Author, professor and MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry joined a panel on Saturday for The New Yorker Festival’s discussion of “The Fifty-one Percent,” the effort to win the female vote. Touching on topics including women’s health, “the war on women,” and the speeches delivered by First Lady Michelle Obama and Ann Romney, the conversation veered into economic territory when it turned to healthcare and discrimination.
Also on the panel: Kelly Ann Conway, an author and GOP pollster who worked for Newt Gingrich’s unsuccessful campaign for president; Margaret Hoover, an author and former adviser George W. Bush; and Cecile Richardson, the president of Planned Parenthood and former staffer to Rep. Nancy Pelosi. The panel was moderated by The New Yorker‘s executive editor Dorothy Wickenden.
Let’s start by pointing out that Kelly Ann Conway spent the entire time sighing at just about everything that came out of Cecile Richardson’s mouth, and made little comments under her breath when she disagreed with something one of the other panelists said. This isn’t to say that she doesn’t know her stuff, or that she didn’t make some perfectly fine comments. But it didn’t make her likeable at all. It was downright rude and frustrating for the audience to watch her time and time again dismiss her fellow panelists. Not cool Kelly Ann Conway.
But moving on. Most of the discussion revolved about women’s health and the role it’s been playing in politics over recent months. According to Conway, this idea of “women’s issues” is wrongheaded (“You don’t hear people talking about ‘men’s issues.’”) and the focus on women’s health issues, like birth control coverage, myopic. She said that, in her experience, there are other issues of greater importance to female voters.
“There is no issue more central… than the ability to control your own fertility,” said Harris-Perry. “You can’t separate economic and health care issues.” Both she and Richardson emphasized the significance of birth control to career, relationship and other life decisions. In this, we would have to agree.
The topic of money and lifestyle also came up when an audience member took to the microphone with her assertion that, as a lesbian, she isn’t a social issue; that the system is discriminatory in a number of ways, among them in an economic way. Because she can’t marry her partner in many places across the U.S., she can’t take advantage of the financial benefits that a marriage affords, which lowers her economic stability.
To this, Harris-Perry added a compelling argument: that without real change, discrimination will continue because “people are willing to pay a premium to discriminate.” For example, people will pay more money to stay away from those they consider unsavory. And bus companies during the civil rights movement went bankrupt to keep from integrating.
In other words, if someone doesn’t want you around, they’ll do everything in their power to keep you away.
On a much more upbeat note, there was the belief across the entire panel that, if President Obama is re-elected, there will be a number of women and men, including people of color, ready to run in 2016. We hope both of those things happen.
Feel free to take to the comments with your thoughts about women’s health as a political issue. Is it something you’ll be taking into consideration when you go to the ballot box in November?