Much ado has been made about the failure of the Senate to pass a cloture vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act. Predictably, feminist on the left who have opposed the development of a right-centered feminism have used the vote to float the continuing frame that Republicans are anti-woman. However, even left-centered feminists who have supported right-centered feminism have been taken completely by surprise by the turn of events. They reason that women erased the gender gap for Republicans on the female side in the last election, thus they should see immediate dividends for their risk-taking. While that point of view should be taken seriously, we should also address the naiveté it demonstrates. Bipartisan voting will never be enough. Feminists of all persuasions are going to have to take the next step: proposing bipartisan policy.
Many left-centered feminist were persuaded to support a right-centered feminism as a result of the blatant sexism faced by both Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin during the 2008 election. The most important argument of persuasion in this ideological shift was the 30% Solution, proposed by Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney in her book Rumors of Our Progress Have Been Greatly Exaggerated, and promoted to PUMAs and other disaffected Hillary Clinton supported by blogger madamab, then of Oooh Nuance! And The Confluence blogs, currently blogging at Widdershins and Corrente, among others. Madamab herself seems to have abandoned the strategy, but it lives on in the legacy of support by moderate, left-centered and former leftists feminists who believe a two-pronged attack is appropriate in a two-party system.
The thrust of that solution was that more women on both sides of the aisle would result in woman-friendly legislation at the point of critical mass, pegged at a non-threatening 30%. According to studies cited by Maloney, once women reach 30% of the federal government, progress for women becomes organic. The presence of women at that point becomes so normal that policies naturally shift to accommodate their needs. Their collective experience as women and their presence at the table means that women’s voices and needs will be heard and addressed.
I document this information not only because I am a woman’s historian who believes in credit where credit is due—and madamab and Rep. Maloney deserve a lot of credit (that they might now shun) for a fundamental and ideological shift that has resulted in a broadening of the traditional feminist mindset—but also because this is the part the critics of Republicans over the Paycheck Fairness Act forget. We have not yet reached critical mass. To expect Republican women especially to flout party ideology in this political climate in favor of Democratic solutions to pay inequality is, to say the least, impatient and naïve. At worst it’s alienating and shortsighted.
Instead, we should craft solutions that fit within the ideologies of the two legacy parties. Where the Paycheck Fairness Act was the perfect approach for Democrats, its implementations were in opposition to traditional Republican orthodoxy of smaller government with less regulation, especially of business. This is hardly surprising since the bill was crafted by Democrats and enjoyed entirely Democratic support. A peek inside the bill explains why.
The opening salvo of the bill was bound to leave distaste in the mouths of Republicans, if only for the invocation of victimhood:
To amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide more effective remedies to victims of discrimination in the payment of wages on the basis of sex, and for other purposes.
The hallmark of conservative women for decades has been the eschewing of the victim label, and the current form of conservative feminism adheres to this tradition. That is part of why it is so successful. Beyond the rhetorical objections, the policy itself was never one to pass conservative muster. Reinstating the Equal Opportunity Survey, created and implemented by Clinton and abolished by Bush? Doubtful. Allowing unlimited punitive damages in lawsuits, and automatic enrollment in class actions based on ownership of a vagina and a common employer, thus empowering trail attorneys? Not on your life. Add to that the exemption of the federal government, something both parties presumably support, even though the bill acknowledged the fed is itself a perpetrator of pay inequality. Such exemptions are offensive to the more populist on both the left and the right, the author included.
These are among the reasons the bill failed to muster cloture votes, and they have nothing to do with Republican support of equal pay or lack thereof. On paper they support equal pay, just as Democrats do, on paper. Neither side has been able to craft strategies that garner the support needed to change the facts on the ground. Into this vacuum comes our next chance.
We must craft strategies for both sides so that they can come to bipartisan solutions. This is how Congress works. The pet issues on either side are rarely addressed with more than token measures because they serve to keep both sides ideological tied to their respective parties. Call it a bipartisan politics of fear. It is only when both sides pressure that things get done anymore. Consider welfare reform or health care. Statistically, there was bipartisan support for some kind of change, despite the disruption in support from key constituencies for both Clinton and Obama. For Bush think of the unity surrounding national security measures after 9/11. The statistical bipartisan support again was there.
What I propose by my title Think Outside the Box is the disentangling of femininity from some solutions, diffusing our issues throughout the political spectrum. It’s a pun, but like any good pun, it’s embedded with that kernel of truth. First, in a deeply sexist society, how much sense does it make to promote women’s causes as women’s causes? Secondly, if this is a war—and I believe it is—smarter, broader approaches are called for, and women must constantly re-strategize to attain results, always with eyes toward both the practical and non-conventional. We must think like Generals and adapt our strategies to suit the facts on the ground and those we seek to conquer. Fair Pay may be an issue to test this hypothesis. If Republicans found the Paycheck Fairness Act untenable for the reasons I mentioned above, what are some policies they could support? Continue reading