Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Soraya Chemaly Headshot

Why "Social Issues" = Important Economic Issues

Posted: Updated:

Can we please stop this destructive pretense that effective birth control and safe and legal abortion did not transform society and help families by enabling women to plan their parenthoods, get jobs, make jobs, do well at jobs and keep jobs?

While we're at it, can we also please stop pretending that women's healthcare access is irrelevant to their jobs? And that religion hasn't transgressed in dangerous and inappropriate ways into the Republican agenda?

Social issues.

Female issues.

Women's issues.

Single-issue voters.

So many flavors of marginalization and specious qualification that it's hard to keep track. A "social issue" is where to seat people at a dinner table. It's code for "lady things" -- these are words whose only purpose is to trivialize ideas central to our future well-being and democracy by virtue of associating them with women in slyly denigrating fashion.

Motherhood impoverishes women, fatherhood enriches men. The word of "entitlement" should be redefined to take the profound social roots and structural foundations and privileges of this fact into consideration. Parenthood is an economic issue that affects everyone, regardless of the structure of their families.

One of the most persistently startling world-view differences between the GOP and the Democratic parties is this: the GOP insists that reproductive freedom and equality for women are not absolute prerequisites to our meaningful economic participation, whereas this demonstrable reality is fundamental to the Democratic Party's vision for the future and our nation's economic growth.

If you are a moderate Republican, fiscally conservative and bewildered by what are clearly no longer socially radically fundamentalist "fringe" elements of your party or you are an on-the-fence independent voter consider what this might mean in your assessment:

Regardless of party affiliation, women and men know that women's reproductive rights transformed our society and literally liberated women. Some people like that transformation and others don't or deny it. If you are in the disinclined camp, or think it's "feminist" propaganda, here is a helpful link to a parachute shop. I believe that the drop of the edge of your Earth is deep, possibly even infinite.

Restricting those rights and even, as openly stated by the GOP, taking them away, would be transformative as well -- to disastrous individual, family and national effect. It is just more magical thinking to suggest restoring this country to a time when women could not plan their pregnancies and died from what are now treatable pregnancy-related illnesses.

How much are we willing to risk in our economy by allowing politicians to falsely insist that "social issues" are not a) as important as "the economy" and b) unrelated to our economic performance? Or by pretending that conservative Republican legislators won't do what they say they want to, when they already have, state by state? Apparently pretty far.  Reproductive rights, family structures (gay marriage), systemic change to support parents who work, to name just three big "social issues,"  define how our economy will either expand or falter. Now marry the gendered aspects of health care, fair pay, Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and Violence Against Women -- to the equation. There is a thick mesh of "social issues" being disingenuously ignored and relegated to marginal economic significance by the GOP. For a comprehensive overview of what's a risk and their economic impacts visit this HerVotes page -- it will take all of 60 seconds.

The most meaningful connection between opportunity and outcome for women in this country largely remains marriage and motherhood... despite the changes of the last 50 years. Single mothers get the short end of the economic stick because our economic systems are optimized for an outdated world where women's finances were vicariously accessed through wage-earning men. That's why marriage and fatherhood benefit men.

For women, marriage and parenthood can be the defining factors of their economic lives. Women's ability -- not desire or choice -- to take part in the economy, to be productive in the economy, to help stimulate the economy, is based on their freedom to make reproductive decisions or lack thereof and on the more active, unpenalized participation of men in child care. Romney and Ryan have zero interest in this information. The structure and symbolism of their party's whole convention epitomized this willy-nilly escape from reality.

In the United States of America, motherhood is just about the absolute worst financial decision a woman can make in her lifetime. This bears repeating, but there's not enough room here (am really trying to be brief!). For a full set of stats with citations, look here. However, I will note this:

  • The highest earning window for women, practically the only time they are not subject to the gender wage gap, is when they are single and childless, usually in their twenties. They have to live in cities and have gone to college.
  • More than 50 percent of children born to women under 30 are born to single mothers.
  • When a woman has a baby, her chances of being hired go down, compared to a childless woman, by 44 percent.
  • When a woman has a child her pay drops by 11 percent.
  • Women make up the majority of workers in the nation's lowest paying jobs.

Oh, and if you are in the self-contradictory "live with your choices, I shouldn't pay for someone else's birth control, our nation is in economic peril" camp: Unplanned parenthood -- which is what happens when you get rid of Planned Parenthood -- costs taxpayers $11 billion dollars a year.

Fifty years of safe, reproductive health options have made women more financially stable, have reduced unwanted pregnancies, reduced abortions and made genuine equality for women feasible. But we are only partially done with this revolution. We need systemic changes that support working parents -- male and female -- in order to qualitatively increase our economic productivity. So, what does one entire party want to do? Take the ability to plan parenthood and have access to affordable health care away from women and families, particularly who that need it most. Any independent voter who is in possession of a womb or in a relationship with someone who is should consider what this means to their economic future.

