It is a common, although frustrating, reality that social movements are often accompanied by resistance and strong adverse reactions. Susan Faludi explores such resistance to the feminist movement in her book “Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women.” Backlash is often an unpleasant sign that change is happening--that those who enjoy the status quo are getting nervous.
Arizona is providing the nation with the latest dose of backlash in the form of Senate Bill 1062. The bill is intended to amend the state’s current Religious Freedom Restoration Act which would allow business owners to deny service to gay and lesbian customers if they claim they are doing so for religious reasons. The bill passed both the Arizona state Senate and the House of Representatives, and is now awaiting a decision from Governor Brewer.
Many suspect that Brewer will in fact veto the bill, possibly because of the controversy it has caused nationwide. Protesters rallied last Friday in Phoenix and Tucson, asserting that the bill is discriminatory and urging the governor not to sign it. Three GOP state senators who initially supported the bill are now asking the governor to veto it.
Advocates of the bill seem to be surprised by the amount of protest the bill is receiving and argue that they are trying to protect people’s religious rights. However, many have questioned the need for such a law, as most businesses are already able to refuse service to customers and Arizona state law does not protect individuals from discrimination based on their sexual orientation. It is hard to see this bill as anything other than an example of backlash against the gains that have made toward securing equal rights for the LGBT community in the United States.
Even if Brewer signs the bill, it is not likely to last long. The battle between “freedom of religion” and discrimination against entire groups of people is not a new one in this country—let us not forget that there was a time in our recent past when laws that discriminated against African Americans were defended with religious arguments.Courts have been moving more and more in the direction of striking down laws that discriminate against the LGBT community so it is hard to imagine that such a blatant example would hold up.
The movement toward social justice is not always a swift or easy one, and battling backlash can feel like trudging through a powerful storm. And just like a tough winter, it can be survived. No matter what Groundhog Phil or the haters have to say about it.
As to be expected, President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union Address was followed by lots of media “spin” and discussions for days afterword in which various experts attempted to analyze the speech and what it means for the president and the nation. One of the responses I was surprised to hear was the idea that Obama didn’t bring up any “big ideas” in the speech. I beg to differ.
Obama spoke frankly about a number of economic issues facing workers within the USA that are often left unaddressed. He advocated for a raise in minimum wage and announced that he would use an executive order to increase the minimum wage for employees working under federal contracts to $10.10 an hour. He also highlighted businesses (both large and small) who pay their employees a wage above the minimum required by law and called on policy makers around the country to do more to move toward the creation of a living wage. No one working full time should live in poverty. Period.
Obama also called out workplace policies that he said belong in a “Mad Man episode,” referring to the fact that women make 77 cents on the dollar of what men make and the lack of workplace policies to support parents. While these ideas are not new, they rarely make the center stage of political discussion, despite the fact that they have an enormous impact on the lives of most Americans. What makes these ideas “big” is the President’s assertion that it is time for our nation to address them and change the way our workplaces function.
Despite the fact that the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1973, making it illegal to pay women less than men for the same work, a wage gap has persisted in the United States, decreasing over the decades, but not closing. Most figures indicate that currently, women on average make 77 cents on the dollar of what men make. When economists attempt to consider all the factors that contribute to the gap, about 5% can be explained only by the gender of the individual. Further, many of the other factors that contribute to the gap (field of study, for example) are impacted gender stereotypes and discrimination. (See my earlier blog post "Stop Calling Women Stupid" ) Understanding and eradicating the gender wage gap is complex, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist or that it cannot be solved. But it is hard to find solutions if everyone keeps denying the problem. I am amazed how often students entering my courses have never even heard of the wage gap--which is why its inclusion in Obama's speech was so meaningful.
In addition to the wage gap, Obama made reference to workplace policies regarding pregnancy and childcare. Many experts agree that the US is far behind other countries in family friendly workplace policies. The Family Medical Leave Act allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave if they have a new child or a sick family member, but some small business are exempted from this law. This act exists in stark contrast to other countries which provide paid leave to both mothers and fathers and various protections against discrimination of pregnant women. According to Stephanie Cootz, a combination of social and political forces may be to blame for the slow progress made on this issue in the USA.
We will have to wait to see whether/how President Obama puts his statements into action. But in an era where most politicians have refused to even touch these issues it is refreshing to hear them addressed in the State of the Union. Because, as Obama said, the current condition of the policies is frankly, embarrassing. It is time for our nation to own up to these problems and work on real solutions. Let's leave the Mad Men policies to the TV writers and move into the 21st century.
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.