The State of Our Union is Weird

Official White House photo by Amanda Lucidon

Official White House photo by Amanda Lucidon

When I was growing up, everything seemed to be coming up roses for women.  “The Pill”, those fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment, Gloria Steinem getting out of her bunny suit and into tailored Chanel.

We, as women, had more choices than any generation before us.  We were raised by the Silent Majority and the “Greatest Generation” of women, many of whom worked as Rosie the Riveter and then came home to raise their children in homogenized suburban developments.

Everyone told me and my fellow Baby Boomers we could have it all.

I have been blessed and lucky enough to have most of it some of the time, just not all at once.  Five years ago, I lost my job. Not just any job, but the big job.  The one that paid a lot of money and provided my family with a great life. We rebounded; we did not lose our house like others we knew. We were very fortunate.  But, I know how close to the edge we came.

I’m also old enough to know that had I made different choices, my life might have been very different.  For better or worse?  That’s a question that cannot be answered. But many women of my era and today’s era have not had the choices and blessings I’ve had, and certainly have not had it all.  Or much of it.

Many women today are in serious financial trouble, in poverty, and on the edge. And the discussions of why never seem to quite settle down.  Two years ago  Anne-Marie Slaughter’s controversial Atlantic cover “Why Women Can’t Have It All,” stirred the pot again. Pundits like to throw this topic around, but most of the time it’s all the rage between Those Who Have and Those Who Have More.  Amy Chua’s obnoxious opinion piece about her believe that certain ethnic groups have a better shot at success in Sunday’s New York Times is a good example.

Another look down from the high horse was the lovely Republican response by an attractive Congresswoman.  Ironic that just a few days after Gov. Mike Huckabee’s rant on women’s libido and hours after the House passed anti-abortion legislation that the Republican response was given by Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the most senior Republican woman in the House of Representatives.

In case you missed it, here’s what Huckabee said at the winter meeting of the Republican National Committee:

“And if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.”

Yup.  The Grand Old Party sent out a woman to shape their brand, tell their story, grease their wheels just days after this verbal pile of garbage was strewn before the true believers.  No, calling it garbage is too nice. I’ll borrow a phrase from my father’s fraternity days.  Let’s call it condensed owl feces.

None of these folks from Anne-Marie Slaughters to Mike Huckabee to Cathy McMorris Rodgers understand what is happening in the real world.

This cavalier attitude  just makes me mad.  Really mad.  And I’m mad for a number of reasons. I’m mad because women in the same job still make less than males in the same position. If they are lucky enough to have a job. According to College Times:

“Women account for 46% of the labor force, but 59% of workers making less than $8 an hour. What does it mean? It means that many women are taking on jobs that pay well under a living wage. With nearly 16% of U.S. households having women who are divorced, widowed or never married as the sole providers, this leaves many women at a distinct disadvantage and struggling to make ends meet as they dominate jobs in low paying fields.”

I’m mad that we’re still fighting over maternity leave.  This week the Diane Rehm show featured how far behind America is compared to other Western countries when providing for maternal and paternal leave for childbirth or caring for an ailing child or parent.  In Sweden, men not taking the paternity leave can risk losing the whole thing for their partners if they don’t use their time.

I’m mad that we are fighting about birth control in 2014.  Birth control, people.  I’m not talking about late-term abortions. I believe as Hillary Clinton does that “abortions should be safe, legal, and rare.”  I’m not fighting the anti-abortion people; but the fact that some equate birth control with abortion is beyond the pale.

I have a dog in this fight because early in my career I sold an injectable birth control product.  Going to clinics that frequently saw junior high girls as patients made this issue a passion for me.  One day at a clinic in rural southern Illinois, a physician shared with me he had just delivered the baby of an 11-year-old girl. At eleven, you are supposed to be worried about slumber parties, not pumping your breasts.

I’m mad that the unemployment benefits for long-term unemployed have not been extended; and I’m very mad about the arrogant, superior attitude some politicians have about how easy it is to get a job. The sheer number of people who have stopped looking for employment has to indicate that something is up.

The state of our union isn’t, as President Obama proclaimed, strong. The state of our union is, well, weird.

I’ve said this to friends before, and I’ll say it again here.  I think the work world changed dramatically when The Great Recession hit in 2007.  History made even record it as a depression, but it is too soon to know.

What can we as women do?  We can speak up about the real issues, the hunger, the poverty, the unemployment, the lack of living wages to those who represent us in Congress. And we can also express our displeasure over the time spent on issues that seem to only polarize our country more.

Amy McVay Abbott is the author of “The Luxury of Daydreams” (2011) and “A Piece of Her Mind” (2013).

 Image via whitehouse.gov/Amanda Lucidon

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