If They Only Listened to Us

What Women Voters Want Politicians to Hear

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About The Book

Soon after the 2004 presidential election, veteran reporter Melinda Henneberger set out across the country to listen to women of all ages and occupations express their strong opinions on the major issues of our time. Over eighteen months she spoke in depth and at length with more than two hundred women in twenty states, from Massachusetts to Arizona and Oregon to Texas. She discovered how unheard women feel, how ignored and disregarded by both major parties and by most politicians.

Listening to women all over the nation -- not only on what are traditionally thought of as "women's issues" but on issues of paramount importance to all Americans -- Henneberger shines a light on what women voters are thinking and how that translates into how and for whom they vote.

The issues that these women focused on were Iraq, abortion, the environment, globalization (and job loss), and corruption (and lack of trust) in the government and the entire electoral process. Again and again these women of all ages, social classes, and regions returned to the matter of authenticity. And they came back again and again to their commonly held feeling that neither party takes any genuine interest in their actual lives, that politicians across the board seem, as a young waitress in Sacramento put it, "to be talking about people who don't exist."

A patient, sensitive, experienced, intelligent listener, Henneberger reports how women feel about the nation's politics and politicians. Her findings will surprise you. Knowing the answers these women give will tell you a great deal about how the next presidential and other elections will be decided.

Reading Group Guide

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION:
1. Ms. Henneberger writes about the realization she had that she and her closest friends had never discussed politics, and when they do, she's surprised at how divided they are in their views. Why, after all these years, do you think they are finally discussing politics? Do you discuss politics with your close friends? Why or why not? Do you think we are friends with people who hold the same political views as we do? How important are someone's political views to your friendships and why?
2. In talking to women, Ms. Henneberger hoped to find out what drew women to the Democratic Party and what drove them away. She also wanted to know why women who voted for Gore in 2000 voted for Bush in '04. What surprised you most about what the women were thinking and how they made their decisions? What would you say were the reasons why women left the Democratic Party for Bush in '04?
3. Why do you think Bush and the Republicans were more effective in appealing to women voters than the Democrats? What do you think the Democrats need to do to bring women voters back to the party?
4. What issues did you find were most important to the women? Who or what would you say were the strongest influences in changing a woman's political views or her vote?
5. Often women appeared to vote for a candidate for reasons other than that candidate's political views. For instance, Bush was able to get women who cared most about health care or the environment to vote for him, while pro-choice John Edwards was able to get staunch pro-life women to consider voting for him. If the candidate's political views didn't sway the women's vote, what did? What does this say about what women want from their politicians?
6. Many of the women interviewed said they felt pressured to vote a certain way. From whom or what did they feel this pressure?
7. In the last election, many women said they voted for a particular party based solely on its position on abortion. Since Roe v. Wade has been in effect since 1973, why do you think so much stress was placed on this issue? Do you think by concentrating on abortion women were deterred from considering other issues? Why or why not?
8. Religious beliefs seemed to play a big role in the lives of many of the women voters. Has this always been the case, or has it recently changed? If so, why and how? Discuss how the church was instrumental in swaying women's voting. In the past, being a good Christian was associated with caring for the poor, but in this last election voting against abortion seemed to be the mark of a good Christian/Catholic. Why do you think the church seemed to have changed its emphasis?
9. The Democratic pro-life candidate Bill Ritter says with regards to abortion, "That's the place where I've come as a matter of conscience." (229) One pro-choice woman asks why he can't just let his conscience dictate his own "private actions" and leave others to do the same. While another pro-choice woman says it is a political decision. What do you think? Is abortion a private issue or one that the government should regulate, and why?
10. When Ms. Henneberger tells Kim that Weapons of Mass Destruction were not found in Iraq, Kim says, "Fox News would have told us if they had not been located." And further, "You have your sources ... and I have mine." Where do the women in the book seem to be getting their information on how to vote? Where do you learn about politics and about what a candidate believes? With so many different sources of information, how do the women seem to decide on the truth? How do you?
11. Many of the women who switched from Democrat to Republican in '04 did so because they thought Kerry and his party "are elitists who condescend to Middle Americans, to believers in general and Christians in particular." (40) Discuss why the women in the book felt this way? Did the Democrats change between 2000 and '04 or was something else at issue?
12. Of the total increase in Bush's support from women, "two thirds came from black women." The analyst David Bositis says that the shift in women voters from the Democrat to Republican Party in the '04 election "had the most to do with moral values, and this is something that the Republicans are using to win elections." (10) Discus how the Republicans used "moral values" and the church to sway black women voters? Why did the Democrat's' appeal to these same women fail?
13. Ms. Henneberger questions why tax cuts that heavily favor the rich are not a moral issue? Why a dignified retirement for working people is not a moral imperative? Do you see these as moral issues? Why or why not? Do you think the women in the book saw these as important moral issues? If not, why?
14. Discuss why you think the Democrats don't use morality more to bolster their own causes. For example, "It's morally wrong that there is poverty in a country as rich as America." Or that the death penalty is morally wrong, or war? What do you think would be the effect if the Democrats claimed that their positions were the moral positions to take on an issue?
15. One woman said, "Morally I'm a Republican, but environmentally, a Democrat." (38) Discuss what this comment means to you. Do you think there is a moral imperative to save the planet? Why or why not? If someone said she was morally a Democrat, what would that mean to you?
16. Ms. Henneberger feels that Kerry made the strongest appeal to women on pay equity, affordable health care, early childhood education and a Supreme Court dedicated to upholding Roe v. Wade, yet still didn't win. Why didn't the women in the book vote for Kerry? What was the criterion they used on which to base their vote? How important is the personality of the candidate in gaining your vote?
17. In Pennsylvania, a beauty shop owner finds that political tensions have become so acute that she schedules her customers so that strong Republicans and Democrats don't run into each other. Do you think this kind of tension has always existed between the two parties or has it recently gotten more intense? If so, why?
18. One woman says, "I've just gradually gotten more conservative as I've lost my idealism. Democrats are for the little guy, but they want to shake down the rich and give that money to the poor people. That doesn't resonate with me." (180) Do you think her change in perspective is just a condition of her getting older or has something changed in America? If so, what? What does the Democratic Party seem to represent to the women in the book? What does the Republican Party represent?
19. Many Republican women are angry with Bush and don't agree with his policies and actions, yet they also say they don't hold the Republican Party responsible or find this a reason to switch parties. How do you explain this reasoning?
20. It seems to Ms. Henneberger that the people on the coasts think that not a lot of thinking goes on in the Mid-West while those in the Midwest think the East Coast liberals are an "insufferable lot of dissolute know-it alls." (45) Discuss the reasons for this cultural divide. On what do you think these opinions are based? What, if anything, can be done to bridge this gap?
21. Kim says, "Honestly, I'm just not that political." (47) Then later, "We're already regulated to death, and if they don't ease up on the environmental regulations, they won't have anymore manufacturing in this country." And finally on poisoning the planet, "maybe that's how this planet is supposed to end." (49) From these statements do you think Kim is political? Why or why not? Why do you think she says she's not political?
22. What do you think women will be looking for in the president they will elect in '08? What are you looking for in the next president? Do you think the issues will be the same as '04 or different and how?
23. Did you find that your issues were similar to or different from the women in the book? Explain. Do you think the book will alter the way you approach voting in the future? If so, how? What, if anything, do you think would have been different if Ms. Henneberger had interviewed men?
TIPS TO ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB:
* For more insight into what is happening politically around the world as well as what individuals are thinking, read some political blogs. Don't forget that you can interact with the bloggers with questions of your own. Two interesting sites to begin with are: http://www.tpmmuckraker.com/ and http://blog.washingtonpost.com/thefix/
* Read FOX News (http://www.foxnews.com) against Common Dreams (http://www.commondreams.org). Both deal in "facts," but both could also be called "political." Read some editorials and up-to-the-minute news, and discuss how each source conveys its own message.
* For a few weeks/months, have some people in the group read one newspaper, while the others read a different paper. Then discuss the different perspective that each source presents on a certain political issue.
* Listen to playwright Harold Pinter's Nobel Prize acceptance speech (http://nobelprize.org/nobelprizes/literature/laureates/2005/pinter- lecture.html). Discuss the distinction he draws between literature and reality. What does this distinction mean for literature, and why would Pinter draw it? How do Pinter's views reflect on politics in this book?
* Read the Constitution to find out more about your government.

