By Doug Porter
More than four decades ago Congresswomen Bella Abzug introduced legislation to designate August 26 as “Women’s Equality Day.” The bill says that “the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation annually in commemoration of that day in 1920, on which the women of America were first given the right to vote.”
In 1972 the Equal Rights Amendment passed, having been introduced in every session of Congress since 1923. The amendment required ratification by 38 states, but fell three states short. While there have been various legal maneuvers extend the ratification deadline, along with attempts to re-introduce the amendment over the years, it is, for all practical purposes, dead.
Think of it: more than half the human beings in the United States are subject to legally sanctioned discrimination. Buried beneath all the justifications and rationalizations for this fundamental injustice is the belief that women are (or should be) chattel.
As Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo) says in a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed today:
Our Constitution granted women the right to vote 94 years ago, but efforts to ban discrimination based on sex have never earned constitutional status. This gaping legal hole was summed up recently by conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia: “Certainly the Constitution does not require (discrimination on the basis of sex). The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.”
Women today aren’t guaranteed equal pay for equal work and are subjected to restrictions on contraception and family planning services, unfair workplace conditions and laws that favor the perpetrators over victims in cases of sexual assault. The need for constitutionally guaranteed equality remains shamefully overdue. How can we have “liberty and justice for all” when a prohibition against sex discrimination is missing from our nation’s blueprint?
The Wallethub website is commemorating Women’s Equality Day with 2014’s Best and Worst States for Women’s Equality:
…it doesn’t take a feminist to convince anyone that the gender gap in 21st-century America remains disgracefully wide. In 2013, the U.S. failed to make the top 10 — or even the top 20 — of the World Economic Forum’s list of the most gender-equal countries. In fact, the U.S. had fallen one spot to No. 23 since 2012 and six spots since 2011 on the WEC’s annual Global Gender Gap Index. Worse, it lagged behind developing nations — including Burundi, Lesotho, Nicaragua and the Philippines — with primary areas of weakness in economic participation and political empowerment.
Perhaps most apparent about the issue is how far gender inequality stretches in the American workplace environment. Even with all their advances toward social equality thus far, women continue to be disproportionately under-represented in leadership positions. This past March, the Center for American Progress reported that women “are only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.” And though they comprise the majority of the labor force in the financial services and health care industries, none are head honchos of their companies.
(Hold Your Cursor Over a State to See Where It Ranked at Wallethub)
Raising the Minimum Wage is a Women’s Issue
Economic activity can’t be distinct from the socio-cultural context in which it occurs. That’s especially true of wages and hiring. Women with the same skills and experience are paid less than their male counterparts. Why? Strip away all the ridiculous arguments by (mostly) male apologists and it’s impossible to escape the conclusion that the wage gap exists because women are viewed as lesser beings.
And when it comes to lower wage workers, women -again-play a disproportionately large role.
From the Center for American Progress:
In 2011 more than 62 percent of minimum-wage workers were women compared to just 38 percent of male minimum-wage workers. Slightly more than 2.5 million women earn the minimum wage or less, while approximately 1.5 million men do. This imbalance is even more drastic once you consider that women were just 46.9 percent of all employed workers in 2011.
Female workers earning the minimum wage are also disproportionately workers of color. African American women were 15.8 percent of female workers making the minimum wage in 2011 compared to 12.3 percent of all employed workers. Similarly, Hispanic women were 16.5 percent of female minimum wage earners but were only 12.5 percent of employed workers…
…Finally, women earning the minimum wage are also overwhelmingly adults—not teenagers. More than 76 percent of women earning the minimum wage are 20 years old or older. In fact, 40 percent of female minimum-wage earners are over the age of 30.
The concept of women being something less than men was baked into both U.S. and English law, via the system of coverture, where “by marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law; that is the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage”. Women in the U.S. were not even legally defined as “persons” until an 1875 court decision. (Minor v. Happersett, 88 U.S. 162)
Don’t Just Celebrate, Organize!
The will be a parade in San Diego today commemorating women’s suffrage. While this is a feel-good occasion honoring the struggles of the past, it’s important for all of us to use those lessons learned to build a better future.
Because if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. Gender inequality can’t be treated as a secondary issue; it permeates every level of society. It should be considered as part of any analysis of any issue.
The debate over raising the minimum wage and instituting earned sick days is one place where gender inequality is a primary consideration, yet this hardly gets any play in the local media. The decision to build or not build a new football stadium has a gender component, even if it isn’t necessarily the dominant factor.
This is a matter of “framing,” where the dominant economic and social order seeks to maintain the status quo.
And anybody who says otherwise isn’t telling the truth.
A Better Back to School Week at San Diego State
KPBS is reporting on actions being taken by San Diego State University to better its sexual assault prevention and reporting policies as students return for classes.
A state audit released in June cited SDSU, UCLA, Chico State and UC Berkeley for failing to properly educate incoming students about sexual violence.
When SDSU’s 30,000 students arrive for the first day of classes Monday, they will find new policies in place and plans for others — like a new rape crisis advocate on staff — by October.
That’s good news to rape survivors and their advocates.
Still, they’re asking: What took so long?
“As someone who has been on this campus since I was a graduate student, starting in 2003 I was asking for a lot of the things that came out in the audit … and I wasn’t alone,” said Jeff Bucholtz, co-founder of We End Violence, which provides educational training on sexual violence.
According to a study funded by the U.S. Justice Department and released in April, one in five college women will be the victim of a rape or an attempted rape by the time she graduates. Victims often know their perpetrators, and attacks happen most frequently in students’ first and second years in college.
Not Really a Day Off: The Starting Line Column will resume in its regular role and format on Thursday. Tomorrow my second contribution to the “Who Runs San Diego?” series will appear, focusing on the role of weekly newspapers.
On This Day: 1919– Fannie Sellins and Joseph Starzeleski are murdered by coal company guards on a picket line in Brackenridge, Pa. Sellins was a United Mine Workers of America organizer and Starzeleski was a miner 1920 – The 19th amendment to the Constitution went into effect. The amendment prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in the voting booth. 1967 – Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” was released as the opening track on the U.S. release of “Are You Experienced.”
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A Personal (Unpaid) Plug – Public Banking Institute (PBI) www.publicbankinginstitute.org is in the process of organizing a San Diego Chapter. PBI, a non-profit, non-partisan public policy organization is engaged in creating public banks at the state, county and city levels.
Public banks create the money they lend just as private banks do. The difference is that a publicly-owned bank returns the interest to the government and the community, while a privately-owned bank siphons it into private accounts, progressively drawing money out of the productive economy. For information contact firstname.lastname@example.org