The pundits are saying that suburban women could swing this election. In 2016, they voted for Trump, but this year, it is projected that they will vote for Biden. Now, that all may be true, and I hope it is, but what’s irking me today is the two-dimensional perceptions of suburban women.
Take today’s The Daily podcast — “Why Suburban Women Changed Their Minds” — as an example. Normally, I adore this show, but I only made it through half the podcast on my morning walk, because of all the gag-worthy tropes. Suburban women drink wine! They hangout in Panera’s! They like to get their hair done! Please. Suburban women are more multi-dimensional than that.
Last month, I got a phone call from a reporter – a friend of a friend – who was doing an article about the suburbs. A life-long city resident, she thought the suburbs were like scenes in Edward Scissorhands with cookie cutter houses and bored women who drank too much and had affairs. When I didn’t give the quotes that she was looking for, she said that it was probably because I was too old. It took me a week to get over that comment.
Now, the podcast was right in many ways. There are groups of highly progressive women’s groups forming in the suburbs. I belong to one, though it hasn’t been very active lately. But there are also a lot of conservative women, whose votes are based on religion or economic interests. One friend told me this week, she was voting for Trump, because her small business health insurance premiums went sky-high with Obamacare. Women are a diverse group, after all.
I think a lot more women will vote for Biden this year, because they perceive him to be a nicer guy than Trump. Being “nice” is a big deal to pretty much all women. But I rarely talk to enthusiastic supporters of him or the Democratic Party, because they don’t think that they will follow through on promises for better schools, affordable childcare, or more economic opportunities for their kids. They are worried about paying higher taxes and higher college tuition, when those dollars do not benefit their own families.
Now, I am guilty of the same sin as that New York Times writer and painting all suburban women with the same broad (yuck!) brush. But for the sake of finding some conclusions, if we average out all those suburban women, cancelling out the extremists on either end, I think that you are left with a moderate voter, who feels ignored and disrespected by political leaders and the media. It’s hard to become super involved in the process, when feel that you are marginalized and reduced to a stereotype or even a slur – “wine moms!” “Karens!”
The suburbs themselves are poorly understood by political pundits, because most pundits live in urban areas and because there is so little academic research on suburban voters. So, women from suburbs are doubly mysterious. And a little dumpy. And not fun to write about unless the story involves copious amounts of booze and wife-swapping.
If we want suburban women to vote, and to vote Democratic, then political leaders need to speak to them, not take them for granted, and not treat them like cartoon figure from a Tim Burton movie. Give them good schools. Help them out as their parents age and require more help. Help their kids transition successfully into the workforce. I think those are progressive issues, and are extremely compatible with the Democratic platform. Tweak the message, and you will convert that cohort for life.
16 thoughts on “Suburban Women and Their Votes”
Biden’s TV and radio ads are doing what you say, at a broad level. Then they’re followed by Trump calling Biden a pussy.
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“Last month, I got a phone call from a reporter – a friend of a friend – who was doing an article about the suburbs. A life-long city resident, she thought the suburbs were like scenes in Edward Scissorhands with cookie cutter houses and bored women who drank too much and had affairs.”
Unfortunately I think a part of the requirement to make a “story”. I think you’ve mentioned the issue when speaking of your blog, and how it might be more marketable if you had a three word description and appropriate branding instead of being the real person you are.
ahem…. “cookie cutter houses and bored women who drank too much and had affairs.”
There’s a little ranch house in the vale,
Pretty little ranch house up for sale;
All the shutters drawn,
Tenants all gone
And thereby hangs a long, unhappy tale.
‘Cause he caught her in the kitchen playing Westport,
A game indigenous to suburban life,
Where you take a wife of whom you’re not the husband,
While someone else’s husband takes your wife.
Some people may claim that the name of the game is Scarsdale,
Or Beverly Hills, or even Shaker Heights,
But commuters from Manhattan call it Westport.
And it’s the game that some of our local leading lights
To while away those cold Connecticut nights.
Now in that little ranch house used to dwell
An advertising feller and his Nell.
Two kids and a pup,
Living it up,
And everything was sounder than a bell —
‘Til he caught her in the kitchen playing Westport
Between the washing machine and thermostat.
The husband thought it really was an outrage.
Said he, “You might at least remove your hat!”
Well, they may play it that way in Great Neck,
While in Levittown they’d never think it odd.
But there is not an architect in Westport
Who’ll ever forgive the cad that said, “My God!
I must have got the wrong cape cod!”
Since they are no longer groom and bride,
Quoting from the Sunday classified:
“Are there any takers
For three lovely acres
Of peaceful old New England countryside?”
