Women, especially young childless undecided women voters, are talking about jobs, not abortion rights, right? What women really care about is not contraception, not access to family planning resources, not social issues like gay marriage, abstinence-only sex “ed” or Mitt Romney’s 50 year old bullying. Nope – it’s the economy. Women, “like everyone else,”– that would the norm – men, just want to be able to go to work, earn a fair wage and support their families. These “social” things are a “distraction” leading Americans to avert their gaze from what’s really important: the economy. Polls are clear: jobs and the economy are their number one concerns.
This oft-repeated juxtaposition, superficial and irresponsible, between The Economy and Social Issues (especially, in polls, “jobs” and “contraception”) is like a political media Greek chorus. People believe it, especially women who are disinclined to think about themselves as discriminated against by virtue of their sex. Young women answer these questions and pollsters ask them the way they do based on the assumption that women, armed with education and “girl power,” have equal access to newly created jobs and will be paid fairly for their work. Those are false assumptions that women, especially young childless ones, need to consider before they vote, because this year’s elections, both state and presidential, will affect their ability to do both for years to come.
We’re engaged in a mass delusion that misleadingly pits The Economy against what are at their core, Reproductive Rights. Don’t be fooled when considering who to vote for – women can’t participate equally in the first until they have the second. The very phrasing of the questions and the reporting of the answers hide the complex and interdependent relationship between the two. Contraception, reproductive rights, gay marriage (defined as it is by conservatives as a threat to male/female hierarchies) – all have critical implications for women’s economic well-being and for the economy at large.
Insistence on splitting these two concerns is particularly useful to Republicans, because it allows them to blame women’s economic woes on their “choices,” a specific irony. If a woman gets paid less or doesn’t have a “seat at the table” it’s because she chose a lower paying job, or because she chose to have children and works part-time, or she chose to not complete her education. If women make “bad choices” it’s their own fault, their decisions and they have to pay the consequences. Which gets us to the second half of this equation. Simultaneously, for the “less important” Social Issues, the word “choice” is completely anathema to Republican legislators and presidential hopefuls. Girls and women cannot possibly be trusted with “choices” when it comes to their own bodies, sex ed, birth control, health care, sexuality, domestic violence and marriage.
Most importantly, however, in terms of the economy, is that what all of these secondary-in-importance social issues boil down to is that women especially cannot be allowed to “choose” for themselves when to become mothers – arguably the single most important contributing factor to their, and our economies, long-term well-being.
What single factor arguably has the greatest impact on a woman’s work life? In other words, what enables women to participate in the economy and become productive workers and engines of economic growth and expansion?
That would be motherhood.
So, even single, childless, undecided women who may one day get pregnant, should consider what happens to a woman when she gives birth:
- She is 44% less likely to be hired
- She makes 11% less than her non-mother female counterpart (who is already just making 78cents to the male dollar)
- She is less likely to go to school or complete her education.
- She works part-time with more frequency, so that she can provide child care for which she is uncompensated and can derive no benefits as child care is invisible labor.
- She is less able to work overtime.
- She is unable to get maternal health care coverage as part of a basic insurance policy. Already discriminated against by gender rating in insurance prices, she is now doubly financially harmed by the fact of her parenthood.
- She is more likely to have to limit herself to lower paying job sectors where she thinks she will have more “flexibility” even though this has been proven not to be the case.
- She is more likely to be impoverished and become state dependent.
And, what is motherhood? In it’s simplest terms, it is reproduction.
Control of reproduction is an economic issue. This isn’t an academic abstraction, it is a practical reality for any human endowed with a uterus.
This is why instead of The Economy and Social Issues being unrelated as people keep suggesting, they are integrally related. The very nexus of The Economy and Social Issues then, from a policy perspective, is the question “Do you believe women should work, for (fair) pay and outside of the home?” Republicans do not. That’s why their dedication to controlling female sex and reproduction is an economic policy choice – it affects women’s abilities to pursue education, get hired, be paid, stay in the workforce.
