For years I played the “drinking game” during the State of the Union speech, but it got so I couldn’t make a dent in a single glass of wine when it came to counting the number of times the word “women” was uttered. A mention or two of “men and women in the military” was just about it. (I must confess I did get a little tipsy with one of W’s speeches, the year my word was “noo-cue-ler.”)
So this year I decided to broaden my game, and play “State of the Union Bingo,” invented by the American Association of University Women to gauge President Obama’s attention to the majority — female voters. Bingo had lots of words and phrases to count — equal pay, contraception, gun violence, minimum wage, student loans, and more.
At first glance you might wonder why terms like “minimum wage” pertain to women more than men. Simple. Adult women are the majority of minimum wage workers. Student loans? Female college students have to borrow more, and thanks to that ever-present wage gap, take longer to pay loans off after graduation. And while men own the majority of guns, women are the overwhelming majority of those murdered with firearms in domestic violence and stalking cases.
So when the president acknowledged that women are the majority of low-wage workers in announcing his plan to issue an executive order raising the minimum for workers under new federal contracts, it was good news. But even though he got some of the strongest applause of the evening when he said women deserve equal pay for equal work, he stopped short of directly addressing the gender wage gap with other executive orders women’s groups have been pushing — like requiring contractors to issue public reports on how they pay women and how they pay men, and prohibiting retaliation for discussing pay with co-workers. Instead, he merely called on Congress, the White House, and business to “come together to give every woman the opportunity she deserves.”
The president chose women to single out in the audience as examples of business owners, the newly insured, and those who are still looking for work. But while he spent a big chunk of time praising our troops and talking about deterring Iran’s nuclear ambitions, nothing was said about remedies for the epidemic of sexual assaults in the military. Reproductive rights, constantly under attack, were left out as well.
President Obama did stress income inequality, which is still more unequal for women than men. He also mentioned universal pre-kindergarten, easing the student loan burden, and gun violence, all of which affect females disproportionately (though he didn’t make the connection directly).
While I knew State of the Union Bingo wasn’t going to turn me into a candidate for Alcoholics Anonymous, I was hoping to get a full glass of vino out of the speech. It was more like half a glass.
We’ve heard good words from Obama before, and we know from experience there’s been “many a slip twixt the cup and lip.” But if the president can just turn his rhetoric about women into a small part of reality, I’ll drink to that any time.
Martha Burk is the author of Your Voice, Your Vote: The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Power, Politics and the Change We Need! and Cult of Power: The Inside Story of the Fight to Open Augusta National Golf Club, and How It Exposed the Ingrained Corporate Sexism That Kept Women Down.