Monday, April 27, 2009

Women's Panel

In March, President Obama signed an executive order creating a panel to advise him on the issues women face in society today. The council is designed to collaborate with Cabinet agencies and departments to ensure that women receive the same opportunities as men. This announcement was made during Women's History Month. Some of the reasoning Obama cited for the necessity of the panel included his own personal experiences of being raised by a struggling single mother, along with the obstacles his grandmother faced trying to obtain promotions during her years as a bank executive. Also cited were the below average wages women earn compared to men; 78 cents on the dollar. According to the White House, “The mission of the council will be to provide a coordinated federal response to the challenges confronted by women and girls and to ensure that all Cabinet and Cabinet-level agencies consider how their policies and programs impact women and families”. The panel is to be chaired by Valerie Jarrett, who is also a single mother.

The planning for this women's panel was set into motion in December 2008 when more than 50 women's groups sent a letter to the President-elect and Vice President-elect requesting the creation of such a panel. “We urge you to create a Cabinet-level Office on Women that will deal not only with the status of women, but with the many inequities women face in our society, our nation, and our world,” the groups said. “It would be another historic ‘first’ for the United States”. However, the panel isn't Cabinet-level. It is not even a permanent office with a full-time staff. A similar office was created by former President Clinton during his years as president, but was quickly disbanded when Bush took office. Along with his dismantling of the women's office, Bush also closed an office that dealt with racial issues while opting to keep open the office that dealt with the AIDS policies. This trend of opening and closing offices seem to coincide with the changing political tides.

Without permanent status, what can this office truly accomplish on women's issues? If the office isn't permanent, can the effects of the policy changes still be? Some of the bloggers imply that the panel is simply to pacify women and secure their future votes, while others assume the presence of the panel promotes women as more important than men. How does the assumed necessity for a panel focused on women's issues relate to the changing dynamics of our capitalist society as our economy has taken a downfall? Are there any other thoughts on this matter that have been overlooked?


  1. You questioned alot of areas! I personally do not think equality will ever exist. I believe it to hold some diabolical balance in society. Whatever the motives are for creating this office, it is best to utilize it while possible. The next election is along ways off and a lot can be accomplished in the next few years. The National Woman's Party first proposes the Equal Rights Amendment to eliminate discrimination on the basis of gender. It has never been ratified. Yet women were able to rejoice in the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Valuable time can be exhausted complaining about the downsides that could otherwise be used to hold up the upside. Perhaps based on this president's life, he can be instrumental in bringing about some resolutions to problems that seem to have none.

  2. Poster "obaminliar" states, "Girly man Obama should be heading this panel." What I read in this comment and many other comments that aim to connect Obama with femininity is that the majority of Americans associate women's rights, child-care, care-giving, and other areas associated with women to be just that: a woman's issue. All of these areas need to be recognized as everyone's issues. Women's "rights" affect men as well as women and children. Reproductive issues are human issues. So is anything related to care: something that is feminized and seen as a part of a woman's domain, not man's. By implying that Obama is feminine in his policies and thought, "obaminliar" is degrading the status of women to be be that below men's. To imply insult in his comment means that Obama is not "man" enough to be president, that he would fit more comfortably in a women's committee.

    What makes me even more angry is that many posters are degrading this panel to be "just another useless government waste of resources." This proves to me how many are oblivious to the fact that hundreds of years of systematic discrimination against women (and other marginalized groups) by more powerful groups have affected women of today: through internalizing their self-worth (or lack thereof), recognizing that one must make a decide between career and family, lack of participation in politics (a hostile environment for women), violence against women etc etc it just goes on and on. That they believe women's rights advocates are wasting their time on something insignificant just shows their inability to fully realize how we are all related to each other. They fail to realize that some relations are made to benefit one more than the other, at the other's expense in health, education, financial gain, etc. In general, discrimination against women (relegating to the private sphere, disallowing certain privileges such as voting, reproductive choice) has brought about the ability of men and other powerful groups to gain wealth and power.

    One other thing: Another poster brought up a great point that I think we should all consider. S/he stated that although the creation of a panel is a step in the right direction, we must expand to look at the use of women by US corporations in places as close as the US/Mexican boarders in the maquiladoras. We need to promote greater gender equality not only in the US but in other countries as well, ESPECIALLY when US political and economic decisions create a system of inequality for women and for disadvantaged men.

  3. I think that's its fantastic that President Obama is open to the creation of such special-interest panels; their findings could positively effect so many people, just starting with women's issues. I think of it as a ripple effect- sure, the focus is on women's issues, but the areas that are effected by issues such as the pay inequalities are many. That being said, I hope that this is the beginning of many such panels that will deal with contemporary problems facing the United States today. Even though this panel may not be permanent, it is important to think about what we can accomplish in just four short years, while it is here. It's encouraging to see that Obama is responding to the social climate and trying to confront issues that have been seemingly ignored in the past- further solidifying his promise of "social change". I second what tabatana said- we need to be looking at GENDER equality as a primary goal. It would be especially important to look at social policies in other countries as a model for what we could do to improve- such as parental leave and more equality of things such as childcare in the workplace. It seems to me that sometimes we are too quick to label things "women's issues" rather than gender equality issues.

  4. Here here tanabata!!! I loudly applaud your post. "Women's issues" are not just women's issues. They are human issues, and the ignorant comment by obaminlear (WTH kinda name is that anyway) proves just how far the fight for gender equality has yet to go. This panel is certainly a step in the right direction, as so many have already stated, but more must be done. I think it would be beneficial for those groups who advocated the founding of this "special interest" group(I hate that term, it makes it sound so seedy and underhanded rather than the momentous triumph that it is) to network with each other to lobby Congress and the Executive Office to establish this panel as a permanent fixture of the President's offices. Then it could look into all the things that tanabata and subterranean listed, like pay inequality, lack of child care, health care, etc. It is regretful that there are still those ignorant few (or many?) out there that still feel like caring about women and equality makes you a "girly-man" but it is this kind of ignorance that we, as educated sociologists, must dedicate ourselves to combat. Through education of our friends, family, and acquaintances (networking) we can slowly spread our influence. And then take over the world. :)


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