A Feminist State of the Union 

(In response to President Biden’s State of the Union address this year, NOW convened a Feminist State of the Union conversation early this spring.  Here is our version of a State of the Union address). 

The past two years have seen seismic cultural and economic changes that have tested our values and threatened to unravel the very fabric of our country. 

Our future depends on economic justice, voting rights and constitutional equality.  These protections can’t be held in reserve for the exclusive use of white, privileged men—equality, justice and rights mean nothing if they’re not universal and equitable. 

 We see the state of our union through a feminist lens—starting with the growing crisis of economic insecurity among women, particularly women of color.   

The COVID-19 recession triggered a global economic crisis not seen since the Great Depression, bringing greater job losses and unprecedented strains on child care, health care and financial security. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), nearly 4 in 10 women’s jobs have been adversely impacted by the pandemic. 

Women make an average of 83 cents for every dollar men are paid, with even greater disparities based on race. And the benefits gap of employer-based economic security such as paid leave, health insurance and job security is even wider.  At least one in three women say they don’t have these critical benefits—meaning a disproportionate share of caregiving falls on the shoulders of women and girls.   

The wage gap has barely budged in 15 years and is the largest for BIPOC women.  Latinas are paid just 57 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, and Native American women are typically paid just 60 cents.  Black women are paid just 64 cents for every dollar earned by white men

As IWPR President C. Nicole Mason says, “we learned during the pandemic that paid sick leave was not a ‘nice to have’ but a necessity for the most vulnerable workers and for families.” 

There are other necessities that have long been overlooked—let us now make them a priority!  Economic justice, for example, requires a national child care infrastructure built to last, with new systems in place to end the historically discriminatory policies and practices that have harmed women and families. 

We know that voters favor candidates who support policies like paid leave, access to reproductive health, LGBTQIA+ rights and other vital issues.  But partisan gerrymandering and restrictive voting laws stack the deck against democracy, even as the electorate grows more diverse. 

Our present-day system of politics was born out of the racist power struggle that emerged during Reconstruction, when Black voting power was an existential threat to politics as usual.   

Some things never change. 

Jim Crow 2.0 is alive and well in the rise in laws to disenfranchise, exclude and marginalize Black and Brown voters.   

Voter suppression and voter nullification laws allow conservatives to pick their electorate and stack the deck for the most extreme legislation.  

Our state of the union—the very survival of the union—depends on securing the vote and passing voting reform in the Senate. 

The third pillar of a feminist state of the union is constitutional equality.   

Women were intentionally left out of the Constitution by the Framers. It’s no wonder that a document written by a small group of rich, privileged men would be so ignorant of women’s rights and real equality. Fixing these flaws is not only proper, it is essential to the continuation of our democracy. 

Pauli Murray, a co-founder of NOW and one of the most important thinkers and legal scholars of the 20th Century, argued that Black women had the most to gain from an ERA, showing the intersectionality—before that was a term—between sex discrimination and race discrimination.   

In Senate testimony she said, 

“My parents were born during Reconstruction; my grandmother was born in slavery, the progeny of rape by a white master of his octoroon slave.  With the American legal order beginning with the ideas that Blacks were inherently inferior to whites and women were inherently inferior to men . . . I have experienced numerous delays in my career, not for the traditional reasons given for the failure of women to develop on par with men in our society (marriage, child-rearing, etc.), but by a combination of individual and institutional racism and sexism—Jim Crow and Jane Crow.” 

Those institutions and systems of racism, discrimination and inequality must be dismantled if we are to protect democracy for women, end Jim Crow and Jane Crow, and secure a strong, feminist state of the union. 

By Christian F. Nunes 

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