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Carmon analyzes female impact on 2012 election

By AUDREY COCKRUM | March 14, 2013

Irin Carmon, a staff writer for Salon, spoke to Hopkins undergraduates on Monday night about the role of women in shaping the 2012 presidential election.

“I specifically wanted to talk to students about the impact of social media on this election, and how the ways in which the election played out ultimately changed the conversation around women’s reproductive rights,” Carmon said.

The event was co-hosted by the Hopkins College Democrats, Hopkins Feminists, the Women & Gender Studies Department and Student Life Programming.

“It was highly successful and well attended,” Eliza Schultz, President of the Hopkins Feminists, wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “There were also a handful of males in the room, which is important because it demonstrates that Hopkins students do not see feminist issues as strictly women’s problems.”

Carmon began her presentation by showing a series of clips from the past year featuring Republican males such as Tom Smith, Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin discussing the topic of rape and women’s rights.

“The extremism on abortion and contraception, and views of women’s sexuality evidenced in these comments on rape got dragged out in a national and a statewide way that they had not been before,” Carmon said. “For instance, when Rush Limbaugh was slut shaming Sandra Fluke, this became an issue of national importance. Limbaugh paid the price, and President Obama responded by calling Fluke and taking on the campaign with her.”

Carmon then addressed the five main reasons she believes these issues suddenly received greater attention in 2012.

“For one, the Republicans changed,” she said. “They moved very right. There’s practically no such thing as a pro-choice Republican anymore, and that fact put the issue of abortion on the agenda for Obama’s campaign.”

In turn, the Democrats also changed. Carmon pointed out that they finally embraced their designation as the “pro-choice party.”

“Attending the Democratic National Convention almost felt like attending a Women’s Studies study session,” she said.

Other catalysts for this hype on women’s rights included basic demographic changes and the growth of online media networks such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

“The increased coverage of and accessibility to news and information, such as the clips I showed, became a huge political game changer,” she said. “Everything that happened in terms of this conversation about women’s bodies lent itself really well to an internet culture where everyone was sharing amongst each other and communally fueling each other’s rage.”

Carmon also spoke about her role as a feminist blogger in furthering gender equality.

“There’s a progressive media infrastructure that gives a real mainstream platform for these views, and that includes MSNBC as well as jobs like the job I have,” she said. “The fact that there are people whose job is to cover women’s status in politics and culture and get the word out there is hugely beneficial to our cause.”

She contended that the role of a journalist is changing.

“You used to have to choose between commentary and reporting, and now I think there is a much greater blend, which is good,” she said. “I consider myself a reporter, but I am also a commentator and a citizen who has a point of view on these issues.”

“Carmon is an incredibly talented writer and has already experienced great success in her field,” Shultz said. “At such a young age, she provides us with a realistic picture of what we could achieve here at Hopkins and in the future with a bit more effort.”

Towards the end of her speech, Carmon addressed what she considers the greatest issues facing women’s rights at present and what Hopkins liberals should pay attention to.

“There is a big lack of female leadership and representation that is creating a challenge for women’s rights activists,” she said. “If we had more women in office this would be less of a challenge.”

In terms of what’s happening now, Carmon believes that state-level attacks on women’s reproductive rights are very urgent and getting worse every day.

“Republicans control twenty-four state houses, not counting veto overrides,” she said. “For those who are pro-choice that is a very important point to pay attention to.”

At the end of Carmon’s presentation, Schultz pointed out that the 2012 Presidential Election was the first time many Hopkins students were able to vote, which made her speech especially relevant to the student body.

“We, too, helped shape the election,” Shultz said. “In the same way, the topics that she discussed such as birth control, abortion and sexual violence have grown more and more pertinent to us during our college years.”

But these issues are not only relevant during election season; another real problem Carmon emphasized in her conclusion is the constancy of conservative political activism versus liberal activism.

“Democrats tend to disappear during the off years,” she said. “But in order to capitalize on everything that happened in 2012, liberals, especially those in younger generations, have to stay focused and involved.”

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