I’m embarrassed to say, I didn’t watch the third presidential debate on Monday night. Instead, I went out for a drink with the girls.
I actively follow politics: personally, I do it because it’s my civic responsibility and because it’s been a life-long interest. I attended my first political rally at age six for Jimmy Carter, and I brought my son to watch his first political speech at a campaign event for Barack Obama’s run for the U.S. Senate. Of course, it’s professionally wise for me to be current on all things political, since I write about it frequently in this column.
But even though the third and final head-to-head meeting of presidential candidates happened at the same time as our night out, the topic of politics only briefly came up during our Monday evening get-together—and only because CNN was playing on the TV monitor over the bar. Perhaps it was because we were all newer acquaintances just getting to know one another—the prime factor uniting us was having kids in the same class. Perhaps it was because, by this point in the campaign cycle, we were oversaturated with political discourse.
But I have a different theory: talking politics between friends who are women is, quite often, taboo.
Yes, I’m definitely gender stereotyping here. I’m talking from my limited, anecdotal experiences—which already have a suburban middle-class bias in an upper-middle-class community. But it’s rare to go out on a political limb to declare support for one candidate over another, and then have a substantial exchange of thoughts with another woman without already knowing where she stands politically.
Think about your circle of friends. Unless you met volunteering at your candidate’s headquarters on voter phone-a-thon night, can you remember a time you asked what their political affiliation is? Last week, a woman I met through our kids admitted to me, “I’ve been best friends with one woman for the last six years, and I have no idea if she’s a Republican, Democrat or Independent!”
I certainly don’t think that women don’t have political views. Unlike a certain candidate—who likely considers working women an afterthought, or a group needing to get home early enough to make family dinner for their later-working husbands—I’m confident women can independently figure out who they support on their own.
This current presidential race increasingly looks like it will hinge on a gender vote. With so much coverage of women’s health care, fair pay and Lilly Ledbetter, Planned Parenthood, and the way women tend more to support social issues like marriage equality and gun control, the gender gap is larger than usual—near ‘historic highs’ according to the highly regarded New York Times’ political statistician, Nate Silver.
In fact, Silver writes that if only women voted on November 6, President Obama would enjoy a landslide victory, according to several national polls that have been conducted lately. “On average, however, there was an 18-point gender gap, with Mr. Obama leading by an average of 9 points among women but trailing by 9 points among men.” If that’s the way the vote turns out, he says, it will be one of the largest differences along gender lines ever.
But are women more comfortable telling anonymous pollsters who they plan on voting for than they are telling their friends? In times like this current election cycle, where races on the national and statewide levels are growing more partisan and confrontational by the minute, friendly conversation about who votes for whom might heat up quickly.
When you’re making that instantaneous calculation about whether it’s wise to dive into a political conversation, potentially alienating the moms of your children’s friends might not be considered socially worth it.
My husband and I recently had dinner with three other couples. We spent a lot of the evening deep in political conversation, reflecting on the debates, the candidates’ policies and how we each saw things from our different perspectives. While for the most part, we each largely considered ourselves “fiscally conservative/socially liberal,” there were definitely more individuals at the table who said they were still undecided.
But the most interesting thing of the evening: we all agreed that we’d never had a political conversation with other people in town like we did that night with each other. Of course, we had a comfort level because we were more likely to agree than not.
I live in a predominantly Republican town—there are more Republicans on the town’s voter registration rolls and the majority of our local officials are members of the GOP. As an opinion columnist, I’m open about being a Democrat who supports President Obama. But when people confide that they’re Democrats too, they whisper it. “Shh, don’t tell anyone but I’m voting for Obama too!”
There’s safety in political anonymity. Several friends told me their 2012 Obama/Biden car magnets were stolen. Look on the national stage how revealing your politics can hurt financially—there was the pizzeria owner in Florida who lost business and was attacked online for hugging Obama when the President made a campaign stop at his restaurant; as well, the Ohio soup kitchen where Paul Ryan ‘pretended’ to wash dishes lost donors when they revealed the campaign ruse. (Author’s note: The charity later benefited when donations flooded in after news of the backlash spread online.)
Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but political discussions don’t have to turn fractious. Like people of different religious faiths, we can respect the political diversity of our friends and fellow citizens. Even though some may believe it’s “nobody else’s business,” talking politics with friends of all different political sizes, shapes and stripes can only improve the perspective women have on what’s important to them when deciding who to vote for.
So maybe the next time I’m stirring my drink at a girls’ night out, I won’t hesitate to also stir the pot a little by asking, “So, who are you voting for—and why?”