When will there be a first man? 2012 political season gives women reason to ponder future of women’s rights

Charlotte Smith, features editor

The global presence of women in politics and society has grown over the past few decades, as women achieve more acceptance throughout the world.

Take a look at the most recent Olympic Games in London, where for the first time in history each participating country brought female athletes. Or recall the 2008 presidential election, when nominee John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his candidate for vice president and Senator Hillary Clinton came close to earning the Democratic nomination.

During her campaign speech at the Republican National Convention, Ann Romney said that it is women who “have to work a little harder to make everything right,” elaborating that it is women who “hold this country together.” Historically, women have not been seen as equal to men. Many women, today, still see the need to struggle for women’s rights.

“I’m not sure if men really understand this,” Romney said. “But I don’t think there is a woman in America who really expects her life to be easy.”

While advocates attempt to overcome discrimination against women, these cultural precedents have created barriers which have prevented women from earning equal pay to men, especially in the past.

“Barack’s grandmother started out as a secretary at a community bank, and she moved quickly up the ranks. But like so many women, she hit a glass ceiling,” Michelle Obama said during her campaign speech at the Democratic National Convention. “For years, men no more qualified than she was – men she had actually trained – were promoted up the ladder ahead of her, earning more and more money while Barack’s family continued to scrape by.”

Hunter Mill school board representative Pat Hynes shares a similar story about her understanding of women in the workplace.

“In my experience, for the most part, people in my generation and younger generations understand that men and women should have equal opportunities,” said Hynes. “This wasn’t the case for the generation before me. When I was working on Wall Street, it was much harder for the women only a few years older than me to get ahead than it was for me. However, globally, and in other parts of this country, you will not find the same acceptance. But today, most women work and some are the only breadwinners in the household. Equal opportunity and equal pay for women are important for both women and whole communities.”

While the role of women in society has progressed in the past several decades, there is concern that women’s health rights will regress, especially in regard to Planned Parenthood.

“We are very concerned about the current situation,” Planned Parenthood executive assistant Adrienne Sehreicer said. “Planned Parenthood is crucial to today’s society. Nationwide we see literally millions of patients. One in five women in her lifetime will come to Planned Parenthood for services.”

As the place of women in politics and society is still developing, one of the most influential ladies in history’s presence is also developing: The First Lady. The president’s wife is appearing on the cover of People magazine, not solely as a social icon, but as an intelligent, powerful, and relatable role model.

“The President’s wife tends to inspire the women of America,” senior Kenzie Hughes said. “The First Lady should be a positive motivator and give hope to citizens.”

But how influential are these ladies on their husband’s decisions? Some of the most pressing health matters affect women, such as abortion and birth control. Yet, men are still the majority voice of the country.

“I think women’s issues are more important in this election than previous years that I can recall,” Hynes said. “Some issues, like birth control, are battles which should have been put to bed years ago. I think that this election has jolted women awake to the fact that some of these battles have not been won, and that how they vote this year is very important.”

Throughout their campaign speeches, both Romney and Obama do not strongly express their political opinions on public policy but instead talk of their support and faith in their husbands. Thus, the question remains, when will there be a First Man?

“I am very hopeful of the future in this country,” Hynes said. “Having been a classroom teacher for the past nine years in Fairfax County, I have seen how successful in education and ambitious the young women in this area are. Women are largely underrepresented in both the public and private sector- I hope this changes with your generation.”