Despite being neither female nor enfranchised, I managed to get a ticket for Barack Obama’s “women’s rally” in Miami (or Coral Gables, to be precise) earlier today. Most of the media coverage of the event has concentrated on the brief interruption by a group of crackpot protesters, which is a shame, because his speech was pretty interesting. I must admit, I’ve not been following the campaign too closely, but my general impression has been that both candidates are heavy on rhetoric and light on policy detail. Today, though, Obama not only talked about issues in general terms, he gave some indication of what, beyond “change”, he might do to address them.
Since this was a women’s rally, most of the things he talked about were “women’s issues”. The list included childcare, maternity leave, affordable housing and living, the division of labour in families, the glass ceiling, the gendered pay gap, and abortion. On all of these, in the abstract, he said (what I consider to be) all the right things, which I think you can probably fill in yourself. When it came to concrete policy commitments, however, things got a bit less reassuring. Though he spoke for quite a while about his plans for the economy and tax system, and how these would benefit women – or more specifically, mothers – he didn’t give any detail on how he thought he might close the pay gap, remove the glass ceiling, or encourage a fairer division of family work.
That said, just to hear him talk about these issues at all was heartening. Most notably, and I believe he has been reluctant to do this in the past, he gave a firm, clear commitment to upholding Roe vs Wade, and supporting the right to abortion. He also – naturally – attacked John McCain for not being so committed, and for having few or no policies concerning women’s issues, and talked up Joe Biden’s history of being on the side of women (as noted by Jender below).
All in all, then, a satisfactory event, that went some way to allaying my cynicism about the conduct of politics in America. But one thing in particular still worried me. Even though Obama did at one point say that “these are not just women’s issues, they affect men too”, the event and speech were aimed at women, and time and again he referred to “women’s issues”, and… well, perhaps it’s true that women do care more then men about childcare, raising families, being able to buy food, being able to afford housing, and so on. But characterising such things as “women’s issues” is pernicious. It really shouldn’t be the case that home economics and family matters are seen as exclusively women’s concerns, and hearing this view implicitly endorsed by the next president of the US (jinx!) is rather disappointing.