I am a member of a gender, but now that it’s election season, I am also apparently a member of a monolithic voting bloc.
There are a few words uttered, almost exclusively by men, that should make members of both genders cringe. I am not talking about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s now-infamous comment that Fox News anchor and debate moderator Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her whatever.” Instead I am referring to “the women’s vote.”
While the problems with this phrase are numerous, it may be helpful to think about it through this lens: The phrase assumes that all women care about the same issues, and therefore that the way to obtain “the women’s vote” is simply to appeal to female members of the electorate on a few key issues.
We have all heard the phrase “women’s issues.” This is apparently code for a host of issues that affect virtually every member of the population. While the list of issues that fall under this category is not set, it is generally understood to mean reproductive rights, equal pay, domestic violence and education.
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The fact that these are seen as “women’s issues” demonstrates an inherent gender bias in our society and one that is perpetuated election cycle after election cycle. There is no reason that education should more deeply affect women than men. The assumption that this is a women’s issue is built on the idea that women will be in charge of educating children. While studies show that more women than men are largely responsible for child rearing, labeling education as within a woman’s domain can only serve to perpetuate that inequality.
It is true that most cases of domestic violence involve an attack by a man on a woman. It is also true that every man who cares about that woman should fight to ensure these acts are treated like the crimes that they are. If men, as opposed to women, were the ones who were disproportionately the victims of domestic violence, we should not, nor would we, see that as a “men’s issue.”
And while equal pay focuses on a woman’s ability to make the same amount of money as a man for the same work, any man who lives with, is married to, or is financially intertwined with a woman who is making less than an equal wage is harmed. Every member of a household is hurt by pay inequality.
Viewing these issues as “women’s issues” may also subtly allow men to obfuscate responsibility. For instance, when we talk about “equal pay” we often use somewhat passive language to talk about how women can attain it, as opposed to more specifically addressing the question of why mostly men, and some women, have not created a system in which there is gender equity with respect to pay.
Finally, there can be no question that reproductive choice more deeply affects women, whose control over their bodies is at issue. If ever there was a “women’s issue,” this is it.
I have never heard a political candidate talking about “men’s issues.” Those are just “issues.” And therefore the language we use to describe so-called “women’s issues” marginalizes them and makes them appear like niche issues.
And because I advocate treating most issues as “people issues,” it’s only consistent to argue that members of both genders should have a right to weigh in on all issues. However, it should be troubling that 95 percent of the candidates discussing these issues on a national level are men. It is true that the Democratic front-runner is a woman, but one strong female candidate hardly means we are hearing from a true diversity of views.
When asked about Donald Trump’s boorish and sexist comments toward women, Jeb Bush responded, “Do we want to insult 53 percent of all voters?” The assumption is that only women will be turned off by such comments. Apparently insulting women is just another “women’s issue.”
Jessica A. Levinson is a professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. She blogs at PoLawTics.lls.edu. Follow her on Twitter @LevinsonJessica.