Anatomy of a “Beyoncé Voter”

Fox News host Jesse Watters recently declared that Hillary Clinton would need to win over the “Beyoncé voters” (aka “single ladies”) in order to win an election. While it may be true that Clinton would need to overwhelmingly win over single women at the polls if she decides to run for President in 2016, I’m confused by Watters’s definition of the “Beyoncé voter.”

Watters says that Beyoncé voters “depend on government because they’re not depending on their husbands. They need contraception, health care, and they love to talk about equal pay.” To break it down rhetorically, according to Watters, the criteria of these voters are as follows: single, need contraception, need health care, and enjoy discussing equal pay.

Watters points out that President Obama won single “ladies” (women?) by 76 percent in 2012–and he’s maybe 9 points off, but for argument’s sake, let’s say the premise is correct. This demographic almost certainly includes all female voters who are unmarried. These voters reportedly make up 25 percent of the entire electorate. So my first question is: How does Watters jump in his reasoning from “single” to “dependent on government”–all while implying that the woman has chosen to be both single and dependent on government? Not every unmarried woman is dependent on government. And even if an unmarried woman is dependent on government, how can we assume that it’s because she’s unmarried?

Let me list a few potential ways a woman could be dependent on government and single, without one influencing the other. She could have been impregnated by a man who decided to leave her and left economically unstable due to the child (this would be the man’s fault). She could have lost her job (this would be the economy’s fault). She could have divorced an abusive, unfaithful, or somehow inadequate husband (this could be either the husband’s or circumstances’ fault). She could be a widow (unless she killed her husband, this would be circumstances’ fault, again). There are many more scenarios I could list, but it basically comes down to the Census’s definition of single: never married, divorced, separated, or widowed. But in nearly all of these cases, a woman’s singleness is not necessarily correlated with her level of dependency on the government.

So if we looks at Watters’s original statement about women being economically dependent on government because they’re unmarried, we can see that poor, single women are dependent on government not because they’re single–but perhaps because they lack access to contraceptives at a higher rate than economically stable women and thus more often have children at economically inopportune times. Which brings us to the next criteria: A Beyoncé voter needs contraception.

For this criteria, my question is: What does contraception have to do with being single? Among women of child-bearing age (15-44), the number of married women on contraception outweighs the number of unmarried women on contraception by 10-35 percent (depending on rate of sexual activity disparities between married and unmarried women). So why would a “single lady” care more about contraception than a married woman? By looking at rates of contraception use, they obviously don’t. Avoiding becoming pregnant is almost entirely an economic issue–women use contraception because they and their husbands or families don’t have the means or desire to support a child (or another child).

The third criteria, needing health care, isn’t really unique to single women. In fact, I’d wager that every single human being requires reliable access to quality health care. Every voter ever “needs health care,” so that’s a useless criteria to single out (pun intended) a Beyoncé voter from any other voter.

Being single doesn’t require a person to enjoy discussing equal pay. First of all, just as a preface to this paragraph, equal pay isn’t this crazy notion that people bring up at parties from time to time. It’s something that should exist in the United States of America in the 21st century. Equal pay isn’t one of those far-left communist ideas that needy people are asking for because they don’t want to work. It’s not a political talking point. It’s an embarrassingly obvious economic state of being. Maybe some people are under the impression that pay inequality a myth, but here are other things large groups of people have also argued are myths: the Holocaust, the 1969 moon landing, 9/11, climate change–just to name a few.

Everyone with the same experience doing the same work with the same results must be paid equally–it’s not rocket science. It’s literally common sense. That’s all I’m going to say about it because nothing else really needs to be said about it. Wait, also, it has nothing to do with being single. Plenty of people (male, female, married, unmarried, old, young, President, not president) talk about equal pay. And if we want to link equal pay to being dependent on government, we can do that: Women are more likely than men to be poor and economically dependent in some way on the government. So if you have a problem with “government dependent” single women, how about we try to pay them the same as their male counterparts?

I’m a Beyoncé voter. And I am proud to be a Beyoncé voter. I’m in school, obtaining a world-class education that will eventually lead me to a well-paying job to finance my unmarried life during which I will be single, probably need contraception, definitely need health care, and (hopefully not have to) enjoy talking about equal pay so that I make as much as the guy doing the same exact job that I have. I may be a “single lady” for the foreseeable future, but my lack of husband to depend on will never be an indicator of whether I depend on government–because I’m not planning to have to depend on anyone.


