April 10 2012
The problem for the White House Council on Women and Girls is that women and girls are doing too well. It’s a tricky political spot for Democrats — to be screaming about a “war on women” — at the same time that they acknowledge all the ways women are succeeding. As the White House recognizes in its newest report on America’s women, women make up 50 percent of the workforce, are increasingly the breadwinners in the family, and make up the majority of students in colleges and graduate schools. With statistics like these, it gets hard to make the case that widespread gender discrimination still exists.
So the new narrative is about helping women sustain this success. In an email the Council on Women and Girls circulated following last Friday’s conference on women and the economy, it emphasized:
“[T]he Obama administration has worked tirelessly to promote equality; enhance women’s economic security; and ensure that women have the opportunities they need and deserve at every stage of their lives, from obtaining training and education, to succeeding in the workforce and supporting their families, to retiring with dignity and security.”
This new conversation — in which government talks about all the ways it should continue protecting women — is offensive. Let me (briefly) address the ways the administration can actually “help” women (and men). First, Democrats need to accept that men and women are different — that they have different strengths and preferences, and that gender equality does not require gender parity. The fact that fewer women choose to go into the STEM fields, for instance, is not because they don’t have an equal opportunity to do so (let’s remember, women outnumber men in medical school), but because they have different interests. (I’ve yet to see the government report about the shortage of male English majors.)
Second, if the White House wants to enhance women’s economic security, it should focus on restoring our economy and creating robust job growth. Simplifying our tax code, lowering taxes and eliminating burdensome regulations that stand in the way of new business creation would open up opportunities for all Americans.
Third, if Democrats want to encourage more educational opportunities for women, they shouldn’t be focused on pushing women into disciplines they’re not interested in; rather, the best way to create a dynamic educational marketplace is to encourage an expansion of the educational field. For-profit educational institutions, for instance, offer women (especially low-income women, single mothers and working women) more flexibility to develop new skills and obtain higher degrees. Finally, “retiring with dignity” means giving women (and men) more opportunities to save and invest their money. The White House is right that women already suffer under our outdated entitlement programs, which don’t reflect changing gender roles and modern families. Social Security’s benefit structure was designed to fit a family in 1935. As a result, it has remained highly regressive and the policy has remained static.
If the Obama administration really wants to help women, it ought to give up on the idea of “wealth distribution,” and allow for a retirement plan in which women have greater control over their savings, can seek higher rates of return on their investments, and can choose to pass on their estate to family or charity. Each time the White House releases a report on the status of women, it’s produced under the assumption that women are a victim class in need of special attention from the government. Perhaps one of these days, it'll report on all the ways women have succeeded without government support.