During a National Press Club speech on February 13, Feminist Majority president Eleanor Smeal warned the Republican Party that if it continued to lead its efforts to dismantle affirmative action and repeal abortion rights, the gender gap will turn into a gender gulf. Speaking to a packed house of women’s and civil rights leaders, activists and national press, Smeal described the origins of the gender gap and how it will affect local and national politics in the future. The gender gap is the measurable difference between how women and men vote for a candidate. In the 1996 presidential election, the gender gap was 11% (not the often reported 17%) and determined the outcome of the race: if only men had voted, Bob Dole would have won the race.
Smeal also described the impact of abortion on the gender gap, and predicted that the affirmative action issue would expand the gender gap into a gender gulf. Women are more likely than men to condition their votes on a candidate based on the candidate’s position on abortion rights. Young women, especially, are very strong supporters of abortion rights.
Affirmative action is also a key issue among women, and especially among young women. Women were the overwhelming majority of financial contributors to the Stop Prop. 209 campaign while men were the overwhelming majority of financial contributors to the supporters of Prop. 209, the California anti-affirmative action measure.
Unfortunately, right-wing organizations with the help of the Republican Party, were able to outspend opponents of Prop. 209 two-to-one. Smeal also pointed out that contractors were heavy supporters of Prop. 209 because, “[j]ust six years ago women and minorities were receiving less than 5% of state contracts. Affirmative action reforms put into effect in 1992 and 1993 resulted in women- and minority-owned businesses being awarded 22% of state contracts. No wonder state contractors, threatened by this new competition, poured money into the campaign to pass 209.”
At the end of the speech, Smeal called for an omnibus Women’s Equality Act to remedy sex discrimination and she also called for a Women’s Voting Rights Act to increase the representation of women in local and national legislatures. Smeal commented, “For how can we be truly a democracy with only 11% women members of Congress and 22% in the state legislatures? Do you really think that Congress would consider resegregating military women because of some military men’s criminal behavior if half the members of Congress were women? Would a gender-balanced Congress consider, as this one is, exempting police officers (and perhaps military personnel) convicted of spousal abuse from the Domestic Violence gun control provision that prohibits convicted abusers from carrying a gun?”###