If you believe yes women should be able to work and be paid fairly outside of the home, then you do everything possible to create family friendly work structures, fair pay regulations, health care access, planned parenting provisions, that enable women to do just that. If no, then you don’t. You do the opposite. You create a disabling “social issue” legislative scaffold on which to build a “it’s your own fault” Temple to Patriarchy. This is precisely what the Republic party is doing. If you are an undecided woman voter you should pause to consider the impact of these intersections on your own life and the lives of other, often far less privileged, women.
As it is now, even for a woman who has access to birth control, health care, safe and legal abortion, becoming a mother in this country, planned or unplanned, is the single worst economic decision a woman can make. She is still cobbled by inadequate health care, higher gender-rated insurance premiums, discriminatory pay, poor return on her educational investment, greater responsibility for child care and an inability to save effectively for security in her old age.
Republicans have shown repeatedly and without remorse that they want to keep women vulnerable, dependent and at home:
- Lilly Ledbetter? What’s that? “Money is more important for men.” I finally support it, but (wink, wink) my surrogates will make sure it never happens. Fair Pay in Wisconsin? Don’t want to force employers to prove they are paying women fairly. Definitely don’t want to “clog up the legal system” unless, of course, it’s to send black boys and men to jail.
- Domestic Violence? Let’s make sure the Abuser Lobby is happy, given the mail order bride business and more, and ensure that women most vulnerable to violent abuse are isolated and left even more at the mercy of mostly men who will rape and beat them without recourse to the law.
- Reproductive Freedom? Let’s pursue husbandry-informed blunt force trauma legislation ensuring that women’s bodies and reproduction stay in the control of men. Eliminating Planned Parenthood, making it hard to find birth control and abortion services, mandating transvaginal ultrasounds that women themselves have to pay for, requiring waiting periods that require expensive travel – all of these things impede women’s freedom and ability to compete fairly in the job market.
- Health Care: What, you mean the stuff that keeps people healthy and able to go to work? Hell, no. We’ll not only fight against affordable health care (the opposite of which is unaffordable health care) but we will also stop federal funding for Planned Parenthood, even including monies dedicated to non-abortion services like…family planning – often the only services that poor women have access to. Title IX? The only federal program devoted to family planning, you almost cannot make this up it’s so ridiculous: Romney will eliminate it entirely, to save money for The Economy.
- And yes, even Mitt Romney’s 50 year old bullying of a gay boy. Why? Because the exact same attitudes that informed that incident inform his support of abstinence-only education, gendered societal roles, fair pay provisions, reproductive freedom – namely, there are rules, boxes which people are supposed to fit into – and when they don’t conform to his world view they should be punished and forced to. The roots of his high-school bullying escapades and his “Social Issue” policies both reside in an inability to empathize with people who don’t look like and sound like him. It’s why he saw nothing wrong in explaining that Ann Romney was responsible for translating females. Empathizing with women is just not a possibility if you’re a man.
All of these issues profoundly affect women’s ABILITY TO ENGAGE FULLY AND EQUALLY IN THE ECONOMY WITHOUT PENALIZATION. If Republicans were serious about their commitment to women’s unimpeded equality in the workplace, then they would not insist that “social” policies are unrelated to “the economy” and they would not be pursuing broad legislation that affirmatively harms women’s ability to participate in the economy on multiple levels. Basic control over her own body, that would be reproductive freedom and health care that is affordable, non-discriminatorily priced, and relevant to her body and not men’s, affects whether a woman can seek and complete her education. The type of job she can get. How many hours she can work. If she can afford to start a business. Whether or not she can work full time or has to work part time. Whether she can afford childcare and health care, if she works. Whether she can safely leave an abusive spouse without fear for her children and seek work to support herself.
That’s why Social Issues, like contraception, are ABOUT The Economy not separate from it.