The phrase war on women has become shorthand, in political circles, for regressive Republican legislative actions that restrict fair and equal access to healthcare and economic equality for women.
Pollster Anna Greenberg told the audience at the Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast Action Fund luncheon that the phrase itself, war on women, does not have much meaning or hold much sway with the average voter, who is not paying close attention, or any attention, to the daily legislative battles in the US Congress or in statehouses across the country.
When women and men learn the story behind the catchphrase, however, they get it, and they demonstrate both an unfavorable view of those regressive Republican politicians and a more favorable view of progressive Democratic politicians who support equal rights for women.
Here’s where the hard work comes into play. If we want progressive candidates to win, they need to get more votes than their opponents. That means energizing the base, but it also means capturing new voters, and that can happen when we share the saga of the war on women.
It is a saga. You can’t reduce it to 140 characters, or you’ll just be talking to the super-slim percentage of people who are already engaged.
Here’s one story that resonates. It’s long. I’ve included links so you can personalize the story depending upon where you are in the country.
Fair Pay: The Lilly Ledbetter Act and The Paycheck Fairness Act
A majority of women, even politically conservative and evangelical/fundamentalist women, support the idea that men and women doing the same work should receive the same pay. Regressive Republicans in the U.S. Congress, for the most part, do not. I can point to their votes on the Lilly Ledbetter Act to prove this.
The Lilly Ledbetter Act of 2009
The Lilly Ledbetter Act made it easier for women (and anyone) who has been paid less for equal work because of gender to seek a legal remedy for the discrimination. It didn’t so much create totally new law as it did clarify the remedy and extend the timeline for suing once the discrimination is uncovered.
The bill was proposed early in President Obama’s first term. It has to pass the House of Representatives and the Senate before the President could sign it into law.
- There were 15 Republican women in the House of Representatives at the time the bill was proposed. All 15 voted against it, along with 173 of the 176 Republican men in the house. You can see the full list of the roll call vote here. Note that regressive superstars like Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota), and the Texas regressive bloc in and around Houston (Ron Paul, Ted Poe, Kevin Brady, John Culberson, etc.) voted against it.
- Senator John Cornyn of Texas voted against it, meaning he voted against giving women tools to challenge pay discrimination, as did 36 other senators, including Sen. Martinez (R-Florida) and Sen. McCain (R-Arizona). You can see the list of which U.S. Senators voted for it (a yea vote) or against it (nay) here. Go see what your state’s senators did, because you need to know, and you need to tell your friends.
Several Republican women senators voted for the act, proving that equal pay for equal work should be a non-partisan issue. Two of them, Olympia Snowe from Maine and Kay Bailey Hutchison from Texas, are leaving the senate at the end of this term.
The Paycheck Fairness Act
This legislation is scheduled to come up for a vote this week. It updates and closes loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 that said men and women working in the same place of business should receive equal pay and benefits for equal work. The National Women’s Law Center has an exhaustive amount of information on the bill, plus links so you can contact your senators in support of it.
Senator Cornyn of Texas “has concerns” about the Paycheck Fairness Act. Translation: Senator Cornyn will vote against the Paycheck Fairness Act. He will vote against equal pay for equal work.
Why? He’s worried that because the remedies for discrimination in the act include suing employers who discriminate against women by paying them less, that lawyers will get too much money filing those lawsuits. Yes, Senator Cornyn is against fair pay for lawyers as well as women. Opposing a law clarifying equal pay for equal work because someone might have to pay a layer to enforce it makes no sense.
The Action Step I Recommend
It’s 2012. We need senators who support equal pay and benefits for equal work.
1) Contact your senators to tell them you want them to vote for the Paycheck Fairness Act. Follow this link for step-by-step guidance on what to do and what to say. And yes, it is a phone call and not an email, but our Texas senators find email much easier to ignore than phone calls, so just call.
2) Talk to your friends about the fundamentally non-controversial issue of equal pay for equal work. If you have friends who don’t believe in this, get new ones. Seriously.
If you have friends who plan to vote for either Ted Cruz or David Dewhurst, one of whom will be the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate seat for Texas, ask those friends whether they really want to vote for a candidate who would OPPOSE equal pay for equal work. If they want a senator from Texas who will support the common sense notion of equal pay for equal work, they should vote for Paul Sadler.
3) When someone says “women’s issues” are distractions, and that they waste time that should be focused on economic issues, bring up equal pay for equal work. Because duh, women’s issues are economic issues. If we can’t control our bodies, and we can’t get equal pay and equal benefits for equal work, that directly affects the economy.
4) Talk about equal pay including benefits. Let’s make it explicit. Benefits, if you are fortunate enough to receive them, are just as much pay as cash you can deposit in your bank. You earn your benefits the same way you earn your cash, which is why employers shouldn’t be able to discriminate or impose their religious beliefs on how you use those benefits. Ahem. And amen.