Yesterday, President Barack Obama created the White House Council on Women and Girls and made adviser Valerie Jarrett its head. Apparently, we're all supposed to be mad as hell and unwilling to take it anymore.
Although Bill Clinton had a similar office in the nineties — shuttered in favor of the Office on Faith-Based Initiatives by Dubya — some groups like NOW initially asked that it be made a Cabinet-level office (others wanted it to be a Presidential Commission). Obama opted for neither, noting that he had decided to make it a kind of interagency task force staffed with 24 Cabinet-level officials in an effort to make each agency consider the impact of regulations and laws on women and girls. That is, however, apparently, not nearly good enough for some.
"I think it falls far short of what's needed," Martha Burk, a former chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations, said about the new board. The council will be headed by two top Obama advisers, Valerie Jarrett and Tina Tchen.
"With all respect to Valerie Jarrett and Tina Tchen, both of whom are excellent folks….I think both are going to find this is one of many things they're responsible for and I think they'll be stretched to give it proper attention. We have told them that," Burk said.
The Clintonistas are apparently not happy either, though they're not blasting Obama... yet.
One group – made up primarily of women who supported Hillary Clinton over Obama in the Democratic primary – said it will go to Congress seeking a presidential commission on women. The group sent out a blast email to rally its members around the idea just hours after Obama spoke.
First and foremost was the notion that Jarrett is perceived to be a major villain in the plot to bring down then Senator Hillary Clinton and Governor Sarah Palin: Did Jarrett stand up when Obama was using sexism, when the Democratic party was and the media was throwing mud and spitting in our faces? No she did not. Second, feminists ask: Where's the beef? Show me something, I mean anything, on Jarrett's resume that demonstrates the vaguest commitment to women's rights: I've been trying to find the answer to this question myself. Can anyone point to any work Jarrett has done to advance women's equality? Third, Jarrett is still linked to the Chicago-style scandals that plague politicians from that city (some rightfully and some wrongfully): She does have her detractors, and is a highly or lowly regarded slum landlady from Chicago. And finally, women feel that Jarrett is not in touch with our needs. One comment on our blog read: My concern with Valerie Jarrett is that I don't think she has been "kicked to the curb" enough to understand the depth and breadth of the problems that women in this country face.
Suskind says, "I see the merit of those concerns." Really? You can only be a "proper" feminist if you've been abused enough? What the hell kind of feminist says crap like that?
Finally, Time's Amy Sullivan, the New York Times' Lisa Belkin and the Independent Women's Forum's Michelle Bernard, on Hardball last night, want to know where the boys are. First up, Bernard, who told Matthews that — despite the fact that she considers the Council wholly unnecessary — she was upset not to be asked.
Later she added:
"Why don't we have an office that looks as to who takes care of boys? Who are our daughters going to marry as our boys are falling behind? And they are. We have a boy crisis."
I'd mock that, but it doesn't seem that necessary.
Belkin has a similar concern, but from a different angle. She thinks that the term "women's issues" ignores the need for men to be more fully integrated into work-life balance issues in order to achieve that balance. On pay equity she says:
Yet to call this a "woman's problem" is to glide over the fact that the pay difference hurts more than just women. Pay discrimination is a family issue. In a two-parent family, it reduces the income of the entire household, and is often a determinative factor in tipping a single parent family from stable to impoverished.
That's rather heteronormative, actually. Also: Isn't equality a goal on its own?
On parental leave, she adds:
Studies show that men already feel stigmatized about taking the minimal leave available to them, and that reluctance hurts who? Among others, women.
Because a government council is going to be able to, through forcing agencies to take note of the effects of laws on women and children, change society's and men's mixed feelings about men taking parental leave through policy?
Basically, Belkin goes on about the changes that she'd like to see the government make to society and social norms along these lines, and Sullivan more or less signs off.
There's also, of course, the whole problem of even calling things like equal pay, maternity/paternity leave, child care, and public health "women's issues." Lisa Belkin has a smart discussion of why some of the items on the Council's agenda won't get far until they're redefined simply as universal issues.
Which is all well and good, but a little outside of the mandate of a government council, Cabinet position and Presidential commission. There isn't even universal consensus that the government should be trying to make women equal, let alone on the idea that equal pay hurts men and not just insofar as they might lose their jobs to women. If we define certain things as being of more importance to the way women lead their lives in this country — which is, after all, the reality — and define women as less privileged by those things then men, I don't see how that's a terrible thing.