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Posts Tagged ‘health care reform’

That gagging sound you heard last week, when Ann Romney bellowed in her best Oprah voice, “I love you, womennnnnn!”? That was me.

And not because I don’t love women; I do. And not because I don’t believe that Ann Romney loves women; I’m sure she does. It’s because, at best, this sentiment is utterly beside the point. And at worst, it’s a cynical, calculated, transparent attempt to chip away at the current and sizable gender gap among voters.

My thoughts crystallized this weekend, while reading an adaptation from Hanna Rosin‘s forthcoming book “The End of Men: And the Rise of Women,” which ran in Sunday’s New York Times magazine. The piece–and Rosin’s book, which grew out of a much dissected article that ran in The Atlantic two years ago–focuses on several real-life families in Alexander City, Alabama, families who now rely on mom to bring home the bacon, a circumstance which leaves everyone puzzling over the reversal of roles. This change of fortune comes thanks to a confluence of factors including the disappearance of good-paying work in the manufacturing sector (jobs traditionally held by men), and the fact that the economy has changed, as have the types of jobs that are available, and the skills that are needed in order to land them:

These days that usually requires going to college or getting some job retraining, which women are generally more willing to do. Two-thirds of the students at the local community college are women, which is fairly typical of the gender breakdown in community colleges throughout the country.

These shifts represent a reality that bumps with the worldview there, informed by both Southern tradition and the Evangelical church. Rosin writes of a conversation with Reuben Prater, currently out of work:

Reuben has a college degree and doesn’t seem especially preoccupied with machismo, so I asked him why, given how many different kinds of jobs he has held, he couldn’t train for one of the jobs that he knew was available: something related to schools, nursing or retail, for example. One reason was obvious–those jobs don’t pay as much as he was accustomed to making–but he said there was another. ‘We’re in the South,’ he told me. ‘A man needs a strong, macho job. He’s not going to be a schoolteacher or a legal secretary or some beauty-shop queen. He’s got to be a man.’ I asked several businesswomen in Alexander City if they would hire a man to be a secretary or a receptionist or a nurse, and many of them just laughed.

All of which makes me chuckle a bit, when one considers this:

‘An important long-term issue is that men are not doing as well as women in keeping up with the demands of the local economy,’ says Michael Greenstone, an economist at M.I.T. and director of the Hamilton Project, which has done some of the most significant research on men and unemployment. ‘It’s a first-order mystery for social scientists, why women have more clearly heard the message that the economy has changed and men have such a hard time hearing it or responding.’

Why shouldn’t they have a hard time? We’re talking about nothing short of a wholesale redefinition of what it is to be a man. Or a woman. We’re talking about nothing short of a wholesale redefinition of what’s valued–and when, for centuries, to be a man was to hold power and make money, finding a woman to fill the role of “helpmate” along his ascent, I’d say it’s not mysterious at all that men are having a hard time hearing the message that things are changing.

Who wants to hear that their status is in jeopardy, their power no longer assured? Who wouldn’t find themselves at a loss?

And, as for the women, we’re taking on the challenges because we can. To earn a paycheck was not something expected of us as women; it’s something we’ve had to fight for the right to do.

And it’s not just the middle-aged men who have careers and lives to look back upon as they wonder what changed who are idling. Even young men seem resistant to what’s really going on. One family profiled in Rosin’s piece exemplifies it all: Rob Pridgen, whose job had recently been phased out; his wife Connie, a high school teacher; and her grown daughter Abby, who found Rob’s explanation of “man-as-provider” laughable:

At this point… Abby, who was then 19, piped up with her own perspective on the Southern code of chivalry, which she said sounded like nonsense to her, given how the boys she knew actually behaved–hanging out in the parking lot, doing God knows what, or going home and playing video games instead of bothering to apply for college…

[Another] afternoon, while Rob sat nearby, Connie and Abby were mulling over a passage from Proverbs that is sometimes read at church for Mother’s Day and that had come up in a Bible-study group.

