During my last visit with my stepmother, we were talking about the upcoming presidential election with a friend of hers, and I was waxing cynical regarding the value of my vote in the primaries, as Rhode Island is not only a small state with a minimal number of electoral college delegates, but its primary election was late enough in the season as to seem inconsequential. My stepmother's friend got very serious and said "Don't ever disparage the right to vote." Having an inkling about her history of feminism, anti-war activism, and concern for social justice, I focused my response on the difference in the power of large, delegate-heavy states versus small states like Rhode Island, and the importance of voting in the local and state elections that set the stage for who makes it to the presidential races versus voting in the presidential elections themselves. But thinking about our conversation afterward, I realized that what I had not made clear was why my distress over the apparent futility of voting in the primaries (and indeed in the presidential election as a whole) is not a disparagement of voting, but indeed a deeply feminist concern over upholding and valuing the right to vote beyond just resting on the laurels of the suffragette movement's momentous achievement.
Recent revelations about right-wing attitudes toward women's reproductive rights have brought my thoughts into focus on this issue again, clarifying for me just why my feelings of futility in voting are not just a callous dismissal of the work of prior generations of feminists. Indeed, it is because I value that work and sacrifice that I am so concerned about the limitations on our voting options, the power imbalance in terms of the voting power of certain sections of the country, the vast amount of corporate money influencing our elections, and the need for us to not simply rest on the right to vote, assuming that it will actually have any effect. I still vote, whether or not I think it does any good, but I am not content to assume that my vote has done the work required to protect myself and other women from the intentions of Akin, Ryan, and a host of others like them.
If we are actually to keep the right to vote (and if women are relegated to the role of baby-machines I would be really surprised if we do keep that right), it will only be because we choose to fight for our rights outside of the voting booth as well as inside of it. Every attack on the voting rights of the poor, urban populations, and racial minorities is an attack on women too, and we need to recognize it as such. Every time that corporate money exerts more power than ordinary voters, that is an attack on women. These things affect us egregiously even if they are not labeled as women's issues; they affect our ability to use our right to vote effectively, and that makes it as if that right never existed in the first place.
It is not enough for us to assert our right to play in the patriarchal sandbox; we need to change the rules of the game, as voters, as feminists, and as human beings. This system abuses men and women both, so why are we so hell-bent on trying to be a part of it as it stands? Class warfare and oligarchy affect us all, and they will not go away no matter who we vote into office, so long as we continue to hide our heads in the sand and pretend that America holds free elections whose ultimate outcome is not determined by those with money, power, and privilege hidden behind the rotting facade of democracy.