Female voters in Virginia are poised to send a message


Heidi Tilley votes on Nov. 8, 2011 in Sterling with her children and a family friend behind her. (Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post)
Petula Dvorak
Columnist November 4, 2013

It’s pretty basic math, really.

Women are the majority of America’s population. And year after year, women vote in greater numbers than men in just about every election.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

So how on Earth does any candidate in Virginia or elsewhere think he can win by antagonizing women, by ignoring the issues that are important to us and turning campaigns into cockfights?

Trust me, gentlemen. Women aren’t just going to vote for the guy with the biggest political advertising budget.

We want elected leaders who address the real issues of our everyday lives — transportation, education, equal pay for equal work, day care and housing.

Female voters — of all ages, incomes and political parties — largely favor government that focuses on community building, helping the sick and disadvantaged and providing basic social services, according to a study done by Rutgers State University’s Center for America Women and Politics that analyzed numerous political polls.

Instead, too many male candidates devote mountains of political capital (and cash) sliming one another in the middle-aged, high-dollar version of a fraternity beer bong contest. Then they move on to trying to win over single-issue voters by working on ways to control women’s lives.

The reaction? Women are treating the cock of the walk with the cold shoulder.

Exhibit A is Virginia's gubernatorial race.

Among female voters, the gap between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli II resembles the Grand Canyon. According to the new Washington Post/Abt SRBI poll, the Republican attorney general trails the former head of the Democratic National Committee by a breathtaking 24 points — 58 percent to 34 percent — when it comes to female voters.

And that’s not because McAuliffe is wowing everyone with great visions for schools, child care and equal rights in the workforce. He’s as guilty as Cuccinelli in the yuckfest that this gubernatorial election has turned into.

But Cuccinelli has been part of the tribe of men who are not only ignoring the key issues that matter to women, but tinkering with things that don’t need fixing.

Let’s start with Virginia’s uterine obsession.

In the past few years, the majority male (82 percent) Virginia legislature has had the laser-like focus of a high school sophomore on women’s reproductive systems.

They have tried to block contraceptives and mandate transvaginal ultrasounds. They’ve regulated the doorway size of clinics that provide cancer screenings, gynecological care and, yes, abortions. They’ve tried granting personhood to a fertilized egg and considered eliminating HPV vaccines for girls.

Not smart. Even women usually too busy with carpools, to-do lists and big projects at work to bother with politics started paying attention to what was happening in Richmond. And they didn’t like it one bit.

Days after the legislature proposed the transvaginal ultrasound legislation last year, more than 1,000 women demonstrated on Capitol Square in Richmond. Some of the demonstrators wore T-shirts that said “Virginia is for lovers, not probers.”

The Women’s Strike Force, a political action committee to avenge the attack on women’s rights, was formed.

“Women voters outnumber male voters in Virginia and across the country,” said Fairfax Station attorney Rebecca Geller, one of the founding members of the Women’s Strike Force and now a board member. “It is time Republicans realize that women voters are intelligent, independent and care about their choices. We are tired of hearing Virginia Republicans laud ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ for everything . . . except women’s rights.”

Cuccinelli also lost ground with women on domestic violence. As attorney general, he touted the domestic violence programs and prosecutions by his office in a state where domestic violence assaults increased by more than 8 percent between 2006 and 2010. But he was one of three state attorneys general who did not join a bipartisan effort supporting reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the Women’s March on Washington for suffrage.

On March 3, 1913, about 8,000 women marched down Pennsylvania Avenue for the right to vote. They were spat on, harassed and more than 200 had to go to the hospital for injuries. Some of the attackers were the police who were supposed to help them. 

In less than 100 years, we became the dominant voters in this country and yet we’re still struggling to persuade candidates to listen to our voices and focus on the issues we care about.

On Tuesday, though, women in Virginia are poised to send an important message to the men seeking our votes: Antagonize us at your peril.

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