The passage describes the ‘wife of noble character,’ who works with the wool and the flax, brings the food from afar, who ‘gets up while it is still dark,’ buys a field, plants a vineyard, turns a profit, and ‘her lamp does not go out at night’ because she’s still sewing clothes for the poor and generally being industrious while everyone else sleeps. Her husband, meanwhile, ‘is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.’

Traditionally the passage has been viewed as an elaboration of the proper roles of husband and wife. The husband sits in the dominant, protective role, watching his wife’s efforts on behalf of the family and taking pride. But in a town in which many men aren’t working steadily anymore, the words have taken on new meaning. There are people who have noticed that the passage never mentions what the husband is doing or what role he’s playing in providing food for his family, tilling the fields or turning a profit. And what’s dawning on Connie these last few months became obvious to Abby and Rob as she read the passage out loud. That noble wife is working from dawn to dusk. And the husband?

‘Sounds like he’s sitting around with his buddies shooting the breeze, talking about the ballgame and eating potato chips,’ Rob said.

Abby wasn’t surprised. Around Alex City, she said it seemed that it was the girls who were full of energy and eager to see the world. Her own brother, Alex, who was 17, seemed to want to stay in town forever and raise his family here. But Abby was enrolled in Southern Union State Community College, attending on a show-choir scholarship. Her plan was to go there for a year, as many girls in Alex City do, to save money, and then head to Auburn University.

Things are changing in major ways. And change is tough to deal with. But while we’re all puzzling over these seismic shifts is precisely the wrong time to accept blatant pandering with nothing of substance beneath it. And it makes such pandering even more offensive. Women are important to Republicans only in as much as a vote is a vote. But women are increasingly important to this economy, not to mention to the financial support of the typical family and household–we are, in so many ways, patently integral to the success of our society. And the outdated structures and policies we’re left with–and some are fighting fervently to preserve–are relics of a bygone era, useless as typewriters or VCRs. To refuse to recognize the changing times is the worst kind of denial–one that breeds backward-looking policies and irrelevant debate. Our society and our economy need us. To truly value women would be to prioritize policies that help working mothers, health care for everyone, reproductive rights. To patronize women by saying “we love you,” or “your job has always been harder,” is useless when it’s paired with a refusal to acknowledge who today’s women actually are, what they actually do. Because it’s not just women who depend on it.

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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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Welcome to 2011.  Whether you happen to be a member of roughly one-half the population or  just a human being, you’re sure to find something below to make you think.

Or possibly scream.

First up, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who apparently believes that the 14th Amendment — that’s the one that talks about equal protection under the law — does not apply to women.  That’s what he told UC Hastings College of the Law professor Calvin Massey in an interview published in the latest issue of California Lawyer.  Here you go:

In 1868, when the 39th Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 14th Amendment, I don’t think anybody would have thought that equal protection applied to sex discrimination, or certainly not to sexual orientation. So does that mean that we’ve gone off in error by applying the 14th Amendment to both?
Yes, yes. Sorry, to tell you that. … But, you know, if indeed the current society has come to different views, that’s fine. You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t. Nobody ever thought that that’s what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don’t need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box. You don’t like the death penalty anymore, that’s fine. You want a right to abortion? There’s nothing in the Constitution about that. But that doesn’t mean you cannot prohibit it. Persuade your fellow citizens it’s a good idea and pass a law. That’s what democracy is all about. It’s not about nine superannuated judges who have been there too long, imposing these demands on society.

No comment.

Actually, the above is what we might expect from one of the right-most justices on the nation’s highest court.  But look what we find over there at the considerably more enlightened New Yorker, courtesy of a caustic note from Anne Hayes, who fired off this letter to the editors of the elite periodical:

I am writing to express my alarm that this is now the second issue of the NYer in a row where only two (tiny) pieces out of your 76 page magazine are written by women.  The January 3rd, 2011 issue features only a Shouts & Murmurs (Patricia Marx) and a poem (Kimberly Johnson).  Every other major piece—the fiction, the profile, and all the main nonfiction pieces—is written by a man.  Every single critic is a male writer.