About The Author

Photo Credit:

Melinda Henneberger is a former reporter for The New York Times and a former contributing editor for Newsweek magazine. She lives with her husband and their two children outside Washington, D.C.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (May 2007)
  • Length: 240 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780743278966

Raves and Reviews

"In If They Only Listened to Us, Melinda Henneberger offers politicians a witty, incisive, and sharp direction manual for making the gender gap work to their advantage. Anyone interested in politics, and how to be successful in politics, would be wise to pay attention. She knows what she's talking about and she's right."

-- Donna Brazile, political strategist and Al Gore's campaign manager in 2000

"Pioneering a new and bracing form of journalism, Melinda Henneberger offers an inspiring break from the normal run of political analysis. If They Only Listened to Us will be one of the best explanations we get for how George W. Bush could rise so high and fall so low. The president would have done well to listen to them, the people in this book."

-- E. J. Dionne, Jr, author of Why Americans Hate Politics

"I am not a woman or a politician, but this is a must-read for anyone who is fascinated by, passionate about, or at all concerned with politics. Melinda Henneberger opened my eyes to critical issues around abortion and gay rights that have changed my thinking on these issues."

-- Robert Greenwald, producer and director of Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price and Iraq for Sale

"This is the book that will make you care about politics again. Melinda Henneberger's storytelling is so revelatory and the women she talks to so wise that readers simply won't be able to look at '08 as just another red-versus-blue horse race. Her highly personal account reintroduces us to all of the issues that matter most, as they are actually lived and deeply felt."

-- Arianna Huffington, author of On Becoming Fearless and editor in chief of the HuffingtonPost.com

"Everyone claims to know what women want, but Melinda Henneberger actually went out and asked them. In this engaging, eye-opening book, she gives voice to their hopes, concerns, and especially their frustrations. Both political parties would be wise to listen."

-- Amy Sullivan, contributing editor of The Washington Monthly and author of the forthcoming Resurrection: Why Democrats Need to See the Light if They Want to Win the White House

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