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Just as the repetitive, remonstrative, and sometimes shockingly disingenuous discourse of the presidential debates threatened to lull me into believing otherwise, Richard Mourdock, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Indiana, reminded me that one of the key issues at stake in 2012 is indeed still women’s rights, the sane assessment of our situation, the value of our lives and freedoms, and the logical thinking required to move us forward.
But let me state up front that women’s rights are not “social issues.” And to believe that women’s rights are subordinate to any other election issue is to make a dire miscalculation for the future of the United States of America.
For over half the population — and potential workforce and brain-trust — of our country, our right to control our own bodies and make decisions about our own reproductive systems is an economic issue. Our right to freely access our choice of no-cost contraception without the knowledge, moral judgement or consent of our bosses is an economic issue. Our right to family planning, to decide when and if we will have children, with whom, how many children we will have and the spacing of them is an economic issue. Our right to affordable health care that does not charge women up to 48% higher premiums than men or penalize female status (sometimes even including past experience of rape or domestic violence) as a “pre-existing condition,” is an economic issue. And our right to legally contest being paid less for doing the same job as a man (Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act) is, of course, an economic issue. These issues have a profound effect upon our country’s fiscal recovery, job growth, and future global leadership.
Women’s ability to complete our education, successfully navigate the job market, and invest in our career development depends on these rights staying intact. The strength and sustainability of irreplaceable contributions women make to communities, schools, business and commerce, and religious, civic and service organizations depends on these rights. Our ability to support ourselves and our families depends on these rights, and women are increasingly responsible for supporting families. The Wall Street Journal and other studies report that when women control the household finances, they globally tend to spend their income in ways that benefit families and children most, compared to ways money is generally spent when men are the ones primarily bringing home the bacon.
In other words, to be fully functioning members of society who can contribute our strengths and talents to being good capitalist entrepreneurs, starting businesses, growing the economy, furthering education, making families healthier and improving American society, we must be allowed to put on our “big girl” pants and make decisions about ourselves, for ourselves. That means without the government legislating otherwise. But our rights are threatened every time Romney and Ryan claim they will repeal the Affordable Care Act on “day one”, every time they promised to “de-fund” Planned Parenthood, every time they deny legislation for workplace equity while putting all their energy into writing bills and constitutional amendments that outlaw most contraception and In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF), yet force women to carry rape and incest pregnancies. Listen, everyone agrees that life is precious and sacred, and no one wants abortions. But life is extraordinarily complex and often very unfair to women, especially poor women, on many levels. Bottom line, our government should not be legislating the complicated decisions women have to make, and men who have long benefited from a male-dominated society should not be deciding things they know little about experientially. It would be helpful maybe if the 83% majority of men in Congress could focus on how we hold the men who get the women pregnant responsible…funny how that side of the pregnancy equation is rarely legislated or reprimanded for their choices to withhold support or abandon the women they impregnate, which is often a factor in a woman’s decision to abort a pregnancy.
Beyond reproduction, we must also automatically and unequivocally get the same benefits and pay as men without being fought tooth and nail by politicians, their backers and associates who refuse to support legislation, or worse, deny the inequality even exists. Many conservative media pundits and mouthpieces were on the defense after 24-year-old teacher Katherine Fenton raised the issue at the Hofstra Presidential debates a couple weeks ago, calling her simple, legitimate question a “leftist feminazi lie”. But the fact is, closing the gender wage gap would stimulate the economy tremendously, adding 4% or more to the current size of the U.S. economy, according to Heidi Hartmann, an economist and president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. In a recent article outlining the myriad positive effects of upholding gender equity on our economy, Laura Bassett discussed the fact that the Paycheck Fairness Act, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) would enact meaningful, detailed reforms to prevent workforce inequity, but was blocked in June by Senate Republicans.
But if women continue making roughly 72%-77% of the income men make at the same jobs and at the same level of education and commitment, yet are penalized and charged more money for basic necessities like health insurance, how can women support bright futures for themselves and their families? Women may be going to college more and performing better than men in higher education, but the pay gap still starts immediately after graduation, making student loan debt more of a detrimental burden for women than for men. Fordham University’s Kirsten Swinth, in an important article about women and the election, cites the Center for American Progress:
Including all workers, the median full-time female worker earned $10,784 less in 2010 than the median full-time male worker. Over a 40-year career, that wage gap adds up to more than $400,000.
And for the 2 million women that are victims of domestic violence annually, the issue is not only about enduring physical and mental abuse and the myriad problems created by the experience of such brutality. Domestic violence costs $8 billion annually in lost productivity and health care expenses and results in the loss of 8 million paid days of work a year. But Congress can’t get beyond gender rhetoric to agree on how to best protect citizens.
It is undeniable in this election season that some conservative male candidates clearly do not understand the impact women’s health, equality, and autonomy has on the economy and the future of America. They seem to think we are better off if they tell us what to do and how to live and restrict us with antiquated, dangerous sexist ideas. Mourdock’s latest in the string of egregiously misinformed, gender-patronizing campaign statements about rape and women — managing to be both scientifically and theologically offensive — have exposed the historical ability of some ultra-conservative politicians to get away with leaving all honesty, reality and logic behind in their campaigns, especially when it comes to women’s rights. That Mourdock, Todd Akin (of dead-wrong scientific assertions and “legitimate rape” infamy), and Joe Walsh (who said that women never die in childbirth anymore, therefore need no “life of the mother” provisions, despite the U.S. being ranked a low 50th worldwide in prevention of maternal mortality), are still securely in the running for influential Congressional positions is deeply concerning, since the laws we all live by can theoretically be no smarter than the people who write and champion legislation and ultimately vote on our behalf.
Giving this responsibility and power to people who not only would fail a basic biology test, but also rely on antiquated religio-patriarchal superstitions to guide decisions is the worst thing we could possibly do as a nation. This is not just because “gals” don’t want to be forced to put aspirin between our knees as “birth control“, but it is especially important if we are actually concerned about the economy and financial health of our nation. For Femmevangelicals — women who believe complete equality is critically imperative and who interrogate and integrate their religious faith via this understanding — we are impatient waiting for voters to wake up to the reality that entrenched institutional and systemic sexism is a primary culprit in holding our country back economically, politically, globally. It matters. And it matters in this election.
Mitt Romney’s advisor Eric Fehrnstrom may believe women’s rights and health issues are simply “shiny objects” used to “distract” voters, but regardless of party affiliation, Femmevangelicals know the truth. Not only do we know the statistics and facts I’ve cited above, which are just a scant few of so many. But we also live the challenges every day, we fight to be taken seriously and to rise above the inequalities that stand in our way. We also recognize that we have been brainwashed in the past to believe that our struggles, needs, priorities, careers, dreams, goals and important life decisions are non-integral and inconsequential to the economy, to the larger system of capitalism, to the job market, to the race for ingenuity, inventiveness, and leadership…to the greater good. This is the worst, most insidious kind of lie. A chance to keep moving forward, to live out our potential on our own terms is what is at stake on November 6.