We were already alarmed when we flipped through the Dec 20th & 27th double-issue to find that only one piece (Nancy Franklin) and one poem (Alicia Ostriker) were written by women.

She ended her letter by saying that she was enclosing the current issue of the magazine with her letter — and expected a refund.  Love it.

And then there’s Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, who tearfully took the gavel Wednesday as the new Speaker of the House.  Maybe you like him, maybe you don’t, but what his aides have said — and what the “Pledge to America” spells out as job one — is the repeal of the health care overhaul, which, incidentally, has been estimated to save $140 billion over the next ten years.  (Um, remember who pays the price when health insurance isn’t a guarantee? More below.)  The new Republican platform spells out its agenda thus:  Cut the federal budget — without raising taxes or cutting military defense spending.  You can probably guess where the cuts will come.   This from the guy who cries at the plight of families.

Prepare to weep, because we also find out from ABC News that Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn), founder and chairwoman of the House Tea Party Caucus, is considering a run for the White House.  Yep.  We’ve yet to have a woman president — or even a woman make it past the primaries — and this is what we get?  Another name to add to the list of women who call themselves women, politicians who, like Boehner, like everything about family values — unless of course you define those values in terms of the support, like the new health care plan, that enables them to survive.  As we wrote back in November, when California distinguished itself by having two such women on the ballot, a skirt does not a woman make, nor does a skirt make a woman a friend of families:

Because who suffered most under our 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.  But let’s recall a few things we may have forgotten about the old way of health care.  Pregnancy:  pre-existing condition.  Women:  statistically more  likely to work  part-time jobs (so they can care for their kids) that do not provide benefits.   Sure, all is well and good for ladies who can depend on well-employed husbands for heath care benefits.  But what if he loses his job?  Hard to afford COBRA on a part time salary.  Or no salary.  Or even one salary, for that matter.

And what if she’s a single mother?  Sorry, kids.  No doc for you…

And finally, there’s that scandal over the raunchy navy videos.  You know the ones:  mocking women and gays as a boys-will-be-boys bonding exercise.  Let’s go over to salon, where Tracy Clark-Flory (hey, where did Broadsheet go?) reports on her interview with anthropologist Lionel Tiger, author of “Men in Groups,” who says that this all this  stuff is a way to build, you know, brotherhood.  Especially when you’re stuck at sea:

There is an “intrinsic tension from living together in a relatively crowded environment for long periods of time,” and on a warship at sea, no less. That tension demands a release, and humor is a necessary outlet — but laughs aren’t the only motivator. Sexual stereotypes “reinforce the in-group feeling,” he says. Women, who were banned from serving on submarines until just last year, are “an easy out-group to pick on,” he says, and so are gays, who may soon be allowed to serve openly in the military. In both cases, it serves to prop up the heterosexual male norm, allowing for a touchy-feely-but-totally-not-gay “brotherhood.”

This Tiger person says that it’s important to know why this kind of stuff happens.  Clark-Flory takes it a step further, pointing out that the real issue is why this kind of stuff is allowed to happen.

Oh wait, there’s one more thing more that kind of takes us back to Shannon’s last two posts, on likability and ambition.  Ms Magazine’s January cover will feature Nancy Pelosi, who the magazine calls the “Most Effective Speaker Ever”, who passed more significant new public policy — from health care reform to the stimulus bill to the repeal of DADT —  than any Speaker in the last 50 years.  The magazine notes that even Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, says that Pelosi “ranks with the most consequential speakers, certainly in the last 75 years.” But Ms. also notes this:

If Pelosi’s efficacy is news to some, it’s because the media has often snubbed her. Neither Time nor Newsweek featured Pelosi on their covers in all the time she was Speaker (in contrast, Ms. put her on the cover immediately upon her inauguration). Both Time and Newsweek, however, have run covers featuring John Boehner—before he became Speaker.