In addition, here are just a couple of simple illustrations of macro effects as opposed to the impact on one woman and family at a time:

The lifetime gender wage chasm, caused by our failing to support working mothers, is real and  has pragmatic consequences for all American families.

Ask any woman (it's OK, they speak Mannish) and she will tell you: create workplace and government policies that liberate women from economically inhibiting roles of primary childcare, elder care and domestic workers. For a start, remember that we are the only wealthy nation to not provide paid maternity or paternity leave.

Another thing she will tell you, contrary to what Mitt Romney's personal hero in the Republican leadership claims, is that money is as important for women as it is for men. That falls under the category of duh -- I really have to type that sentence?

Third, women cannot work and be successful -- they cannot be the engines of growth that we need them to be -- if they can't take care of their health. They cannot participate fully and ambitiously in the marketplace until they have access to health care that meets their needs as female human beings. The GOP's insistence on denying women basic health care specific to having a woman's body, the belief that being a woman is a pre-existing condition is core to the GOP's ideas about who gets health care and for what.

When I talk to women and men who say that women "don't care about contraception and abortion," I believe it is because they erroneously assume that women will have access to them. It is not because they don't think they're important. Women have hard-fought-for, at-risk reproductive rights that the GOP platform simultaneously depends on (economically) while paring the same rights down to a meaningless nub of class and race privilege (socially).  Paul Ryan and a powerful segment of the Republican Party endorse policies that will, if executed, outlaw abortion and eliminate many forms of birth control and IVF. That's what "personhood" means for women. 

Men can get condoms in vending machines, on street corners, in candy flavors and ridgey rainbows and it costs them next to nothing. Women? They need doctors, prescriptions, "friendly" pharmacists and a lot more money. Why don't women have birth control dispensed like candy? Because we live in a sexist society with a seriously large portion of the population wiling to consign all girls and women to compulsory pregnancy in order to make sure they do not control their own reproduction. The GOP might not be able to outlaw birth control outright. But, instead, expanding the authority of employers, doctors and pharmacists deny women access to their own birth control. In this way, just as with abortion, they will make it impossible for women to simply and safely plan when to become mothers and for families to plan their financial and economic lives accordingly. This is mind-numbing and steeped in ignorance, science denialism and oppressive interpretations of "faith."

It's not speculative, there are WAY too many examples like these:

Texas: Well, what's there to say about Texas, really? This is the state whose GOP leadership is seeking to ban "higher order thinking and critical thinking skills" in their party platform. As much harm to women and families as eliminating Planned Parenthoodthere will do, it is the tip of the iceberg in the big picture.

This is medieval madness. But, for women and the people they care for, this is life-changing medieval madness with huge economic relevance. And, these aren't old bills on the books. They're brand, shiny, theocratically new. I hope people voting for political representatives that support these personhood for fetus-based policies have an Economic Plan B. Oops. Forgot. That's also a no-no. Just metaphorically. 

Mitt Romney assures us this week that he won't ban abortion and many Republicans just don't believe any of this will come to pass. But, Romney's promise, one not remotely backed by his veep nominee and party, is hollow. His surrogates, peers, party members, vice president, judicial nominees, especially Supreme Court nominees, will do it for him should he be elected. It's the Borking of America. 

The number one inhibitor of women's explosive and continued transformative participation in the workplace is a conservative cultural unwillingness to accept that not all women are mothers, or mothers in waiting, and that mothers -- married or single -- can, do and will work. Outside of the home. For money and independence. These issues -- reproductive rights and health, definitions of marriage, being paid fairly -- are economic.

The GOP agenda is magnificently ill-equipped to even imagine the kind of societal transformation that we are in the midst of. No amount of waxed veneer, mommy mawkishness or earnest boy wonk changes that.

Very Short and Not Nearly Comprehensive But Useful List of Resources to learn more about the connections between "social issues" and your wages and work or get actively involved in changing a culture that refuses to acknowledge the connection:

HerVotes has an excellent overview of the 12 Advances at Risk for women in this election.

National Partnership for Women and Families
MomsRising
AisFor
American Association of University Women
UltraViolet
Amplify
SisterSong
Center for Reproductive Rights
National Women's Law Center
Institute for Women's Policy Issues
Ford Foundation
National Advocates for Pregnant Women
National Organization for Women
And, of course, Planned Parenthood

This article was first published at Fem2.0: Society's Issues + Women's Voices

  Obama Romney
Obama Romney
332 206
Obama leading
Obama won
Romney leading
Romney won
Popular Vote
33 out of 100 seats are up for election. 51 are needed for a majority.
Democrat leading
Democrat won
Holdover
Republican leading
Republican won
Democrats* Republicans
Current Senate 53 47
Seats gained or lost +2 -2
New Total 55 45
* Includes two independent senators expected to caucus with the Democrats: Angus King (Maine) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.).
All 435 seats are up for election. 218 are needed for a majority.
Democrat leading
Democrat won
Republican leading
Republican won
Democrats Republicans
Seats won 201 234
Click for Full Results