8 Issues We Need to Stop Calling 'Women's Issues'
"I think we're all sick of women's issues being 'other,'" former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn told Fusion earlier this month. And the one-time mayoral candidate is exactly right: Issues like contraception and education are not solely the concern of women.
It is good that we're paying attention to issues like reproductive health, but the construct of "woman's issues" is a Catch-22: It brings such topics into the national spotlight, but also pigeonholes them with the label "women" and leaves them open to dismissal or even mockery by misogynists and the uninformed. Men in power may also be less likely to champion a so-called "woman's issue" unless it benefits them politically.
But women are not a special interest group. We are humans with human concerns. Politics has been historically dominated by men (remember, women didn't win the right to vote until 1919 in America), and women, in many ways, are still patronized and segregated against. Far too often it seems like strategists, especially conservative ones, feel women are only capable of understanding politics in terms of dating and marriage.
"Women are big this election season." Gail Collins notes this in an op-ed for the New York Times. "No group is more courted. It's great!"
That some issues are labeled "women" affects everyone, not just women. Here are some of the most important issues that all too often are characterized as only pertaining to the female gender:
Closing the gender wage gap
Women employed full time earn 78 cents to every dollar earned by men. Closing this gap is also important to men because, newsflash, women across the country contribute in whole or in part to their family's finances. This isn't the 1950s anymore: Today, plenty of men live in two-income families with women, or are financially dependent on women. In 2013, the Pew Research Center reported that 2 in 5 households with children 18 and younger are led by women financially. The New York Times notes that this is the highest percentage of female primary or sole breadwinners ever.
Raising the minimum wage
Sure, women comprise two-thirds of all minimum-wage earners. But increasing the minimum wage, ThinkProgress contends, will benefit all families, especially those 60% of American families who depend on women to be primary or co-breadwinners.
From paid sick leave to maternity — and paternity — leave, workplace discrimination affects anyone who works. Everyone deserves flexibility at work without penalty. The Washington Post notes that the U.S. is one of only a few developed economies that "does not offer some kind of statutory paid leave." More and more fathers are speaking out about wanting to spend time with their newborn children, and paternity leave, besides being a way to increase familial bonding, allows for higher rates of women in the workforce.
Access to health care
Everyone wants free and accessible health care, yet Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley admitted in a recent interview that health care has long been thought of as a women's issue. Why? Because health care access and equitable health insurance "disproportionately impact women versus men." While this may be true, family issues shouldn't need to be painted as the responsibility of the woman. Men should care about health access for their mothers and daughters and themselves. The Kaiser Foundation notes that men, especially those from poorer and minority families, are not immune to health care disparities.
From health care that covers contraception to the right to have an abortion, reproductive rights have, more than any other issue, become synonymous with "women's issues." But while lawmakers legislate and judges adjudicate women's bodies and their reproductive rights, these issues are also important to men. "Many men have realized the ways that reproductive oppression affects them and the ones they love, and how some traditional ideas of masculinity hurt everyone," Choice USA said. The choice to have an abortion involves the men who impregnated those women, Ben Sherman explains over at Texas progressive analysis site Burnt Orange. The government shouldn't decide whether men become fathers. "While it is ultimately a woman's choice whether to have an abortion, many women choose to make that decision with the man involved. Do you want that decision ready-made for you by politicians in state government?"
While women are disproportionately the victims of domestic violence — in an April 2014 report the Department of Justice notes that the majority of domestic violence was committed against women (76%) compared with men (24%) — domestic violence does affect people of all genders. Oversimplifying the issue not only erases male and same-sex victims of violence, but it also contributes further to toxic standards of maleness and masculinity that simultaneously hurt men while increasing the power of the patriarchy.
Ultimately all men, not just those who are victims but those who are fathers, brothers and friends of female victims and even of their perpetrators, should care about the safety and well-being of all survivors of abusive relationships.
Rape and Sexual Assault
Rape, sexual assault and other forms of sexual harassment concern every person in the world, not just women. "Yes means yes" for people of all genders engaged in any sexual act. According to 1in6, 1 in 6 men have experienced a form of sexual violence before the age of 18. And as Jack Fischl wrote for Mic earlier this month, about 14,000 men in the military were raped in 2013. Sexual violence is also perpetrated online against all genders. A recent Pew study says that 13% of young men are sexually harassed online, compared with 25% of young women.
In recent years, with the increased rates of women graduating from college and graduate school, education is seen more and more as a "women's issue." But men need to be just as invested in the problem as women: Education is a civic right for everyone, as is the crushing amount of student debt. (Americans are collectively $1 trillion in the hole.)
The differentiation of these issues along gender lines is a short term solution to both the marginalization of women in politics and of the significance of women in general. This is why the newly emergent Women's Equality Party is so important — its aim is to make sure women's voices are heard, and that politicians seriously consider issues that specifically pertain to their wellbeing.
While it's unlikely that Americans are going to stop referring to these types of platforms as "women's issues" in the short term, the broader task for society will be to find a way to elevate women in politics while not fetishizing their interests.