That sound you hear is steam hissing from my ears.  Back to the future?  You be the judge.

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And so we have all these women running for office in November.  Many of them are right-wingers.  Those are the ones I want to talk about.  (California has two:  Carly Fiorina, former CEO of HP, running for the Senate, and Meg Whitman, former CEO of EBay, running for governor.  Neither one has ever held public office before.  But that’s another story.) Following Sarah Palin’s lead, these new double XX politicos want us to think they are feminists.  (We’ve gone there before in this space.  Want more?  Go here.)

I’m not even sure they’re women.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think women come in many stripes and colors.  So do feminists.  And there’s nothing better than a big tent, right?

And yet.  There are a certain number of bedrock issues (Abortion?  Not even gonna go there.) that we can all agree upon, that you would assume any double X-er would support mainly because these are the issues that directly affect women.  All women.  And their families.  Women’s issues,  right?   Hello, kids?  But these right wingnuttettes?  Nope.  Seriously, folks.  A skirt does not a woman make.

(Neither does a tea party.)

Case in point:  The New York Times reports today that the GOP — which is banking on some of these whack-job women helping them achieve a majority in Congress — plans to reveal its plan to “take back America” today at a lumberyard outside of D.C.  Channeling the “Contract for America” cooked up by former GOP Speaker of the House and Family-Values-Guy Newt Gingrich (who, by the way, dumped his wife  for another woman when said wife was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery.  But that’s another another story) the New York Times reports that they begin their blueprint with the following promise:

“We pledge to advance policies that promote greater liberty, wider opportunity, a robust defense, and national economic prosperity. We pledge to honor families, traditional marriage, life, and the private and faith-based organizations that form the core of our American values.”

And without question, we can expect to hear that these newly energized “feminist” politicos, these women who call themselves women, have signed right on.

To what, specifically?  Here you go.  One of the ways they plan to honor families is to repeal the newly enacted health care law.  On the agenda.  Front and center.

That sound you hear is me throwing up.   Because who suffered most under our 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.  But let’s recall a few things we may have forgotten about the old way of health care.  Pregnancy:  pre-existing condition.  Women:  statistically more  likely to work  part-time jobs (so they can care for their kids) that do not provide benefits.   Sure, all is well and good for ladies who can depend on well-employed husbands for heath care benefits.  But what if he loses his job?  Hard to afford COBRA on a part time salary.  Or no salary.  Or even one salary, for that matter.

And what if she’s a single mother?  Sorry, kids.  No doc for you…

Back to a post from back in November that linked to a piece in USA Today, here’s a quick refresher on how the old health care system discriminated against women:

  • insurance companies are allowed to charge women more for the same policies as men in 40 states and the District of Columbia;
  • in those same states and D.C., insurance companies can charge businesses with mostly female employees higher group rates;
  • many companies don’t provide maternity coverage as part of their basic plans (perhaps you heard Rep. Senator Jon Kyl, of Arizona’s sensitive take on this issue? “I don’t need maternity care and so requiring that to be in my insurance policy is something that I don’t need and will make the policy more expensive.” Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich, called him on the jackass remark, replying “Your mom probably did.”);
  • insurance companies can exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions; having had a C-section is one of them;
  • if a woman is pregnant when she buys an insurance company, insurance companies can deny maternity coverage;
  • 8 states and D.C. allow insurance companies to deny coverage to victims of domestic violence.

There’s more, but those are the highlights of healthcare coverage for women who had insurance.  But what about the ones who didn’t?  Or their kids?  You do the math.

Should we go on?  Yes.  Let’s.

Then there’s the Meg Whitman plan for California that involves cutting off welfare at the two year mark.  Which would be great if there were jobs to be had.  (Ahem. You know how that one ends.)  But again, what about the families we care so much about?  What happens to the kids when mom and dad can’t get a job, or when a single mother can’t afford day care  — because, you know, we’ve never made affordable day care a priority?

