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Posts Tagged ‘Affordable Care Act’

The Feminine Mystique is 50 years old; do you know where your equality is?

Here’s a hint: if you’re a woman living in America, it’s still pretty far out of reach. Because for as far as women have come in the ol’ US of A, the fact is that the state of affairs here–compared to most of the rest of the world, is pretty freaking abysmal. As Stephanie Coontz wrote in an op-ed entitled “Why Gender Equality Stalled” in Sunday’s NYT,

Astonishingly, despite the increased workload of families, and even though 70 percent of American children now live in households where every adult in the home is employed, in the past 20 years the United States has not passed any major federal initiative to help workers accommodate their family and work demands. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 guaranteed covered workers up to 12 weeks unpaid leave after a child’s work or adoption or in case of a family illness. Although only about half the total workforce was eligible, it seemed a promising start. But aside from the belated requirement of the new Affordable Care Act that nursing mothers should be given a private space at work to pump breast milk, the FMLA turned out to be the inadequate end.

Meanwhile, since 1990 other nations with comparable resources have implemented a comprehensive agenda of “work-family reconciliation” acts. As a result, when the United States’ work-family policies are compared with those of countries at similar levels of economic and political development, the United States comes in dead last.

As I likely do not need to tell you, the number of hours worked expected from the average worker during the average workweek has ticked steadily up in recent years, making the idea of two full-time employees trying to raise a child while maintaining each of their careers near impossible.  So someone steps down. Men are generally paid more than women–so guess which one tends to do the stepping down? And in fact, the more hours a man works, the more likely it is his female partner will quit her job. (And interestingly, married dads whose wives don’t work full time get paid more. Grrr.)

I have an extremely talented, very driven friend who works in New York, in a highly competitive, fast-evolving field. She is passionate about her work, and fiercely devoted to keeping her skills current. Her husband makes more money than her, and his job offers benefits. They’re thinking of having a baby. Her current boss won’t pay for leave–and, she’s been feeling pretty stagnant in her position. Up until recently, she’d been looking for a new job. But now, she’s thinking, well, maybe I’ll just take some time off when we have the baby. Child care is so expensive anyway. It’ll put her at a disadvantage later, but she doesn’t see much of a choice. She’s stopped looking for something new–despite the fact that she has not, as of yet, stopped taking the pill.

Sheryl Sandberg would call this a classic case of “leaning out”–taking oneself out of the game before it’s necessary in anticipation of work-life issues–and suggest that this friend of mine rethink her strategy, “lean in” instead. Even this friend of mine looks at is as a personal choice. But the thing is, in cases like this, the personal is, in fact, political.

Going back to Coontz’s piece:

The sociologist Pamela Stone studied a group of mothers who had made these decisions. Typically, she found, they phrased their decision in terms of a preference. But when they explained their ‘decision-making process,’ it became clear that most had made the ‘choice’ to quit work only as a last resort–when they could not get the flexible hours or part-time work they wanted, when their husbands would not or could not cut back their hours, and when they began to feel that their employers were hostile to their concerns. Under those conditions, Professor Stone notes, what was really a workplace problem for families became a private problem for women.

Every time we buy into that idea — that what’s going on with us has only to do with us — the movement stalls just a little bit more. It’s been fifty years since The Feminine Mystique… and twenty since the Family and Medical Leave Act. In order for things to change, we have to realize that what we are up against is bigger than the particular circumstances of our own lives.

Just as the miserable, Valium-popping suburban wives of Friedan’s day might have looked around at their gleaming linoleum and state-of-the-art vacuum cleaners and said, but I chose this, we too can look at everything as a personal choice. Or we can step back, take a broader look, and realize that while, yes, perhaps we did “lean out”–taking a lesser job in a lesser place because our husband made the big bucks, or taking some time off work with the baby because it “made more sense” even though, in an ideal world, we’d like to work, too–a huge, invisible (and not so invisible) part of why we “decided” to lean out is systemic. It’s cultural and it’s structural and it’s policy-determined and it is, in fact, political.

The graphic that ran with Coontz’s story is a color-coded world map that shows which countries have paid maternity leave, by weeks provided. Those in the “none” category included Palau, Papau New Guinea, Nauru, Western Samoa, Tonga, Suriname, and the United States. Aren’t we better than this?

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It’s not so much the right-wingers’ war on women that pisses me off — it’s the fact that they think we’re dumb enough to buy their talking points.

Case in point, a Bloomberg op-ed by Ramesh Ponnuru that attempts to make the case that the gender wage gap is nothing but nonsense: we make less because we choose to work less.  Or chose the wrong majors.

Here’s the truth you won’t hear: The pay gap is exaggerated, discrimination doesn’t drive it and it’s not clear that government can eliminate it — or should even try.