When We Step Over Homeless Veterans on the Street

A few nights ago I reopened an old draft of a novel I started writing when I was 14. It was quite a simple story: Set in 1969, its protagonist was a teenaged girl, Jessie, whose family spends a summer with another family in a cabin in Maine. Her family, the McCoys, has two daughters, aged 16 and 12. The other family, the Bells, have one daughter and five sons (one of whom, Jesse, 11, died of Leukemia earlier that year). Jessie doesn’t want to go, but she ends up learning about life and gushy things throughout the course of the summer; she eventually enters into a relationship with one of the Bell sons. The backdrop of the story is the Vietnam War, and more specifically, the draft.

The eldest Bell son, Elliott, is of age to be drafted, but throughout the story, his parents urge him to go to college to circumvent it. The second oldest, Sam, tried to commit suicide after Jesse’s death but was unsuccessful. Toward the end of the story, Elliott’s draft number is drawn. He is enrolled in college, but he decides instead that he wants to answer the call to serve in the military. The novel treats Elliott’s decision with the same weight as Jesse’s death and Sam’s attempted suicide: All the characters privately prepare themselves emotionally for Elliott’s death even before he’s left for Vietnam.

That’s the thing–everyone mourns Elliott’s death before he’s even died. His death is not certain but it might as well be. Just as each conscription notice sent to the millions of young American men between 1970 and 1973 seemed to come packaged with a death notification.

Imagine sitting in the living room, watching the news with your family, waiting to see which draft lottery numbers would come up. In December 1969, 195 numbers–each representing a birthdate–were chosen to serve, beginning with September 14 (#1) and ending with September 24 (#195). So you’re sitting there, with your siblings and your parents and maybe even another relative or a neighbor who doesn’t have a television set, and you’re all waiting to see what’ll happen. Or maybe you’re in your freshman college dorm, sitting around a tiny TV set with a group of friends you’ve made so far this year. The draft hasn’t been in effect since your father and your friends’ fathers fought in World War II–a great triumph and a display of American exceptionalism that conquered fascism, overturned an economic depression, and brought the United States superpower status. But you’re, like, 75 percent sure that your number won’t come up.

Take your birthdate–whatever it is–and play along. Mine would’ve been #336 (I wouldn’t have been called, but I’m also female, so there’s that). Anyway, you’re waiting for a black-and-white Rep. Alexander Pirnie (R-NY) to pick those numbers. It’s not really real until something bad happens–but it’s not going to be that bad. And then they pick the first birthdate (September 24), which means nothing to you because you don’t know anyone with that birthday. And then they pick the second birthdate (April 24). And maybe you know someone born on April 23, and you think, hey, lucky break for that kid.

But just as you’re getting comfortable listening to these numbers being pulled (and selectively hearing only the months that sound like they might be your month), someone in the room gasps. Everyone silently turns to that guy, the one who just had his death sentence read to him on the television because he’s only number 15, but you can’t make any noise lest you miss the next date called. Soon, half the people in the room are reeling–some because their birthdates were picked early, others because their brother or best friend or roommate just got called, and who knows if they’ll ever see them again after they receive their conscription notice.

Now you’re going through the process in your head, thinking of the ways you might be able to evade the draft–sickness, school, incarceration, clergy work, disappearing… But as soon as you can’t think of anymore excuses, you hear it. January 27. June 4. October 19. Insert your birthday here. You look around just to make sure everyone heard what you just thought you heard. Maybe if you’re at home, your mom is holding her hands to her mouth, looking at you longingly with the expression she used that one time you were leaving for summer camp. Maybe your freshman dormmates look at you solemnly for a second, the way you all looked over at that other guy who was number 15, but they can’t say anything out loud lest they miss the next date called.

And for the first time, you imagine what it might be like to leave these people forever. To travel to a strange place you’ve only sort of seen on TV, where they say the humidity hits 90 percent and the mosquitoes carry diseases, where 36,000 men have already died or been killed. In high school, you heard plenty about the war and knew a few people in the military, but it seemed so far away. It was far away. Thousands and thousands of miles, on the other side of the planet, where American men–and you guess now you’re one of them–were sent to perish in the jungle. But then they started announcing death tolls, and then they started showing footage of the war on the news, and it could give people nightmares just watching it. Let alone living it.