A while back, one of the experts we interviewed for our book talked about the rise of the right wing women in politics and what she suggested is that maybe one of the reasons for their success so far is that they are not threatening.  And really, given their position on the issues, why would they be?

About a month ago, New York Times columnist Gail Collins had a chat with feminist writer Stacy Schiff, and here’s a little excerpt from what they had to say about the new wave of women activists, who had taken to calling themselves “mama grizzlies”, the moniker inspired by Sarah Palin, and whether or not they could really be feminists.  Let’s give Gail and Stacy the second-to-last word:

Gail Collins: Do you think the Mama Grizzlies really can be feminists? I don’t think you can throw a woman out of the club because she voted against the stimulus bill. But if feminism simply means supporting equal rights and equal opportunities for women, I don’t see how a feminist can be opposed to government programs that provide poor working mothers with quality child care.

Stacy Schiff: Exactly. The issue is no longer first-rate intellect, or first-rate temperament, but first-rate opportunity. Which is where the Mama Grizzly business really falls down.

An actual grizzly mom is a single mom. She lends a whole new definition to full-time homemaker. If Dad shows up it’s probably to eat the kids. What Mama Grizzly wouldn’t believe in school lunches, health insurance and quality childcare? Who’s going to look after the kids while she’s off hunting? It’s really, really clever to put this powerful vocabulary — pit bulls and grizzlies — in the service of disempowering people. Kind of like death panels in reverse.

Thing is, parity is important.  Absolutely.  We want equal representation in government, in business, in life.  But when it comes to those who make the policy, let’s face it:   Men vote on the issues, not the pants.
Same with us.  It’s the issues, not the skirts.  A woman who can’t-slash-won’t support women’s issues?  Fail.

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Guess who’s calling herself a feminist? I’ll give you a hint: she doesn’t read much but cooks a mean moose chili, and while she isn’t a big fan of hopey changey stuff, she has been known to engage in such enlightened chants as “Drill, baby, drill.” (Though she’s been conspicuously quiet on that subject as of late.) Oh, and she’s super-mavericky, too.

Yeah, her. Sarah Palin’s taken to calling herself a feminist (never mind the fact that, during the 2008 Presidential campaign she told Katie Couric that, no, she was not a feminist)–and many other self-described feminists are none too thrilled about it.

And, frankly, I’m terrifically torn. Yes, a part of me believes that a part of the reason young women are so reluctant to call themselves feminists is because, at times, the movement has seemed been exclusionary. Elitist. Historically, such charges aren’t entirely unfounded. I have even argued that, to my mind, Feminism can be boiled down to the simple idea that women are people.

So why aren’t I jumping up and down, welcoming a woman from the other side of the aisle to the party? Well, just being a woman isn’t enough. And being a woman who’s championed causes antithetical to the interests of women as a whole certainly seems like an adequate deal-breaker, doesn’t it?

The ultimate irony may be in the event at which Palin dropped the F-bomb (upwards of ten times) itself: It was a speech given to the Susan B. Anthony list, an anti-choice group. During the speech, she said the suffragettes were the real feminists (disregarding all that’s come since–you know, like the women who fought to pry open the doors through which Palin walked to get where she is today)–and that they were pro-life. She went on to disparage pro-choice feminists, suggesting that, by championing a woman’s right to choose, they’re really saying they just don’t believe women can handle motherhood and work, and

send this message, that ‘Nope, you’re not capable of doing both. You can’t give your child life and still pursue career and education. You’re not strong enough; you’re not capable.’ So it’s very hypocritical.

Implicit in such a statement is, of course, the idea that that woman who’s capable of doing both will have the benefit of enough support from the social structures around her to make it possible to do both–an argument that’s tough to make, given, you know, the ERA that was never passed, the fact that we’re still underpaid and underrepresented, not to mention the issues of inadequate, unaffordable child care and–until recently–health care (reform of which Palin feverishly campaigned against).

