President Obama might not care very much about kids killed in drone strikes or storm-wrecked climate change refugees, but recently, he’s been vehemently reminding us that he cares a whole lot about American women. Last Tuesday, Obama signed a pair of executive orders aimed at addressing the gap in pay between male and female workers. The orders force federal contractors to reveal how much their employees make by race and sex, as well as preventing retaliation against employees who discuss or otherwise reveal their salaries. In the wake of these signatures, along with his push for the Paycheck Fairness Act (which the House of Representatives saw fit to block) the president is taking heat from the other side of the aisle for trying to politicize the issue of gender equality and suck up to his female Democratic base as the 2014 elections draw near.
They’re right, of course; that’s exactly what Obama is doing. However, the reality of the president’s election politics cannot and should not cancel out the achievement of even the smallest step toward correcting one of the world’s most entrenched and institutionalized forms of injustice.
Obama’s stand on gender equality has never come as a surprise to anyone. He campaigned on equal pay for women in 2008; the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 was the first bill he signed into law as president. Following Obama’s victory over challenger Mitt Romney in 2012, turnout of female Democratic voters was one of the major factors credited in the president’s emphatic reelection. Given this last fact, in particular, it only makes sense that Obama would go to great lengths to ensure that women continue to believe in the Democratic brand, and the best way to do that is for the Democrats to green-light policies that help women. An elected representative acting in the best interests of the people who elected him? In theory, that’s democracy.
Of course, conservatives are shocked – shocked! – that Obama would be so cynical as to use female voters for his party’s electoral ends. To hear the Republican pundit pantheon bellow in righteous indignation about publicity stunts and misdirection, you’d think they were completely unfamiliar with the process of American politics.
“This has nothing to do with actually improving the situation of women in the workplace,” said Republican senator Ted Cruz. “This has everything to do with a political showboat for the Democrats and paying off the trial lawyers, who are among the biggest donors to the Democratic Party. And they’re using women to hide what they’re really trying to do.” In other news, the pot has officially accused the kettle of being black.
Meanwhile, Fox News’ Andrea Tantalos said, “The president’s just hoping that the 30,000 foot message that people will take home will be ‘alright, Republicans are against equal pay for women and President Obama is for it.’” Considering the fact that the Paycheck Fairness Act – which would have forced employers to account for and explain disparities in pay between men and women – failed to pass the House of Representatives because no Republican would vote for it, it seems conservatives are doing quite well at sending that message themselves.
If you’ve been paying attention, you might have realized that this entire debate sounds slightly odd. Obama is getting heat because he signed executive orders…that allow women to find out how much they are being paid compared to men, and to talk about it? The House of Representatives doesn’t include a single Republican who thinks companies should have to at least explain why they are paying their female employees less than the males? Why are we still having a serious debate about this in the year 2014?
The truth is unfortunate, but it must be recognized. This country does not have a political system in which it is possible to fix a problem that almost everyone acknowledges. Do a majority of Americans really believe women deserve less pay than men? Even in this morally bankrupt culture, that can’t possibly be the case. We should be able to speak with a single voice, as the people of a supposedly advanced society, and end discrimination against women, both in the workplace and elsewhere. Instead, we have governments and bureaucracies, lobbyists and propagandists, and the status quo marches merrily along.
Originally published in The Lumberjack (http://www.jackcentral.org/opinion/politicization-process-doesn-t-invalidate-the-gender-equality-debate/article_059afd0a-cc10-11e3-bf17-0017a43b2370.html)