The Female Gaze: Susan B. Anthony and Me

Each week in The Female Gaze, Faith Newport engages the trends, events, and issues that affect women—and the men who care about them.

I have to hand it to those Republicans–they certainly aren’t shy about getting things done. One bill after another is getting passed in state after state, and things are looking a bit more conservative all over the country.

For the record, I’m not a Democrat or a Republican. In fact, most of the time I hate politics. But, as a Christian, I feel like Republican politicians are always trying to court my vote using religion. Especially when it comes time to talk about sex. And with friends like these, who needs enemies?

While I have always been firmly pro-life, I am also a feminist. Is that a tricky line to walk? Not if you ask the original suffragettes, who were unswervingly convinced that abortion was pretty black-and-white bad.

Interestingly enough, they also thought men were more than partially to blame.

Their ideas suggest that the real problem is society–a system that was (and often still is) dominated by men, their perspectives, and their priorities. While women may now have the ability to vote and opportunity to elect other women as our representatives, much of the system that kept women down is still quite intact.

The problem I have with many of the recent legislature being passed is that it seems to consistently favor political conservatism over creativity and compassion. This type of controversial ultrasound mandate is a great example–protested by many women due to its invasive nature. What does it say about the church and our “family values” when these are our best political solutions?

Women in the United States today still face a myriad of problems that get in the way of procreation. We make just 77 cents for every dollar made by our male counterparts, putting women at a disadvantage even before taking on the additional financial pressure of a pregnancy. And not only is the United States the only First World country that does not mandate paid parental leave, but having children will typically have a negative affect on a woman’s career in the long run as well.

What if lawmakers decided to focus on those issues first? What if we actively worked to create a society more friendly to the unborn by providing better for their mothers?

Politicians could push bills that continue to strengthen Equal Pay measures, mandate paid maternity leave, and make it easier for a woman to sue her employer for discriminating against her because she is pregnant or has children. Tax breaks could be given to employers who offer flex scheduling–an extremely family-friendly option that empowers women and potentially results in greater employee job satisfaction overall. Incentives could also be given to colleges and universities that offer childcare services to students. Attempts could be made to simplify the domestic adoption process and reduce the costs involved to adoptive parents. More rape convictions could (and should) be pursued, and sentences made harsher–nipping one source of unwanted pregnancy in the bud. Advertising companies could be penalized or forced to withdraw ads with degrading and exploitative imagery that contributes to the rapist mentality.

Rather than contributing money to political campaigning, Christian organizations could focus on starting women’s shelters, sponsoring college scholarships for teen mothers, or creating community programs to mentor, support, and offer practical aid to teenage or single mothers during and after pregnancy. Perhaps most important, we could start talking about how to love our fellow sinners instead of preaching at them.

There is no one solution to this issue, and the ideas that I mentioned above are just that–ideas. But more ideas are exactly what we need.

Jesus was a creative leader. When asked for an A or B answer, he loved to choose C. I believe that there are many hidden C answers with tremendous potential to impact not only the debates in this country but the lives in our communities as well. I believe it is indeed possible to be both pro-woman and pro-life, but our politicians have to start caring more for women if we have any hope of saving children.

About Faith Newport

Faith Newport writes, knits, drinks lattes, and sings in the shower in a small Midwestern town. She lives with two cats, too many books, and her very patient husband. Follow her on Twitter @knittybarista.

  • Daniel

    Ok, I know this is a woman’s column, but I want to comment.

    Faith, I think you’re spot-on in many ways. However, there are reasons why some of the things you suggest–which sound very sensible–will not be supported by conservative politicians.

    I think there are two reasons: (1) the commitment to government=bad, private enterprise=good by many conservatives. Mandated maternity care would be decried as “socialism” and cited as something that will “destroy” business and turn our nation into another North Korea. No matter how specious the reasoning, it will be extremely difficult to get any conservative to support it. (2) Sometimes we make perfection the enemy of a little bit better. Since many conservatives–especially Christian conservatives–strongly support the idea that the mother should stay home full-time to care for the children (perhaps including home schooling), anything that smacks of “subsidizing” the “working mother” model will be viewed as an erosion of “family values.” That is, the “evil” in “promoting” working motherhood is greater than the good of having women be able to become better providers, or even the good that makes some women feel having a baby rather than aborting him a more attractive choice (And as usual, the single parent is lost in this debate, because that “lifestyle” is not viewed as ideal.) And on the note of ending abortion, we often prefer the stick to the carrot: criminalize abortion in order to discourage it, but do little or nothing to make life a more attractive choice.

  • http://thosewithwings.blogspot.com Aaron G.

    Interesting points, and I agree completely that Christian organizations would generally be far better off spending their money as you suggested, rather than donating it to political campaigns.

    However, to a couple of your points, there’s a fair number of unbiased sources that say the wage gap you mentioned is more a statistical error than reality: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505125_162-28246928/the-gender-pay-gap-is-a-complete-myth/.

    And as for mandating maternity leave, isn’t that what the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) already did? It’s something like 2-4 weeks mandatory paid leave, plus up to 12 weeks total.