But back to Palin and her F-bombs. Jessica Valenti, who made a compelling argument that Palin’s feminism is not feminism at all, but rather disingenuous pandering for women’s votes come midterm time, lays it out thus:

A related strategy for Palin and fellow conservatives is to paint actual feminists as condescending hypocrites who simply don’t believe in young women… Palin’s “pro-woman sisterhood,” however, “is telling these young women that they’re strong enough and smart enough, they are capable to be able to handle an unintended pregnancy and still be able to… handle that [and] give that child life.” (Unless of course, these young women were unlucky enough to live in Alaska when then-Gov. Palin cut funding for an Anchorage shelter for teenage moms.)

Ahem, who you callin a hypocrite, Sarah?

But then, just when you’re ready to banish her from the kingdom forever, there’s this, from Meghan Daum at the L.A. Times.

The word in question, of course, is “feminist.” It may be the most polarizing label on the sociopolitical stage (it makes “environmentalist” or even “gay-rights advocate” seem downright banal), but Palin seems to have stopped dancing around it and finally claimed it as her partner. Granted, this is a conditional relationship; there’s a qualifier here as big as Alaska…

Now, there are a lot of ways in which [Palin's] logic is contorted, not least of all the suggestion that supporting the right to choose represents a no-confidence vote for the idea of mothers leading fulfilling professional and personal lives. But putting that aside, I feel a duty (a feminist duty, in fact) to say this about Palin’s declaration: If she has the guts to call herself a feminist, then she’s entitled to be accepted as one.

Now, while a part of me agrees with Daum’s perspective, another part of me agrees with the in-your-face take offered by Kate Harding, who wrote on Jezebel that:

The problem is, words mean things. I could start calling myself a red meat conservative, or campaign for those of us who are against the death penalty to “reclaim” the term “pro-life,” but at some point, the relationship between your beliefs and your choice of words either passes the sniff test or it doesn’t. And someone who actively seeks to restrict women’s freedom calling herself a feminist is, not to put too fine a point on it, a liar. There’s a difference between a big tent and no boundaries whatsoever; if Palin’s “entitled to be accepted” as a feminist just because she says she’s one, then the word is completely meaningless–as opposed to merely vague and controversial. And I might just start calling myself a “right-winger” because I’m right-handed, or a “fundamentalist” because I believe everyone deserves a solid primary education, or a “birther” because I once hosted a baby shower.

Is she or isn’t she?? More troubling that all of this, to me, though, is this: it seems that what’s really happening here is that feminism is again being reduced to an issue of reproductive rights. Don’t get me wrong: I happen to believe a woman’s right to choose is critically, critically important–and while I find it nothing short of ludicrous to call an anti-choice argument “feminist,” something (else) about this entire debate rubs me wrong (and not just the high-school-clique-ish nature of the whole does she belong or doesn’t she question). I just think that every time we frame feminism as about abortion rights and nothing more, we take the focus off of what it’s really all about. And that is, of course, that women are people–people who deserve equal access, representation, freedom, pay, and support from all aspects of the social structures that circumscribe their lives. And while feminism may indeed be nothing more than the radical notion that women are people, a feminist is someone who puts her money (or her votes) where her rhetoric is. So, Sarah, call yourself whatever you want. But talk is cheap–and your record speaks for itself.


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Given the –well, the shitstorm that’s erupted over the attempt to saddle health care reform with the cynical, sabotaging, decidedly anti-choice Stupak-Pitts amendment, it’s fitting to revisit an issue that simply will not go away. Us versus Them.

But first. There’s some awesome, mandatory reading currently waiting for you over at the New Yorker‘s website, in the form of a piece entitled “Lift and Separate: Why is feminism still so divisive?” written by Ariel Levy. In it, you’ll get a crash course in feminism’s second wave, beginning with the bra burning that never happened at a 1968 protest against the Miss America pageant that did, and continuing clean through last year’s presidential race, Gail Collins‘ recent book “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present,” and Republican political analyst Leslie Sanchez’s new book, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Maybe: Sarah, Michelle, Hillary and the Shaping of the New American Woman.”

