Gender Gap: It's Real!
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Gender Gap: It's Real!
The women's suffrage movement did not end with the female's attainment of the right to vote. It is a struggle that must be continued to insure that womens' "rightful" impact on the electoral process is fully realized. This was the message USLWV President Dorothy Ridings delivered at the Council's luncheon on June 2.
"All of the current attention to the 'gender gap,' or the 'women's vote,' is significant for many reasons," Ridings explained, "but the one that I hold up for consideration in particular is the fact that now, after 64 years of the vote, women are participating in roughly the same proportion as men in elections." She emphasized that women are expressing opinions that "are NOT a mirror of men's views, but are our own."
"I hold that this is an important stage in the women's suffrage movement---a stage from which we have to move forward into the future," Ridings further concluded.
Ridings recounted the early history of the women's suffrage movement, fraught initially with disappointing participation and turnouts at the polls. By the late 1940's, only about 45 percent of the female voting populations voted, Ridings said, but the rate continued to improve with a 60 percent range in the 1960-70 period. She added, "By 1980, the voting differences in turnout between men and women had virtually disappeared. But even more significant, the political views of men and women began to diverge in recent years with the result that we are now seeing significant differences in men's and women's issue preferences."
The emergence of the economic gender gap (which means that on the average women earn 62 cents for every dollar a man earns) has served to influence many women's voting behavior in the 1980's, according to Ridings. "An increasing number of women at the bottom end of the wage scale and among the swelling ranks of the 'new poor' are recognizing first-hand that equality of opportunity is far from a reality for women in this country," she added.
Ridings pointed out that the fight to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment reinforced the idea of the economic gender gap and channeled women's discontent into political activism. It urged women to gain political skills and experience in the struggle for the ERA, and they became familiar with the voting records of their state legislators and learned how to express their concerns.
In concluding, Ridings said, "The stakes today couldn't be higher. In a close 1984 presidential race, the gender gap could conceivably carry the election, a scenario clear to every seasoned campaign strategist.
Sixty-three years ago, shortly before the 19th Amendment was ratified, League of Women Voters founder Carrie Chapman Catt, of Wisconsin, addressed a jubilant crowd of women in Chicago at the last of the suffrage conventions. Her words then are just as apt today: 'Are the women of the United States big enough to see their opportunity?'"