The Bombshell loves O. Like so many other American women who helped elect him in ‘08, I adore that great, always-ticking political brain. I love his health care reform, his calm, cool and collected kill order for OBL. His barely clothed socialist tendencies drive me wild, too.
The trouble is, I’m not sure he really loves us—me and my sisters—back. Oh sure, we look pretty good about three months before an election. And yes, he’s put two women on the Supreme Court who will presumably help keep women’s basic rights intact for decades to come. But it really hurts to have to admit that, to him, women are tactical advantages, mere numbers and percentages in a demographic column.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s absolutely imperative that women go out and vote for this man in droves. The alternative is unthinkable. But it is sad that we must support him not for what he has done, or even might do for us, but for what will surely happen without him.
Of course, the Democrats erupted with glee over Mitt Romney’s at the second presidential debate, dubbed “Ladies Night” by Salon. While we’re all LMAO’ing at Romney’s “binders full of women” comment, we forget that Mr. Obama could fit his women in a Trapper Keeper.
Not widely discussed in Democratic circles is that the President’s administration is a boys’ club, and that all-male basketball training and golf games are the least of it. He has only appointed four women to significant positions: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, along with Supreme Court justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. That gives him the same number of women in his cabinet as George W. Bush had, unless the White House counts Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the United Nations. What’s more, Mr. Obama’s “czar” appointments have been 90 percent male. Bush, needless to say, was not attacked for gender parity because the standard is so much lower for Republicans.
Mr. Obama has had ample opportunities to show American women some big love, but he hasn’t put a single woman in charge of the big four economic agencies, (even selecting the supercilious misogynist Larry Summers to advise on the economy the first two years). It’s not like there were not eminently more qualified women for these posts. He blew off Elizabeth Warren to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which she had been instrumental in pushing, appointing a man, Richard Cordray, instead. Warren was present at that announcement and gamely proffered her cheek for a kiss from the President, one that Vanity Fair writer Suzanna Andrews described as “A Judas kiss, some would say.”
The president has also been disappointing on pay equity. On debate night, Mr. Obama boasted that he signed the Lily Ledbetter Act, without saying a word about the much tougher Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill he has used for political points over the last four years, while allowing it to wither on the vine on the Hill.
Ledbetter merely extends the statutory period during which women can file suit over pay discrimination. But the Paycheck Fairness Act is far more sweeping. It would require employers to demonstrate that any salary differences between men and women doing the same work are not gender-related, prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who share salary information and require the Labor Department to increase its outreach to employers to help eliminate pay disparities.
In the summer of ‘08, needing to mollify women who had pinned their hopes on Hillary, Mr. Obama supported the Paycheck Fairness Act. In office, he let it languish, only pushing for it to get to the Senate floor in the summer before the 2010 midterm elections. When it finally got to consideration, Tea Partiers had taken over the Hill and it was DOA. The administration again pushed it forward last summer, in a show vote with no hope of success.
What’s more, gender pay equity doesn’t exist within the White House itself, where women make 18 percent less than their male counterparts. The median female salary in the Obama administration at $60,000 and the men’s at $71,000. The president’s explanation is that it’s not discrimination, but the government-mandated assignment of salaries by type of civil service job, which the administration must follow. This just proves the point that more women than men occupy lower-paying jobs in his administration.
In a recent Huffington Post op-ed, Amy Siskind of the national feminist group New Agenda gave Mr. Obama a C for his performance on the issue of equal pay. On the positive side, she rated him an A+ on Supreme Court appointments, and A on sexual violence, for legislation that pushes campuses to get tougher on sex crimes.
But elsewhere, his grades were far more mixed. Ms. Siskind gave Mr. Obama a C on jobs, noting that the recession ended with a “he-covery” benefitting men disproportionately. Siskind cited a Pew Research Survey which found that women lost 218,000 from 2009 to May 2011, while men gained 768,000 jobs.
Ms. Siskind, for the record, also gave him a B- on reproductive rights. Democrats nationwide, including the president, have stood by, apparently helpless as right wingers in state legislatures across the country introduced more than a thousand pieces of anti-choice legislation in the two years since 2010, according to Planned Parenthood’s count. Many of these radical attacks are now becoming law, in places like Texas, which defunded Planned Parenthood clinics, with Virginia mandating ultrasounds before abortions, and Wisconsin requiring doctors to be present when women take abortion inducing drugs.
As far as women go, O looks a lot better from a distance than up close. Partly, this is due to the reflected glow of the First Lady, with her strong countenance and amazing biceps. You look at her and wonder, if he were sexist, would he be with this powerhouse? Would he have these beautiful daughters? But when it comes to “moving the needle on any women’s issue (with the exception of the Lily Ledbetter stuff),” said a Washington lobbyist, “he is not really committed to it.”
Even still, Democrats have assumed the right’s crazy war on reproductive choice delivers women to Obama and the rest of the ticket. This year, Obama’s people are banking on women deeply concerned about those issues swinging states like Virginia to his side. To some extent, they may be right: women voters in general have favored Mr. Obama by 13 percent on average, though that lead has diminished in recent weeks. But pollsters say reproductive rights issue don’t resonate as strongly with younger women who are accustomed to easy abortions and de facto access to the pill. No one under 55 can remember—or can even imagine—the era of the clothes-hanger.
The tragic fact is that sexism is woven into the fabric of in both parties, and at all levels of American politics, so tightly that we barely notice it. Women are not a minority, although often lumped in with minorities as another vastly under-represented “interest group.” We make up 51 percent of the population, but only 17 percent of the Congress and State legislatures.
Would it make a difference if more of us were in and around the Oval office? Probably.
Given that he is right on all the issues, this probably sounds like hair-splitting. Especially considering the alternatives: the anti-choice abortion and contraception policies of the the Romney-Ryan platform, the essence of forced child-bearing.
But isn’t it time for a White House where women really are on the inside, in the Oval and at the agencies that mean money, and a White House that is leading and proactive every day—not just when tactical politics requires it—on things like state legislatures across the nation sneaking up on basic women’s rights?
Meanwhile, when O wants us, on that carefully calibrated date around election time, we put on our lipstick and show up. The rest of the time, we wait by the phone, scarfing Haagen Dazs by the pint.