The Cliff’s Notes version: Levy is no fan of Sanchez, and her piece frames a compelling argument. She writes:

There are political consequences to remembering things that never happened and forgetting things that did. If what you mainly know about modern feminism is that its proponents immolated their underwear, you might well arrive at the conclusion that feminists are ‘obnoxious,’ as Leslie Sanchez does in her new book… ‘I don’t agree with the feminist agenda,’ Sanchez writes. ‘To me, the word feminist epitomizes the zealots of an earlier and more disruptive time.’ Here’s what Sanchez would prefer: ‘No bra burning. No belting out Helen Reddy. Just calm concern for how women are faring in the world.’

Call me crazy, but it seems to me that the time Sanchez dubs ‘disruptive’ was the time when some serious things got done. Calm, after all, is a close relative of passive.

Levy continues, accusing Sanchez of measuring progress “solely by the percentage of people with government jobs who wear bras.” And what, you might ask, is the problem with measuring our equality by the numbers? Well, in becoming what she calls “identity politics, a version of the old spoils system”–i.e., picking a group to identify with, and joining together to claim your rightful piece of the pie–we have become too focused on getting women into positions of power, but not focused enough on what they should do when they get there. In other words, Sarah Palin.

Consider Sanchez’ dismissal of Gloria Steinem’s criticism of the former Alaska governor, in which she complains that when Steinem wrote in the L.A. Times that “Palin shares nothing but a chromosome with Clinton,” to Sanchez’ mind, she was really saying: “You can run, Sarah Palin, but you won’t get my support because you don’t believe in all the same things I believe in.”

And that’s a problem? So, only men get to vote according to their ideals, and women have to vote according to chromosome? Come on.

Yes, it’s important that we’ve gained representation. But consider, as Levy reminds us:

In 1971, a bipartisan group of senators, led by Walter Mondale, came up with legislation that would have established both early-education programs and after-school care across the country. Tuition would be on a sliding scale based on a family’s income bracket, and the program would be available to everyone but participation was required of no one. Both houses of Congress passed the bill.

Nobody remembers this, because, later that year, President Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Child Development Act, declaring that it ‘would commit the vast moral authority of the National Government to the side of ‘communal approaches to child rearing’ and undermine ‘the family-centered approach.’ He meant ‘the traditional-family-centered approach,’ which requires women to foresake every ambition apart from motherhood.

And so, here we are. The demise of that bill wasn’t due to in-bickering, but it’s nearly 40 years later. The women are there, but is the woman-friendly work getting done?

As Levy says:

So close. And now so far. The amazing journey of American women is easier to take pride in if you banish thoughts about the roads not taken. When you consider all those women struggling to earn a paycheck while rearing their children, and start to imagine what might have been, it’s enough to make you want to burn something.

Insofar as it relates to the current abortion amendment on the Health Care Reform bill, well, I hate to see lawmakers hedging their bets, pussy-footing around, and doing their best to take a critical right away from women who need it now–or might some day. And I loathe those who are telling those who care passionately about the issue to “Simmer down, honey; that’s not the way politics works.” (Check Kate Harding’s post at Broadsheet for a take that’ll make you scream.) Let me be clear: Fuck the Stupak Amendment. Reproductive rights are critical. But health care reform is critical for women in particular, for a ton of reasons: we’re overcharged, underinsured, more likely to be reliant on our spouse for insurance, more likely to go bankrupt due to medical reasons–and we can be denied coverage on the basis of “preexisting conditions” that include pregnancy, C-sections, and domestic violence. So, while I’d like to reiterate–Fuck the Stupak Amendment–at the same time, considering Levy’s words above, I have to wonder: what would women’s lives look like today if that Comprehensive Child Development Act was part of our world? We were so close, it would have seemed absurd in 1971 to say: Guess what? Come 2009, that’ll be so far from reality, it will seem ridiculous. In 40 years, do we want to be stuck with the same dismal health care system we’ve got now, wondering how reform slipped away?