You don’t want to go. You like your friend here. You don’t really admit it much, but you like your family. You even like going to class and doing homework. Can you trade in your number for a 15-page book report? You’ll do anything.

When they’re done reading the numbers and your feelings have subsided, you don’t feel much at all but the lack of control and now there’s nothing you can do but wait for a notice to come in the mail (and you hope they have your correct school address because that’d be a whole other problem) and for some reason the only thing crossing your mind is how fit you’ll be when you get back and then the only thing crossing your mind becomes the image of your mangled body (fit, though) lying face-down in a swampy hillside somewhere being scouted by an American helicopter flying overhead with its light beaming down on your mud-covered hair as they realize, “There’s another one,” and come down to retrieve you and bring you back so they can show your anonymous casket on TV for other boys to watch as they eat their cereal before going off to school in the morning.

The rest of it after that is a blur. For some reason, the memory of hearing your birthday called and the moments following are so much more vivid in your mind than when you boarded that plane six months later and dropped down into the Vietnam jungle with a platoon of other guys whom you never would’ve met if you’d all just gone on living your lives back home. You’ll remember those guys and you’ll remember what you saw, for the most part, but most of it blurs together eventually, and two faces become one unclear face, and a few different raids all meld together in your mind so you can’t remember where exactly you trekked to that one time. You remember the smells of burning waste, or maybe burning bodies, and gunfire and what an open wound starts to smell like after a few days in the sun without rain, but as far as feelings go, the lottery is still the worst one. Of all the times you ended up honestly thinking to yourself (and sometimes saying aloud), “I’m going to die, I’m going to die,” the one time it felt the most overwhelming was when you were at home, watching them read off dates on the television.

That’s not to say you weren’t scared over there. You were. More than you’ll probably ever admit to anyone, but just as much as everyone else was who was there with you. There were nights you felt blinded by fire and deafened by bombs and the sensory overload was so intense that you thought you might explode where you stood, simultaneously swearing and crying and screaming and yelling at the guys around you because you have so little control over what escapes you when you realize how it feels to truly fear for your life. Now that you’re back home, everything looks and feels like a joke. But at least you made it home at all.

Most of us will never understand any of that because we didn’t live it. At this point, so many of us don’t even know anyone who lived it anymore. We are lucky. We learn about the Vietnam War in school. It’s quite literally history, and we are removed from it. But we’re not as removed from it as we think.

If you’ve ever been walking in a city and seen just four homeless people, statistically one of them was a veteran of the United States military. Of those homeless veterans, about half served during the Vietnam War (although those statistics may be slightly outdated, the current figures should be very similar). Of those, most suffer from mental illness that probably went undiagnosed (PTSD wasn’t added to the DSM until 1980), physical disability, hunger, and poor health–all of which obviously hinder anyone’s ability to escape poverty and homelessness.

It’s really easy to assume that most if not all homeless people we see on the street aren’t doing anything to help themselves. That they spend the money they raise panhandling on drugs or alcohol. That they are too mentally ill to stay on their medication. It isn’t easy, however, to step back from judgment and consider what any given homeless individual has endured in his or her lifetime. There’s a 25 percent chance that he’s risked his life for his country. There’s a chance that he’s looked danger in the eye. There’s a chance that he was transplanted to Vietnam as a teenager and experienced some of the worst fighting the U.S. has engaged in in the past 50 years. There’s a chance he’s seen his friends die.

And that’s when we have a choice. We can choose to judge homeless people for the decisions that we assume they’ve made. Or we can consider the possibility that maybe there’s more to a homeless person than the fact that they have no home anymore. Maybe “homeless” shouldn’t define a person anymore than “disabled” or “gay” does (in today’s quest for political correctness). Maybe that person is homeless because after fighting overseas for his country, the man, old now and sitting on the street corner holding an empty Starbucks cup, came back to America plagued with all the debilitating and exhausting symptoms of PTSD, never received help, and now permanently carries with him the photo reel of his memories of time spent trudging through the jungles of Vietnam, of killings, of torture, of being a scared teenager whose fate was decided for him the moment his birthdate was picked out of a bucket of capsules back in 1969 as he sat around a little black and white television set in the living room with his family. Why don’t we think about that when we step over homeless veterans in the street?