Politics & Policy

The President and the Women’s Lobby

It never occurs to them that men’s issues are matters of interest to women.

The Affordable Care Act mentions “breast” 44 times, “prostate” not once. It also establishes an elaborate and expensive network of special programs to promote women’s health. Programs for men are nowhere to be found. What explains the imbalance?

When President Obama took office, he promised to insulate his administration from organized lobbyists. Yet, from day one, he granted the women’s lobby unprecedented influence. The results should trouble fair-minded feminists.

The 2009 stimulus program set the pattern. The president had originally called for a two-year “shovel-ready” plan to modernize roads, bridges, electrical grids, and dams. Women’s activists were appalled. Op-eds appeared with titles like “Where Are the New Jobs for Women?” and “The Macho Stimulus Plan.” More than 1,000 feminist historians signed an open letter urging Mr. Obama not to favor a “heavily male-dominated field” like construction: “We need to rebuild not only concrete and steel bridges but also human bridges.” Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), attacked the “testosterone-laden ‘shovel-ready’ terminology.” Christina Romer, who chaired the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, would later say, “The very first e-mail I got . . . was from a women’s group saying, ‘We don’t want this stimulus package to just create jobs for burly men.’”

The president’s original plan was designed to stop the hemorrhaging in construction and manufacturing while investing in physical infrastructure. It was not a grab bag of gender-correct transfer programs. The whole idea was to get Americans back to work, and it was “burly men” who had lost most of the jobs following the financial collapse of 2008. But as protests mounted, the president’s team reconfigured the bill according to NOW’s specifications. In a column entitled “Economic Recovery: What’s NOW Got to Do with It?” Gandy could hardly contain her elation: “As we looked through the act, over and over we saw reflections of the very specific proposals that we had made, and with big numbers next to them. Numbers that started with a ‘B’ (as in billion).” To read Gandy’s column is to understand why shovels are still standing idle and the stimulus was such a disappointment

A year later, the 2010 Affordable Care Act created an Office of Women’s Health, a National Women’s Health Information Center, a Coordinating Committee on Women’s Health, and more — right down to the mandate that universities pay for students’ birth-control pills.

The average lifespan of American men is five years shorter than women’s, and men contract the big diseases several years earlier. According to the American Cancer Society, men’s lifetime risk of developing cancer is approximately 1 in 2; for women, it is 1 in 3. But the Act is informed by the spirit of NOW and other women’s organizations such as the American Association of University Women. It would never occur to these groups that the health and longevity of men are matters of interest to women. To them, relations between the sexes are a zero-sum game — and their role is to fight for women and against men.

Most striking of all is the Obama administration’s blindness to the growing problem of male academic underachievement. Girls outshine boys by nearly every measure of classroom success. They earn better grades, take more advanced-placement and honors courses in high school, and are far more likely to go to college. Women earn 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 63 percent of master’s degrees, and 53 percent of doctoral degrees. According to a recent Harvard study (“Pathways to Prosperity”), the new passport to the American Dream “is education beyond high school.” Today, far more women than men have that passport.

Yet the president persists in acting as if our schools are a hostile learning environment for girls, one that warrants aggressive federal intervention. Pressured by groups like the AAUW and the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), the White House recently announced that the Department of Education would be adopting a more rigorous application of Title IX to career, technology, and engineering programs in high school and college — to stop the alleged boy-favoritism that is shortchanging girls. To avoid federal investigations that threaten withdrawal of financial support, programs will simply enroll fewer males.

President Obama explained his rationale in a Newsweek op-ed: “Let’s not forget, Title IX isn’t just about sports. . . . Title IX ensures equality for our young people in every aspect of their education. . . . I’ve said that women will shape the destiny of this country, and I mean it.” But it is our underachieving young men that destiny is leaving behind. Using the federal government’s power to unleash divisive gender politics on our schools is the last thing the president should be doing.

Within living memory, the American women’s movement was a broad-based, bipartisan vehicle for social equality. It achieved historic victories that changed American society dramatically for the better. Unfortunately, in recent years it has become a hard-nosed, K Street–style interest group — one that works without embarrassment for special deals for women. Perhaps the White House didn’t notice. More likely, it embraced the lobby’s agenda as part of a conscious electoral strategy. No matter. Treating women as a voting bloc to be appeased with government favors is not social justice. It is a travesty of the ideal of women’s equality.

Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Her book Freedom Feminism: Its Surprising History — and Why It Matters will be published in 2013 by AEI Press.

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