Exaggerated?  Hardly.  Fortunately, over there on Jezebel, Katie J. M. Baker did her homework.  She gleefully called out the “mansplainer”, refuting his thesis by citing some stats from the National Partnership research study.  Here’s just a taste:

  • Women in science, technology, engineering and math are paid 86 percent of what their male counterparts are paid.
  • As soon as one year after graduation, women working full time are paid only 80 percent as much as their male colleagues, even when controlling for field of study and age.
  • Among all workers 25 years of age and older with some high school education, women’s median weekly wages total $388 compared to a total of $486 for men.
  • Women in the service industry are paid only about 75 percent of the mean weekly wages paid to men in equivalent positions. In 2008 the average starting salary of a new female physician was $16,819 less than her male counterpart after controlling for observable characteristics such as specialty type and hours worked. A newly minted female MBA graduate is paid, on average, $4,600 less at her first job than a new male MBA graduate.
  • A 2010 GAO study on women in management found that female managers are paid only 81 percent as much as male managers.
  • Even when childless women and men are compared, full-time working women are paid only 82 percent as much as full-time working men.
  • Women are penalized for caregiving while men are not; the 2003 GAO study found that women with children are paid about 2.5 percent less than women without children, while men with children enjoy an earnings boost of 2.1 percent, compared with men without children.

(Our friends to the north, apparently, are no better.  According to Canadian Lawyer and Law Times, female in-house counsel earn about 16 per cent less than their male counterparts on average. Though men tend to hold higher level positions — which is problematic itself — men are still making more than women in comparable roles and are twice as likely as women to have had a 10 percent raise this past year.)

Anyway.  You can guess why this matters: the Republican’s newly tapped vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, a card-carrying soldier in the war on women, is on the record for voting against the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, if that’s any indication of where a Romney-Ryan administration would stand on equal pay.  Stay tuned to hear more of this anti-wage gap rhetoric in the months to come.

The next mansplainer was actually a woman.  Equally annoying was a post on Forbes.com that attempted to make the case that “pitting women against Ryan was a counterproductive sideshow.”  Really?  The writer, Sabrina Shaeffer is executive director of the conservative Independent Women’s Forum.  She says we lefty feminists have got it wrong.  (She also goes out of her way to tag anyone in favor of women’s rights as Left-with-a-captial-L or Liberal Democrats.  As if this were a bad thing…) What women really care about, she writes, is what men care about: it’s the economy, stupid.  The other stuff?  Health care, reproductive rights, the social net that benefits, most of all, families? Nothing but sideshow:

…a message framing experiment conducted for the Independent Women’s Voice (IWV) by Evolving Strategies this summer found that while the “War on Women” narrative might please the most liberal Democrats, it actually hurts them with independents and weak partisans – the very voters who helped put Obama in the White House.

This doesn’t seem to be stopping the Left, however, from trying to position Ryan as antagonistic to women and steering the conversation away from the economy. In particular they seem focused on three issues: Ryan’s views on entitlement reform, workplace regulations, and the HHS contraception mandate. But as women get more information about Ryan’s positions, they are likely to find him even more appealing.

Don’t think so.  All of which leads to the biggest scam of all — wait for it — which is sure to crop up before long: the sanctimonious equating of social conservatism with family values.  As we’ve written before, with regard to another family values guy:

Maybe prayer in school, opposition to gay marriage, and blowing up the safety net are the kinds of values that made your family strong.  But I seriously doubt it.  If the health of the American family is what we’re after, the values that matter most are more along the lines of equal opportunity, access to good health care and quality education, and above all, an abiding sense of compassion.

I guess I need a mansplainer to spell out for me why, for example, a gay marriage threatens my own?  Or why, if the social conservatives are against women terminating a pregnancy — even to save their own lives — it makes sense to limit their ability to prevent a pregnancy in the first place.  Or, the greatest canard of all, that repealing Obamacare is pro-family, when statistics show, and as we have written time and again, that the main beneficiaries of the Affordable Care Act are, you guessed it, women and children.  Save the fetus, forget the child?

Now, you may be one of those women whose job — and health benefits — is absolutely secure.  Maybe child-bearing is in your rear view mirror and, what the hell, you never had daughters anyway. Or you may have a securely-employed spouse who can not only pick up the tab, but the dry cleaning, too.

But then again, maybe you don’t.  And maybe you are, or someday will be, one of those legions of American women whose family will one day rely on any one of the entitlements, like food stamps or even Pell grants, that got the ax in the Paul Ryan House budget — which was more about ideology than reality –  that favored lower taxes, higher defense spending, and a bunch of holes — if not outright shredding — of our safety net.

Which is to say: How do you like those talking points now?

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With the recent rise of Republican Rick Santorum in the Iowa caucuses, we’re sure to hear a couple of words again and again as the right-wing’s quest to rebuild America continues:

Family. Values.

