A Debate in Which Women Were Left Drinking Alone

Knowing that the first presidential debate of the 2012 election was to focus on economic issues, many of us anticipated a vibrant discussion between two candidates contrasting  their economic policies, and how those different policies would affect women. After all, women make up 51 percent of the total population, 41 percent of the workforce, more than half of the population living in poverty, and a majority those receiving Social Security benefits, Medicare benefits, and food stamps. It seems obvious women would be central to the debate. 

I wasn’t the only one with big hopes, either. Erin Gloria Ryan proposed a “women’s” drinking game for the evening, with a series of drinks every time one of our issues was mentioned—equal pay, Planned Parenthood, “kitchen tables,” abortion, maternity leave, Violence Against Women and on and on. “Happy puking!” she predicted.

Other than a potential shot of Jack Daniels to start the debate off, we had little reason to do other than remain sober.

Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign has told us incessantly that women are interested in the economy, and that it is the most important issue to us because we are often the deciders of the family budget. “Women care about the economy, they care about their children, and they care about the debt,” Ann Romney declared in April. “And they’re angry, they’re furious about the entitlement debt that we’re leaving our children.” Of course, the potential First Lady and her husband decided that “birth control is not a women’s issue,” with Ann stating in one television interview that “I’m going to talk to you about the economy, and about job creation, and about how my husband is the right person for the right time. This is going to be an election that is very important for women, and we are going to make sure that their economic prosperity is more certain under President Romney.” Still, even without going specifically into contraception, there should have been plenty of things to talk about.

But that discussion never materialized.

In a full 90 minutes of debate, the words “woman,” “women,” “female” were not raised once by contenders or the moderator. The closest mention was the president telling his wife he loved her on their anniversary.

Equally as disappointing as women being utterly ignored in the debate is the fact that the media even ignored women getting ignored. The New York Times, live-blogging the event, gave a “partial list” of topics that went uncovered in the debate. Included?  Romney taxes and even Libya. Not included? Women. The same is true over at The Fix, where Chris Cillizza notes that the “47 percent” and Romney’s time at Bain Capital never got a mention. But that women’s economic security got ignored? Not at all. Also at the Washington Post, Zach Goldfarb points out the lack of discussion about the housing crisis and the debt deal, but not that 51 percent of the population was basically dismissed from the discussion.

In fact, it’s Politico that comes the closest to even noting the omission, and declaring that both debaters likely did it purposefully, during their own recap. “[T]he questions [moderator Jim] Lehrer asked were so loosely framed that the candidates were able to do with them what they wanted,” Politico reported. “And despite the Democratic National Convention containing frequent references to abortion rights, and the success with which Democrats believe they have used it as a cudgel against Romney, the president never raised it.”

So what does this intentional omission of women in last night’s debate mean for us and the rest of the campaign season?  Unless something changes soon, it looks like we need to get used to drinking alone.

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  • kulshan

    You lied in your article:

    A search of the term *man*, from the NYTimes transcript, reveals one mentions of *woman* by Obama, three mentions of *woman* by Romney, no mentions of *man* by Romney, three mentions of *man* by Obama (two self-referential, and one idiomatic: “middle man”), and lastly two mentions of *Congressman* by Obama (referring to Romney’s runningmate).

    A search of the term *men* returns one mention of *men*, the idiomatic “middle men.” No returns for Romney for *men*, and neither candidate used *women*.

    A search of the term *male* returns no hits.


    The candidates mostly debated tax policy. That kind of discussion is genderless. The *people* are all affected by how the government decides to generate revunue and encourage economic behavior through credits and loopholes.


    I strongly suspect that this article is simple yellow journalism. Stoke the flames, garner hits, walk away a little ahead. So congrats, I’m here, I clicked, but this nonsense is why popular culture is so cynical of journalism.