It is ironic that the Pennsylvania primary is being held on Equal Pay Day. That's the day in April every year when women's earnings finally catch up with what men made by December 31 of the previous year. The pay gap is still a stubborn problem, with women who work full time, year-round making 77 cents to a man's dollar. And, women are losing ground when it comes to how long it takes to pull even with men - a decade ago Equal Pay Day was April 11.
Hillary Clinton knows a thing or two about the issue, having sponsored hearings and introduced legislation on the subject. It's front page on her website, and it's a good thing that she's addressing one of the issues that consistently polls near the top with women. After all, females are the majority in both registration and turnout, and have the power to control any election.
The website is a direct appeal to Hillary's strongest supporters -- women old enough to have experienced enough discrimination at work to know the pay gap and the glass ceiling are real. But last Wednesday's final debate before the Pennsylvania primary showed us something else: Hillary is timid about speaking directly to or for women when she has the opportunity to reach millions of us on national television. It's hard to guess why -- there's no question she could harvest far more votes by getting back to her female base instead of tromping around in the political backwoods looking for white male hunters. If she must talk about guns, talk about the fears that women express about their kids getting shot at school, or getting raped at gunpoint.
The first viable female candidate in history, one that I know supports women, shouldn't be uncomfortable with "women's issues." And what about putting a gender lens on the concerns at the top of the marquee this year? The economy is now polling higher on the worry meter than the war, and women have a fundamentally different view of the economy than men. Not having enough money to gamble in the big casino, they don't worry as much about the stock market. They do worry about being the group with the lowest paying jobs and the fewest benefits. And oh yeah - a hidden fact in the mortgage crisis is that female borrowers were the primary targets of the sub-prime loan sharks, meaning women-headed households, primarily women of color, are losing their homes in greater numbers than other families.
Even though the war has slipped to number two, women are still more anti-war than men. Women also view the war's cost in terms of the loss of the social safety net, since adult females and their children are the largest group in poverty. Why not mention that? And looking toward the face-off with McCain in November, here's a surprising result uncovered by Lifetime Television in a poll last year: Republican women are slightly more anti-war than Democratic women. Combine that with the fact that there are millions of pro-choice Republican female voters, and a direct appeal to women seems like a no-brainer.
Senator Clinton did include "daughters" in the debate when talking about troop losses in Iraq, and loss of life due to lack of health insurance. But she didn't mention that the health care crisis affects women more deeply, because fewer have employer-paid plans. Almost 20% of the women in this country have no health insurance, and the numbers skyrocket for women of color, with 38% of Hispanic women going without coverage. That's a group inclined to vote for Hillary Clinton, but they need encouragement.
Don't take this as Hillary bashing. Call it Hillary helping. This is one seasoned feminist who's for her all the way. She can do it - she just needs to talk to women on their own terms and not shy away from being direct. Embrace us every day, as she's doing now leading up to Equal Pay Day and the Pennsylvania primary. (I know Obama doesn't talk to women either - but he's not one of us, and let's face it, we have lower expectations of him in that department. It's one place where he benefits from gender bias.)
Perhaps Senator Clinton fears the dreaded word "feminist," or doesn't want to be seen pandering to women. My question is why not? Women are her base. I say go ahead and pander. We support you. Stick with women -- it's a winning strategy.