Friday, October 12, 2012

Letter from the editor: Woman moderator still asked to stay in the past

By Kelsey Hilmes, Opinion Editor

Not once in my lifetime has a woman moderated a presidential debate. This sobering reality was spotlighted in the media this summer as three high school students petitioned on for a woman moderator in the 2012 election debates.

Imagine the empowerment young women felt in August when the Commission on Presidential Debates selected CNN’s chief political correspondent Candy Crowley as moderator. It was an achievement well overdue. The last — and only — woman to ever host a presidential debate was 1992’s Carole Simpson.

In a frustrating election brimming with Planned Parenthood cuts, panels entirely of men debating birth control in Congress and cries of a “war on women,” a woman moderator is perfectly appropriate.

It’s a shame her voice won’t actually matter.

Picture the incredible disappointment of the three young women, the 122,344 voters who signed their petition and myself when we discovered that Crowley would not be asking her own questions at the debate.

Rather, Crowley will be hosting a “town meeting style” debate, holding the microphone for audience members as they ask their own questions.

While Crowley’s male counterparts ask candidates questions face to face and man to man, Crowley serves in this debate as nothing more than a vessel for the queries of a lesser educated audience.

I suppose we should have seen it coming. In the 1992 debate, Simpson, the first female and black to moderate, was also the first person to moderate a town hall debate. It seems an unlikely coincidence that the town hall debate was introduced at the exact same time as women moderators.

In an article for The Atlantic, Simpson recalled that she was repeatedly told her debate would be an ‘Oprah-style’ show. The audience members asked the questions, while a voice in her ear-piece told her who to take questions from. Crowley will inevitably operate under the same limitations.

By marginalizing Crowley and limiting her influence in the debate, we have lost the opportunity to present young women with a role model in politics. Even worse, three young women and all who petitioned were told their voices matter just as little as Crowley’s does.

It’s not hard to see why Crowley was given such an unimportant role. The problem lies with the sixteen men and one woman on the Commission on Presidential Debates, who choose the moderators and the roles they will play. It lies in a 2012 study of politics in the media, which states that men are quoted five times more often than women about ‘women’s issues.’ It lies in an apathetic country that forgot to care until three high school students reminded it to.
On Oct. 16, I will accept the stunted victory women have been given and tune in to watch the debate. I only hope that by 2016, I will see a woman calling the shots at a major presidential debate.