Women’s Bodies in the Body Politic

Is there anything off-limits in this election year when it comes to women and politics? Our bodies certainly have not been off-limits, thanks to Republican nominee for the United States Senate and veteran Congressman Todd Akin, he of the “shut that whole thing down” fame regarding how the female form responds to “legitimate rape” — again, whatever that is. Before that, we had the resurrection of the so-called Mommy Wars after a gaffe by Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen, who failed to articulate how Ann Romney’s work as a mother of five is a separate though legitimate aspect of how women compare parenthood responsibilities to work-for-pay performed outside the home.

And yet neither of those examples fleshes out how women feel about politics.
I can’t speak for all women, not even those who approximate my demographics (born and raised in New England but living in the Midwest — Northeast Ohio to be specific) or my liberal leanings. However, having been elected to the City Council for Pepper Pike, a small city near Cleveland, and being a political blogger and a voter in a state plagued with election tumult, I have, for years now, been afforded unique opportunities to witness what’s up with women and politics. Two recent events — in spaces filled with tens of other women (mostly, but not all, Jewish) — have affected me powerfully.

The first event gathered together local Jewish leaders, men and women, in the home of a neighboring village’s mayor who is in her second decade of service. Judges, statehouse leaders, large donors, and Jewish agency personnel were among those who came to hear the head of the Democratic National Committee, U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D, FL-20, pictured here). Her seriousness gripped the audience even as her warmth commanded attention. And the questions she entertained reflected the same concerns many Americans have: Iran, and what can we do to help win the presidential election.

As I stood listening, literally shoulder-to-shoulder with other women, I began mentally flipping through my calendar, mining it for crevices of time to dedicate to more political activity. I felt compelled to find a way to do more, which no doubt was the chairwoman’s aim.

The second event featured the national head of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, with Ohio’s senior United States Senator, Sherrod Brown (D) and Brown’s wife, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Connie Schultz. More money has been spent by outside groups in the name of Brown’s competitor, a young Jewish office-hopping Republican named Josh Mandel, than in any other state, bar none and by multiples. And so this event, in the heart of an area not far from Mandel’s hometown, had “key” written all over it.

The organizers of this second gathering expressed pleasure with the size and diversity of the crowd, which reflected nearly every characteristic of that section of Northeast Ohio. For those who lingered, the sight of a full-size all-pink charter bus with “Planned Parenthood” emblazoned on the side closed out the afternoon. That came just moments after the most memorable exchange of my afternoon. Walking over to one of my constituents, who also is Jewish and leads the Cuyahoga County Democratic Women’s Caucus, I heard her tell a small group about how, spurred by what she’d heard at the Wasserman Schultz event five days before, she had decided to make pins showing an impressive job-growth chart that had been making the rounds; the pins were ready for distribution, so that we could enshrine their positive message on each of our chests.
That’s one way of including women’s bodies in politics that I can live with.