Count Gay Couples Accurately?
  Double X
Sept. 22 2014 4:06 PM No, Women’s Soccer Does Not Have a Domestic Violence Problem Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 3:16 PM Watch the Best Part of Beyoncé and Jay Z’s On the Run Tour
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 12:14 PM Family Court Rules That You Can Serve Someone With Legal Papers Over Facebook
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.