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The GOP is Writing Off Young Women, and Will Suffer for It
COMMENTARY

October 13, 2018 by Mary Sanchez
Nithya Raman, executive director of Times Up Entertainment, joins dozens of people who protest against the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in front of Los Angeles City Hall on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

One deftly worded tweet.

That’s all it took for a 19-year-old college student to school GOP pooh-bah Mike Huckabee about voter demographics.

Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, likes to let loose his stilted wit on Twitter, and the other day he chose to mock pop star Taylor Swift’s appeal to her bazillions of followers on Instagram to register and vote in the upcoming midterm elections.

Nothing to worry about there, Huckabee tweeted, “… it won’t impact the election unless we allow 13-year-old girls to vote.”

Rachel Gonzalez shot back this reply from her dorm room in St. Joseph, Mo.: “Don’t be so dismissive. When Taylor Swift got famous, I was ten years old. That was 2008. I’m 19 now, and I’m voting against every Republican on my ballot.”

Huckabee might think that the party’s latest #MeToo skirmish blew over with the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. He’s wrong, terribly wrong.

It has energized lots of young activists like Gonzalez — who was plenty active to begin with. In 2016, at age 17, she was the youngest elected delegate to the Democratic National Convention, representing Missouri’s 5th congressional district. She was allowed to do so because her Oct. 16 birthday meant she’d be of voting age by Election Day.

Now, when she’s not studying, she’s urging people to register to vote and raising the profiles of lesser-known Democratic candidates in the red state of Missouri among her 26,000 Twitter followers.

It’s difficult to say what effect young women on social media will have on the upcoming midterm elections and on electoral politics in the years to come. Vote.org noted that 102,000 people under the age of 30 registered to vote within 48 hours after Swift’s urging.

But there’s a deeper thread people like Huckabee miss. He might prefer that the pop princess stay in a gilded cage, content with her celebrity status. But Swift has always shown herself to be more attuned to the mindset of women her age and, yes, far younger.

They don’t think like older women do, even those who are liberal socially. And they see straight through the denials and rationalizations and smarmy expressions of concern that attended Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation process. Women of all ages tended to view the case against Kavanaugh differently than men — after all, so many have “me too” experiences. But younger women’s viewpoints are especially vivid. They are repulsed by the immediate backlash that twisted reality, telling men that all this #MeToo stuff makes it a scary time for them, not for women.

Gonzalez inadvertently conducted a social experiment that proved the point following the Kavanaugh hearings. She tweeted:

“I am inside my dorm room alone. Thinking about how I’ve never gone to a college party because I am afraid. What if something happens? Will anyone believe me? Probably not. That’s what my senators told me today.”

Well-meaning replies poured in, counseling her on how to stay safe. Never leave your drink unattended. Stay in groups of friends. Avoid fraternities and athletes. Learn to box or take up judo. Trust your inner voice. Carry pepper spray and a pronged keychain. Respect yourself and your body. Do not party.

Gonzalez was astounded.

Mind you, her Twitter feed is filled with Democrats, self-described liberals, who are hyper-aware that blaming the victim is a huge part of why sexual assault is under-reported.

To Gonzalez, the feedback showed a society ingrained and accepting of sexual assault as a norm for college students. “Rape culture” is upheld even by those who abhor it.

She wanted to hear that men shouldn’t rape or sexually assault women. That the attackers and all who support them must change.

“It was not very encouraging at all,” she said.

Younger women are fed up with endless advice about how to stay safe from the men who would assault and harass them. They’re highly aware and unwilling to accept that far less emphasis is placed on getting men to stop the behavior and all the attitudes of male superiority that support it.

They may not be of voting age today, or not registered. They might even be listening to the bubblegum girl-power pop of Taylor Swift.

But eventually they will deliver the backlash earned by older generations and the politicians who enabled such dismissive attitudes about women’s safety.

It might not be this November. But it’s coming; demographics work this way. No use thinking otherwise.

Readers can reach Mary Sanchez at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @msanchezcolumn.

© 2018, MARY SANCHEZ DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC

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