Unless you read magazines with ads for Muscle Milk, rarely do you see the term "men's issues." That makes sense — it sounds exclusivist, and possibly involves testicular problems. There are no "men's issues" in politics.
But we do have "women's issues," especially in this presidential election. Momentarily overlooking the ridiculous idea that it's somehow generous, and not sexist, to give women their own precious binder full of quaint lady concerns, let's address a more serious problem with this language.
As soon as the phrase "women's issues" is uttered, we automatically become divided on matters that affect us all. In truth, the greatest "women's issue" of this election is the laughable belief that these matters concern only women.
Let's go to school:
• Fifty-one percent of Americans are women. Special interest group? From now on, when you hear a candidate or media monkey talk about "women," please translate that to "half of ALL THE PEOPLE." (U.S. Census Bureau)
• Women earn, on average, 77 percent of what men make. And in recent years, the gap has been closing more slowly than ever. (Center for American Progress)
• Women are the sole or co-breadwinners in two-thirds of American households. Lower pay for women = lower household income. (U.S. Census Bureau)
• Eighty-three percent of consumer purchases are made by women. The decades-old and much-cited statistic has recently been questioned — one study pegged it as low as 37 percent — but the fact remains that women have enormous buying power. (Newsweek, Wall Street Journal)
• Eighty-three percent of Congressional seats are held by men. There's not a lot of room for confusion about whose interests are being served. Who can blame them? Being self-serving is survivalist. (Rutgers University)
I'm pretty sure that when 51 percent of the population is earning 23 percent less than the other half but is responsible for more than 80 percent of consumer spending, there is no mathematical wizardry that will produce anything other than a fiscal shit-show wrapped in social inequity.
How specifically does lady-oriented policy translate to economic impact for all? Let's start with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which makes it easier for women to challenge wage discrimination (and which was opposed by all but a meager handful of Republicans). The ramifications of this legislative gem extend far beyond women and their paychecks once you factor in what a balancing of companies' pay distribution in favor of the country's biggest spenders would mean on the consumer end. Similarly, the proposed defunding of Planned Parenthood and removal of birth control coverage from health insurance — even if you ignore the social aspects (which, you know, we shouldn't) and the immediate loss of jobs — still mean a serious hit to the pocketbooks of Americans who rely on those services. Less money gets spent on consumer products, which means fewer jobs in other industries, which means even more people have less money to spend, etc ... . Starting to see the big picture? If you damage the institutions that support women's fiscal health, you take away the spend-happy half of America's ability to keep infusing our economy.
You want economic stimulus? Last year, median-wage earning women took home about $11,000 less than men in comparable positions. There's your stimulus. You want ensured economic growth? Give women their birth control and you give 56 percent of college students greater ability to graduate and enter the workforce. You get kids more likely to be raised in a stable environment, and less likely to end up on drugs, prematurely pregnant, or in jail. Their odds of receiving higher education also increase profoundly, all factors that promote economic stability. It isn't complicated.
Bottom line: We cannot disempower half the population across almost every facet of their lives, use belittling language in our public discussions of women, disregard that "their" issues comprise the most screwed-up economic dynamics in our country, and then marvel at our inability to get our fiscal act together.
So why are lawmakers and the media so keen to marginalize these issues despite overwhelming statistics that illustrate their importance? Here's their pickle: You can't give proper weight to women's issues without consequently giving women the idea that they matter, that they have power, and choices. And we can't do that without reimagining the conventional structure of the family unit. The American family is evolving, and any vision for how to nurture it in the future involves embracing the idea of a more complex woman.
It's no wonder that the closing of mysterious, undefined loopholes isn't sufficient to balance the budget.
Turns out, it's a real bitch trying to address "women's issues" without empowering women. The idea that economic and social concerns are separate is a falsehood that has increasingly tragic consequences the longer it goes unaddressed. You absolutely cannot discuss our current economic landscape without examining how women — aka half of America — are undervalued.
So how do you choose between voting based on fiscal versus social issues? Stop seeing them as separate. Do not buy the false notion that "women's issues" are only relevant to female voters: This is the elephant in the ballot box. These are far-reaching problems, and they do have solutions. All that remains to be seen is if we have the requisite perspective and boldness (and by "boldness," I mean common sense) to elect people who will make policy decisions based on what is best for all of us. And who are willing to face the fact that more than half us are women.
Jessica Blankenship is a writer living in Atlanta, where she is happily ruining her pretty face and disposition with men, cigarettes, and adventures.
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