I can’t help but cringe every time I hear that catchphrase.  Not because I dislike families – I have a terrific one of my own, thank you very much – but because I have to wonder WHOSE families those wingnuts are talking about.  Why did they get to appropriate the phrase?

What I also wonder is this: Why is the word “family” code for a lot of social conservative dogma that is not only irrelevant to what raising a real family is all about, but more importantly, leaves women – who do the bulk of that raising – out in the cold?

In the interests of real family values, I vote that we reclaim the term for ourselves.

But back to Santorum, whose message apparently resonated so well in Iowa:  Let’s start with reproductive rights, wherein Mr. Santorum goes way beyond the pro-life position by suggesting that contraception itself is a dangerous practice — whether you’re married or, God forbid, single.  As reported on ThinkProgress, Santorum told CaffeinatedThoughts editor Shane Vander Hart,“[contraception] is not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”  How things are supposed to be, he said, is for the purpose of procreation.  Here’s the video.

An extreme position?  Not completely.  You may recall that many conservatives in Congress recently voted to defund Planned Parenthood even though abortions only make up 10 percent of the services it provides to women without other means of health care, and that abortion services receive no federal funding.  And here’s the irony:  As the Guttmacher Institute points out:

Publicly funded family planning services help women to avoid pregnancies they do not want and to plan pregnancies they do. In 2006, these services helped women avoid 1.94 million unintended pregnancies, which would likely have resulted in about 860,000 unintended births and 810,000 abortions

Access to contraception is also an issue of women’s health. Here in the U.S., the Institute of Medicine recently came out with guidelines that urge health insurance under President Obama’s health care overhaul to include FDA approved contraception as preventative care.  Why? Proper spacing of pregnancies can prevent a host of serious health risks for both mother and child.

And while we’re at it, here’s another case in point: the Affordable Care Act, which Santorum and the rest of those family values folks want to repeal. Let’s review. Who suffered most under our health care system of old? Women. And when women suffer, it’s often the kids who pay the price. So much for those family values.  Lest you forget how our old health care system affected women: pregnancy was a pre-existing condition.  Women, especially when they have kids, are statistically more likely to work part time jobs that do not provide health benefits — which is fine so long as they can depend on a well-employed husband for job-related health insurance.  But what if he loses his job?  Or what happens to the kids if mom happens to be single?  (Oh, that’s right.  Family values don’t apply to single mothers.)

There’s even something more basic when it comes to so-called family values: putting food on the table, and for the majority of the 99 percenters, this has become an ever-more difficult proposition. While it would be ever so Norman Rockwell for every family to have a mom (or, hello, a dad) at home with the kids, where in this economy is that even feasible (that is, if mom and dad are lucky enough to have jobs)?  As HuffPost blogger Dan Bimrose notes over there on the politics page:

A Rick Santorum candidacy would be a family values candidacy. The family unit is extremely important to working class America. It is to these working class voters he was addressing and referring to when he said:

“They share our values about faith and family. They understand that when the family breaks down, the economy struggles. They understand when families aren’t there to instill values into their children and into their neighbors as Little League coaches, as good neighbors, of fathers and mothers being part of a community, that the neighborhood is not safe and they are not free…”

The implication is that the Democrats are responsible for broken families. If the breaking up of American families is truly the cause of our economic failures, which is an incredibly weak argument, he may want to point his finger at Republicans like himself.

What he fails to mention is that the reason that the parents are not there to instill values into their children and coach their baseball teams is because those mothers and fathers are working their ass off. While Republican governors such as the likely former candidate for President Rick Perry seek praise for their ability to create minimum wage jobs, the people working those jobs realize they simply do not pay the bills. They need two of these jobs and their wives need one and none of them provide adequate health care.

And how about the fact that women still make 77 cents to a man’s buck? Or the fact that for many women — the ones working to help put that food on the table — affordable child care is nothing but a pipe dream because as a society, we’ve never made it a priority? And what happens to the kids when neither mom nor dad can find a job, or if they do find one, it only pays minimum wage?  And yet: the same folks who hold up the sanctity of the family are often the ones who vote to dismantle social welfare programs like Medicaid or food stamps.  Or vote against extending unemployment benefits.

The so-called family values folks would also have us believe that gay marriage threatens not only the social fabric of our nation, but our own marriages as well. Really? Exactly how does that work?

The list goes on, mainly arguments of privilege. But then, if you’ve ever been part of a family, you probably get it.  Maybe prayer in school, opposition to gay marriage, and blowing up the safety net are the kinds of values that made your family strong.  But I seriously doubt it.  If the health of the American family is what we’re after, the values that matter most are more along the lines of equal opportunity, access to good health care and quality education, and above all, an abiding sense of compassion.

On the other hand, I do agree with Santorum et al. on one thing.  The American family is indeed under attack.  The question is: by whom?

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