Americans long ago did away with the patronizing concept of “women’s work,” a term once applied to chores considered beneath the dignity or interest of men. Why, then, do we accept the equally condescending concept of “women’s issues” and employ it in every election?
Perhaps for two reasons. First, because this patronizing notion is the bedrock of a radical feminism that has been embraced by candidates, politicians, and lawmakers of both parties-even to the point where we now have the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues. And, second, because many women act as willing participants in their own denigration by knowing little of policy and politics.
When the National Organization for Women and other gender feminist groups speak of “the issues women care about,” you can bet they are not talking about tax relief and missile defense. NOW’s list of “key issues” includes abortion and reproductive rights, affirmative action, economic equity, sexual harassment, electoral politics, fighting the right, global feminism, lesbian rights, media activism, racial and ethnic diversity, violence against women, women in the military, and women-friendly workplaces.
Why do so many of the nation’s female political leaders apparently covet this type of separatist isolation, one that actually marginalizes their roles and their abilities?
Women permit the perception that they cannot look beyond themselves and their own interests, and, therefore, only self-absorbed topics make the list of “issues women care about.” It is presumed that women’s interests and insights are so narrow that they must leave to men such weighty political issues as military readiness, foreign relations, monetary policy, foreign trade, immigration, taxes, and other matters.
What nonsense! All issues are “women’s issues” because all public policy positions, and the laws or actions that result, affect all citizens and set the course of the country.
Take tax policy. Any plan to lessen or increase the burden of taxes has a profound effect on women as workers, business owners, and taxpayers; and more important, as citizens of a nation deciding whether our economic future will feature a government that prefers taxes over individual initiative.
Or take missile defense. Is a weak military and vulnerability to missile attack of no interest to women?
Women need to see themselves and be seen by others as citizens, not as a self-interested subculture. They must learn more and care more about the effects of all public policy-not only on themselves and their families, but also on their country, states, and communities. It is up to women themselves to reject the condescension and move beyond “women’s issues” into the real world.
That is the best way to enhance America’s promise of freedom and opportunity for all.
Manon McKinnon is a policy analyst at the Independent Women’s Forum. A version of this article was originally distributed by Knight Ridder and appeared in newspapers in October 2000.