Dear Harry Reid, a Woman's Place is in the House and Senate, Not a Checkbox
When you submit your resume for consideration to the House of Representatives or Senate job banks, you are asked to check boxes next to the issues you’re interested in. Some of the options presented for your consideration include homeland security, energy / environment, telecom, and the budget.
Then there is the box towards the bottom of the list that sends me into existential hysteria every time I see it: "Women’s Issues."
Unfortunately and fortunately, I always find myself checking the "Women’s Issues" box. Fortunately, because I am interested in these issues that I and broader society agree are covered under this umbrella term. Unfortunately, because it is simplistic and offensive that I and broader society agree that these issues should be covered under an umbrella term. When I click my mouse to signify my interest in "Women’s Issues," I tacitly acknowledge, “Yes, Harry Reid and Steny Hoyer, white men of these two illustrious legislative bodies that run the most powerful country in the world, I know what you mean when you say 'women’s issues' and hereby submit my name in affirmation of this umbrella term and condone its continued use in society.”"
Yet if I do answer in this way, I only perpetuate the use case which I am trying to avoid — the simplistic, narrow-cut and generic umbrella term that undercuts any real crosssectional approaches to issues that affect women, men, children, and the elderly. This answer fails to describe what exactly I would like to work toward: a society in which the Steny Hoyers and Harry Reids of the world define topics such as homeland security, energy / environment, telecom, and the budget as human issues and a society in which the phrase "women’s issues" no longer brings up narrow-minded images of fetuses, paychecks, or maternity leave.
Even though it may not fit nicely into a little check-box, it is now more important than ever that we fight the term "women’s issues" and all the simplistic, narrow-minded assumptions that come along with it. With my home state of North Dakota passing the most restrictive abortion regulations in the country, we need to get men, women, children, the elderly, Catholics, Agnostics, and nihilists all onboard in understanding that the real policy issue we should be addressing is unplanned pregnancies, not the invasion of a woman’s body. With Princeton alums telling the girls of today to find themselves a husband — not an education — before they graduate, we need to affirm that if a woman invests in her own personal development, self-worth, and integrity as a human, a companion that is worthy of her love and respect will follow. It is important because when we as a nation are patting ourselves on the back for putting 22 women in the Senate, 27 short of equality and 37 short of cloture, clearly we’re doing something wrong.
But in my experience, what is new and most difficult in this crusade is bridging the chasm between what you say and what you do. It is uncomfortable to go from writing with vigor on your blog that the phrase "women’s issues" is simplistic and offensive to actually spending a few more minutes over coffee with the senior partner at Burson Marsteller explaining your interest in human rights, specifically in regards to paycheck fairness, bodily autonomy, and access to clean food and water. It is riskier to go from passively checking the "Women’s Issues" box to spending a few extra lines detailing in a N.B. your interest in paternity leave and workplace regulations. It is harder go from acknowledging "women’s issues" as an acceptable umbrella term for your well-being to advocating for interdisciplinary solutions to problems that affect all individuals.
This is not a new argument. Feminists and women’s rights advocates have been working for years to change society’s conceptions of fairness and autonomy from "women’s rights" to "human rights." As Stephanie Coontz wrote in the New York Times recently, "… We must stop seeing work-family policy as a women’s issue and start seeing it as a human rights issue that affects parents, children, partners, singles and elders." People have been making the argument that we as a nation need to elevate our vernacular for years. Unfortunately, this argument hasn’t gained much traction.
It’s time to start making some progress. Because the issues at stake today are not just women’s issues. They're humanity's issues.