On Wednesday, I had the privilege to join some incredible women at the Obama Campaign Headquarters in Chicago. Lilly Ledbetter showed all her mettle and gave incredible testimony to the fact that over the course of her career, the typical full-time working woman in the U.S has lost $431,000 because of the gender pay gap -- something not one single Republican U.S senator voted to support ending last week. Something Mitt Romney can't be bothered to defend.
But the quote I'll never forget was from actress Nia Long who simply said, "Women have outgrown the mold we're supposed to fit into."
Sometimes I think that mold is that women are walking vaginas. After all, our legislators certainly seem obsessed with our lady parts, to the detriment of the parts that drive the U.S. economy: the GDP of women-owned businesses is larger than that of Germany, Europe's largest economy.
Women are now the backbone of the U.S. economy. I didn't say that, MSNBC did. Sixty percent of them work, the rest raise your children and care for your elderly parents, and women comprise 46 percent of the labor force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In 1963, when the Kennedy Administration launched the first Commission on the Status of Women, the role for women "most generally approved by counselors, parents, and friends [is] the making of a home, the rearing of children, and the transmission to them in their earliest years of the values of the American heritage."
Now, two thirds of American families feature women as equal breadwinners.
But when we dare ask some conservative legislators to get over our reproductive capabilities and focus on creating jobs, chaos ensues. Take the mayhem caused Thursday by Michigan state representative Lisa Brown: She was banned from speaking on the floor of the Michigan House of Representatives after she dared to use the word "vagina as she voiced her vehement opposition to the state's anti-abortion bill on June 14. The bill could criminalize all abortions after 20 weeks' gestation in all cases." It sent women -- and men -- into a frenzy and had #Vagina trending on Twitter.
Let's all look up. It's not about the War on Women, or abortion, or what's under our clothes. It's about the economy.
You can't look at the numbers and deny it: Women have changed American society, but has society changed back?
Lilly Ledbetter said, "I have heard story after story after story where women are working two jobs and don't know what their kids are up to in school because they can't get the time to go to parent teacher meetings. They can't ever get time to cook for their children."
But instead of focusing on reality, the chosen conversation right now in Congress and State legislatures is focused on the ideal of a working husband, a homemaker wife, and children. This dynamic hasn't existed for the majority of us in decades.
Why are we not openly having the conversation? Because there are many in Washington and in state legislatures across the country who don't want to hear that this dynamic that we've outgrown is gone. As Sandra Fluke said Wednesday, we have been "defined out of the conversation" by the mere fact that we are women and not always invited to speak out on the most crucial issues to our lives and wellbeing.
Not only have our government and our politicians shoved us out of the conversation, they've hurt us by refusing to even acknowledge that $431,000 lost pay might not be fair; they have cut government jobs that disproportionately affect women; they've held student loan rates hostage while attempting to rob us of hard-won victories in health care reform.
The War on Women isn't just about our lady parts or what we are allowed to do with them. As Sandra Fluke said, we're waging a defense of women's pocketbooks. We may not define violence against women in economic terms, but it sometimes is economic. Because when we rob women of almost half of a million dollars, cut funding for their jobs, and fight to double their student loan rates we are hurting them. We are hurting their families. As Mitt Romney would phrase it, "We're hurting America."
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