Friday, August 22, 2008


It's interesting that the Women's plank is titled "Opportunity for Women" -- not Equality for Women, Justice for Women, Economic Security for Women, or Rights for Women of All Races and Classes. "Opportunity for Women" is kind of a throwback construction of sex/gender inequality issues, a reminder of early second-wave agendas to let women into men's world.

There's nothing wrong with the plank's pledge to ensure "that our daughters ...have the same opportunities as our sons." (p.16) But is the right to aspire to men's jobs all the feminist struggle has been about?

The policy elements of "Opportunity for Women" emphasize the labor market -- eliminating the glass ceiling, combating pay discrimination, supporting women as entrepreneurs. The labor market policy pledges may contain one very important new direction: comparable worth. Unfortunately, the references to titles of legislation, rather than to content, make it a little difficult to be certain about intended meaning. The plank commits to enacting the Lily Ledbetter Act, which would counter a 2007 Supreme Court ruling by restoring the status quo ante regarding when the clock starts on employment discrimination claims. The plank also commits to modernizing the Equal Pay Act, but doesn't say how. Current legislative proposals call for improving available remedies under the Equal Pay Act -- is that what is meant? Finally, the plank declares "we will pass the Fair Pay Act" -- but again, I'm not sure what is meant here. The Lily Ledbetter Act is often referred to as the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act -- so is the Fair Pay provision redundant of the pledge to enact the Ledbetter Act? Or does it refer to a current legislative proposal, introduced by Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton -- a proposal that calls for a comparable worth strategy to achieve pay equity? If the latter, this is important. The Fair Pay bill would require employers to pay employees in female-dominated jobs at the same rate as employees in equivalent male-dominated jobs.

Missing from the labor market fairness agenda is support for the Equal Remedies Act, which would lift the caps on damages available in sex discrimination suits under Title VII. Making the full menu of economic remedies available to victims of employment discrimination based on sex has been urgently needed since 1991, when the Civil Rights Act enacted the caps on damages in the first place. Support for the Ledbetter Act without support for Equal Remedies leaves women as second class citizens in the labor market.

The "Opportunity for Women" plank refers to the platform's work and family agenda, as well as to it's anti-poverty commitment, which together round out a strategy for opportunity. But the prize here is getting the same deal in the labor market as men get.

The only mention of women's gendered experiences come in strong language against sexism and domestic violence. So the victimization of women will be fought as antithetical to opportunity.

But the unique work done mostly and willingly by women -- caregiving -- figures here only as an exception to labor market participation (see the Work & Family plank). Attention to caregiving in its own right defies the opportunity paradigm and requires rethinking our framework for justice.

Real change -- bold thinking -- would incorporate consideration for caregiving into an agenda for women through such mechanisms as a caregivers' allowance, portable child care benefits, and remedies for income inequalities (including in retirement) that derive from the disproporationate societal allocation of caregiving responsibilities to women.

Real change would also match the affirmation of rights for all women across all class-based, race-based, and sexuality-based experiences of inequality as labor market participants and as caregivers.

Only in two other spots in the platform are women's rights mentioned -- in the provision on "Choice" and in one titled "A More Perfect Union." More on these pledges in a separate post.

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