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During the March 2012 Women in the World summit at New York’s Lincoln Center, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered these candid remarks on patriarchy and women’s rights:
“Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me. But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim, they all want to control women. They want to control how we dress, they want to control how we act, they even want to control the decisions we make about our own health and our own bodies. Yes, it is hard to believe, but even here at home we have to stand up for women’s rights and reject efforts to marginalize any one of us because America needs to set an example for the entire world.”
Clinton’s words speak volumes if you’re attuned to women’s issues, popular culture, or even just a casual observer of politics. In an era where many people are claiming to be post-everything, so many old school tricks of the discrimination trade seem to be ever-present. What women do and how we are doing it appears to be a major cause for concern for a lot of men. From marriage to healthcare, many men are at the forefront of “tackling” women’s issues and are very invested in policing our behavior.
Women’s reproductive rights have taken center stage. Debates that happened decades ago are resurfacing. Battles that have already been fought and won are somehow back on the table. Last year we saw Black women being attacked by anti-choice groups posting billboards claiming the most dangerous place to be is in a Black woman’s womb. Now Planned Parenthood, an invaluable healthcare provider to millions of women who may not have access to the types of health insurance the 1% more than likely enjoys, has been facing threats of defunding by people who are using abortion as leverage, and a scare tactic, in their conservative political games. Not long ago, precarious GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney promised to get rid of Planned Parenthood as part of his battle for the soul of America. In reality, abortion accounts for a relatively small portion of the services performed by Planned Parenthood which also offers reproductive and preventative healthcare services, including cancer screenings.
We’re all aware of the firestorm Rush Limbaugh brought upon himself by calling Sandra Fluke a slut for wanting birth control pills covered by insurance providers. Although his views may sound extreme, they probably aren’t completely off the mark. Earlier this year, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform convened an all male panel to discuss contraception coverage. Presidential hopefuls Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, and Paul all oppose President Obama’s mandates surrounding contraception with Paul stating, “But sort of along the line of the [contraception] pills creating immorality, I don’t see it that way. I think the immorality creates the problem of wanting to use the pills. So you don’t blame the pills.” Whatever the angle, conscious and unconscious attempts at legislating morality through persistent attacks on women have become the trend.
Of course debates about childbirth and marriage are also part of the fold. The New York Times recently reported that “more than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage” which dovetails with other marriage related trends and Census data indicating women and men marrying later in life and single people representing the majority of American households. While many women may be choosing to have children despite their marital status, most research also points to the increased likelihood of poverty as well as other potential health, income, and educational inequities associated with single parenthood. But there are solutions. Steve Harvey has made his relationship mark by advising countless women to act like ladies while thinking like men in order to land relationships, Ralph Banks has offered women an “interracial fix” for marriage, and Bishop T.D. Jakes has a plethora of books and movies aimed at the faith, hope, and love trifecta.
The problem isn’t that men are giving their opinions on women’s issues, bodies, etc.; the problem is that men who are privileged are dominating discussions that are mainly about women who are often marginalized. When women are absent from important conversations about women, the stories are misshapen, distorted, and incomplete. Privilege normally doesn’t allow for the clearest or fairest vision. Whether intentional or not, what we have now is a no-win situation that has been constructed for women where being unmarried, single motherhood, abortion, birth control, reproductive and preventative healthcare, and most social services are all problems and women are to blame. We have to stand up for women’s rights, work to dismantle patriarchy, and not allow ourselves, our stories, or our voices to be misrepresented or marginalized.