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Valerie Schultz

I love men. I love them so much that I married one. I respect our differences, and I admire his many strengths, as a husband and father and man.

But there are men who do not have women's best interests at heart; men, in fact, who would like nothing more than for women to go back about a hundred -- or a thousand -- years and be the submissive creatures they believe a male Creator intended women to be. Listen up, sisters: the presidential election of 2012 is a chance to tell those unenlightened men that we are not going back.

This election is significant in that it will color the degree of freedom and equality with which future American women will live their lives. It is about the ideological tilt of the Supreme Court. It is about social justice; about whether our economy is based on war or peace. It is about affordable health care, fair wages, reproductive rights and secure retirement. And it is about honoring and treating as equal the women who, according to an ancient Chinese proverb and the title of the current and important book by Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristoff, "hold up half the sky."

American women, to be sure, are among the most privileged on earth. We do not get married off by our families to older men when we are 12, or get our intimate female parts ritualistically mutilated, or get shot in the head for advocating that girls should go to school along with boys. We have more choices and options than ever in history. We are well-educated, well-fed and well-endowed with human rights. But these rights have been hard fought for and hard won over the past century. Are we willing to move backward? I believe, instead, that we women are at the exact spot where we need to put our collective foot down and say, "No going back!"

If we have daughters, we are obliged to pass on to them a world in which their opportunities are increasing rather than shrinking, in which they are accorded respect for who they are and what they do, and in which they are equal shareholders in the bounty of and the responsibility for a thriving planet. We betray our gender when we vote for candidates who would repress women's rights.

To illustrate a couple of ways those rights are threatened: We have a man running for office actually parsing the difference between "rape," wherein by wearing that low-cut blouse and applying too much red lipstick and walking alone to your car, you were really asking for sex, and "legitimate rape," wherein your demure dress while being violated somehow gives your uterus the secret signal to "shut that whole thing down" -- that "whole thing" meaning conception. These thinkers then come to the erroneous conclusion that women who are legitimately raped do not get pregnant and would therefore not need the option of abortion in the case of rape, whereas the women who are raped because they are sluts and deserve it are the only ones who would get impregnated by a rapist. Really? Wasn't this battle already fought and won, like in the 1970s, when rape shield laws began to protect a rape victim from the courtroom use of her prior sexual experience to exonerate the rapist? These exasperating men would move us backward.

We have men in power promising to criminalize abortion, without exception. Now, I believe that life begins at conception, but going back to the days when abortion was illegal will not end the practice. According to a university study released this month, a sure way to decrease the number of abortions is to provide access to free birth control, which is included in the Affordable Care Act. Since fewer unwanted pregnancies equal fewer abortions, it would seem incumbent upon those in the pro-life lobby to endorse President Obama. The key to a pro-life society is education, not criminalization. But I suspect that some male pro-lifers, rather than loving babies, simply want to be in charge of women.

We women must contest the (hopefully minority) male mindset that holds that women are submissive, are weaker, are dumber, are inferior, are to be dominated and controlled, but in a kindly way. Tragically, sometimes women are told these fallacies so many times over that we may begin to believe them. We believe the worst of ourselves. We do not believe we are human beings on an equal plane of existence with men. We expect to fail, to require rescue, to be forever "less-than" a man. Or, if we have the nerve to demand equality, we are compared to Nazis.

But this kind of intimidation is so passe. Rise up, my sisters. Stand up for our gender. While we hold up half the sky, let's also hold our ground. American women represent forward progress, for women and men, for old and young, for all.

And we vote.

Email Valerie Schultz at Her column appears regularly in The Californian's news pages.