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See, here’s the thing. This health care debate? It’s really important. And even more so for women.

Consider these words from the press release summarizing Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s speech at a press conference yesterday:

Women will continue to face discrimination in both coverage and costs if health reform fails.

How are women discriminated against? Allow me to crib a couple of basic points as enumerated by USA Today:

  • insurance companies are allowed to charge women more for the same policies as men in 40 states and the District of Columbia;
  • in those same states and D.C., insurance companies can charge businesses with mostly female employees higher group rates;
  • many companies don’t provide maternity coverage as part of their basic plans (perhaps you heard Rep. Senator Jon Kyl, of Arizona’s sensitive take on this issue? “I don’t need maternity care and so requiring that to be in my insurance policy is something that I don’t need and will make the policy more expensive.” Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich, called him on the jackass remark, replying “Your mom probably did.”);
  • insurance companies can exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions; having had a C-section is one of them;
  • if a woman is pregnant when she buys an insurance company, insurance companies can deny maternity coverage;
  • 8 states and D.C. allow insurance companies to deny coverage to victims of domestic violence.

While all that is incredibly infuriating and appalling, what’s worse is that, inevitably, abortion rights will be singled out, as they have been for years, THE go-to tactic for dividing and conquering. It’s already co-opting the news: both the NY Times’ David Kirkpatrick and the Boston Globe’s Ellen Goodman have weighed in. Granted, access to abortion is an important issue, but there is so much more than that at stake. Re-read those items above and consider: in those 40 states, there’s a distinct disincentive to hiring women. Non-employer-insured women who’d then have to buy their own coverage will then likely pay more for a policy which may or may not cover them during pregnancy, when health care is critical.

In case you’re not adequately pissed off, consider this, written in June of this year by Brigette Courtot, a Policy Analyst with the National Women’s Law Center:

In 2007, the majority of all bankruptcies–a whopping 60%–had a medical cause. For the most part, those filing for medical bankruptcy were well-educated, middle-income earners, and had health insurance when they filed. Researchers also found that being female significantly increases the odds that a person will file a medical bankruptcy–no surprise there, since we have plenty of evidence that because women have lower incomes and greater health care needs than men, they are more likely to face unaffordable medical bills and debt, and to delay or skip necessary care because of cost.

Wow, right? Feministing said it well:

And I know that health care is a feminist issue. Because women are more likely than men to go without needed care. Because nearly twice as many women as men access health care as a dependent–in other words, they’re not covered under their own name. Because low-income women and immigrant women and women of color have a disproportionately difficult time accessing regular care. Because women are more likely to have patchwork-style careers, dropping in and out of the workforce because of family care obligations, which makes dependence on employer-provided health care exceptionally hard. Because a larger percentage of women than men have a hard time paying their medical bills.

But the thing is, it’s also critical for less obvious reasons–reasons alluded to in the above mention of our “patchwork-style careers”. Health care is yet another insidious part of the “You can be anything you want!” mirage, rendering many of our “choices” illusory. Opting in or out? Is there really an option? And what about ditching the corporate grind to follow our passion? Getting back to Pelosi, take a moment to let this sink in:

It is great for our economy to have the dynamism of a work force that is not job locked but that can move from job to job or start their own business or be self-employed. All of this is about the dynamism of our economy and our competitiveness in world markets not to have the anvil of heavy and ever-increasing medical expenses make us less competitive.

At its core, the feminist movement of the 70s was about changing institutions. And somewhere along the way, we lost that focus. And today, when we’re talking about women’s declining happiness in the face of greater opportunity as though it were a paradox, we’re missing a huge point: our opportunity is not supported by our institutions. And until that happens, I think we’re going to remain largely unsatisfied.

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