‘Cause he caught her in the kitchen playing Westport
Which would ordinarily be a cause for gloom;
But though the sanctity of wedlock’s on the downgrade,
Currently housing is enjoying quite a boom!
And while they defame the name of the game in Boston,
Where naturally they think it’s a dirty shame,
In the green and fertile pastures of suburbia
The local dealers in real estate acclaim
The best thing since the FHA, hey,
Westport is a grand old …
‘Midst pleasures and palaces …
Westport is a grand old game.
Source: Take Five, A Julius Monk Review, ca 1952-1954
Recorded: Original cast record (Riverside?)
I think most suburban women know that schools are almost entirely a local issue–that’s certainly the case here in St Louis, where any attempt to consolidate any of the urban and suburban districts is met by cries of theft. I also think many in the suburbs like the direction of their 401Ks under the current president, but they also don’t like the chaos they see coming from him–I wonder how many are reminded of their first husbands, in the same way some said Hilary Clinton (whom I voted for) reminded men of their first wives? I am looking forward to a more orderly administration under Biden.
I think Donald Trump (or Bill Clinton) is more reminiscent of the narcissistic (but capable of being charming) boss you had an affair with during a college summer internship. The first George Bush is more the first husband type. Joe Biden is more the second husband type. (Sad to say, very few women–or men, unless they are very rich–seem to do better the second time around: I wonder why they bother.)
“We are having a hard time understanding the cultural implications of this new landscape because when it comes to suburbia, our imaginations are motionless. Many of us still live with the suburban stereotypes laid down by the first wave of suburban critics — that the suburbs are dull, white-bread kind of places where Ozzie and Harriet families go to raise their kids. But there are no people so conformist as those who fault the supposed conformity of the suburbs. They regurgitate the same critiques decade after decade, regardless of the suburban reality flowering around them.”
David Brooks, 2004 https://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/04/magazine/our-sprawling-supersize-utopia.html
If it makes you feel better, I think of suburbs as where violent, racist spree killers originate.
MH said, “If it makes you feel better, I think of suburbs as where violent, racist spree killers originate.”
Given that more than half of people say they live in a suburb (and presumably even more grew up in one) that’s kind of trivial.
It’s like saying that sandwiches are what violent, racist spree killers have for lunch.
It’s funny because it’s true.
“Given that more than half of people say they live in a suburb (and presumably even more grew up in one) that’s kind of trivial.”
But given that everyone complains about crime in the cities, it has relevance.
Substantively, I think the problem with imagining a group to be monolithic is the assumption that there is one combination of views that would win their votes. Even if the candidates would move to that position (as in the one political science class demo I saw) the individuals probably wouldn’t, choosing their own weights and thresholds.
Looked up my zip code, which is usually described as the suburbs in the city, (on the N.Y. times map) and the giving ratio is 31:1 in favor of Biden.
I guess that tells me something of my perception of my neighborhood.
Laura said, “A life-long city resident, she thought the suburbs were like scenes in Edward Scissorhands with cookie cutter houses and bored women who drank too much and had affairs. When I didn’t give the quotes that she was looking for, she said that it was probably because I was too old. It took me a week to get over that comment.”
I personally think that “the suburbs” are a nebulous concept. For example, isn’t the line a bit fuzzy between a NE suburb and a small NE town?
I technically live in a medium-sized TX city. It is not a suburb of anything, it’s barely got any urban features at all, it has very moderate density, and there’s a Panera near downtown…but at the same time, my husband walks to work and my college student walks to class. There’s not going to be a crazy amount of cultural difference between me and the actual suburban moms, at least not qua suburban moms.
Um. Which suburb?
I have to love the scientific rigor of calling a friend of a friend. If that isn’t a random sample, I ask you, what is?
It is misogynistic to believe that all women MUST share the same value set, opinions, and life plan. Given the “big sort” effect (people being ever more likely to live near people like them), canvassing the neighborhood is not a good method to determine voting patterns in other places.
A lot of journalism is done that way: rounding up individuals to illustrate a trend. Reports of results from the General Social Survey or whatever are somehow considered “not news” (or maybe just not saleable). There have to be quotes from living, breathing individuals who spoke to the writer. In some cases, the result may be intellectually honest, i.e., there is some social phenomenon revealed by aggregate statistical measures, such as rising or falling marriage rates or the like, and the individuals add a bit of human interest to the statistics. In other cases, of course, the enterprise is fundamentally illegitimate: in a country of 300 million, you can always find three people who do X, and a “scholar” who will declaim on the significance of X, and the writer can then proclaim it an important contemporary phenomenon.
y81 said, “A lot of journalism is done that way: rounding up individuals to illustrate a trend.”
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