Seen but not Heard: Women’s issues in politics

Akoto posted earlier today on the the many breakthroughs in this election cycle, the role of the media in vetting Sarah Palin, and offers a feminist reading of her candidacy. In this post, I’m more interested in the effect – or lack thereof – of these breakthroughs on the role of women’s issues in the campaigns and debates.

I would welcome correction, but we are now three debates down, one to go, and I do not remember a single instance where abortion, domestic violence, or any critical women’s issues were raised as a topic for our Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates to discuss. This seems especially odd since repeatedly, differences between the candidates appeared to be minimal; Obama and McCain have gone to lengths to elaborate on their "fundamental differences." An issue of true fundamental difference between Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin ticket is abortion. And it is one that the future administration will be in the position to protect or deny.

Is the American public uninterested or too preoccupied with the economic crisis to include women in political discourse? If the images in the media tell us anything, it is certainly that we are interested in representing women in election politics.

(keep scrolling – more to be said at the bottom)

Ms. Obama and Ms. Edwards greet husbands after debate

Sarah Palin and daughter greet family members of Joe Biden

Gwen Ifill moderates VP debate

Cindy McCain and daughter at Rep. presidential debate

Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey with Sen. Obama

How do we account for the contradiction between the girth of representation of women and the dearth of discussion of women’s issues? Why haven’t our candidates been asked to explain their positions on abortion or how they will address domestic violence or protect women from rape or provide assistance for women with eating disorders?

Finally, I wonder if women’s issues would be completely ignored in presidential debates if Sen. Clinton had been nominated. On the other hand, could her historic run have somehow affected the place of women’s issues in political discourse for the rest of the election season?