Counsel on the CouncilMarch 20, 2009
In Wednesday’s Washington Post, Kathleen Parker criticizes President Obama for creating the White House Council on Women and Girls. In so doing, she relies on two main arguments: first, that the creation of such a council is an unnecessary, politically correct act of “paternalistic magnanimity” by President Obama that advances “the false notion that girls are a special class of people deserving special treatment”; and second, that what the White House really needs is a council on men and boys.
I’d point out that the White House Council on Men and Boys already exists. You may have heard of its more familiar name: the Oval Office.
On a more serious note, let’s begin with something Parker fails to do, which is actually describe this new council and what its responsibilities entail. As stated in the executive order, the Council on Women and Girls will “work across executive departments and agencies to provide a coordinated Federal response to issues that have a distinct impact on the lives of women and girls, including assisting women-owned businesses to compete internationally and working to increase the participation of women in the science, engineering, and technology workforce, and to ensure that Federal programs and policies adequately take those impacts into account.” Led by top administration advisers Valerie Jarrett and Tina Tchen, it will meet regularly, make policy and legislative recommendations to the president, and conduct outreach to outside organizations, all of which will be focused on improving the lives and livelihoods of women and girls.
During its first year, according to a White House press release, the council will focus on many issues that are at the core of AAUW’s mission, including strengthening women’s economic security, work-life balance for working women and their families, domestic violence prevention, and improving women’s health care. Parker apparently believes that this amounts to the “First Father’s rescue of damsels in distress.” These are serious concerns that deserve more than a flippant brush-off. Sarcasm never solved the nation’s problems before, and it certainly won’t now.
Parker further assails the justifications the president offered in support of his decision. For instance, she takes issue with the well-known fact — mentioned by the president during the signing ceremony — that women earn only 78 cents for every dollar men earn, arguing that “it isn’t quite accurate to suggest a widespread problem of wage discrimination.” That is wrong. According to AAUW’s own research report Behind the Pay Gap, women earn only 80 percent as much as men one year after college graduation. Ten years after graduation, female college graduates working full time earn only 69 percent as much as their male peers. Even when controlling for occupation, time out of the workforce, parenthood, and other factors that normally affect wages, a sizable gap in male and female earnings remains. Will women who make the same choices as men end up with the same paychecks? Our research says they won’t.
As I mentioned, Parker believes that the Obama administration should create a council on men and boys. I couldn’t resist my earlier joke, but you know what? I think that hers is a fine idea. Sign me up. I don’t think there’s anything bad that can come out of a White House Council on Men and Boys. Similarly, we should expect a strong showing by the Council on Women and Girls. But why should one good idea preclude another? Is there really not enough room for both? AAUW’s recent research report, Where the Girls Are: The Facts about Gender Equity in Education, documents that girls’ gains in the classroom have not come at the expense of boys. Likewise, legislation to improve gender equity in the workplace should result in a fairer working environment for everyone. In this economy, we need all the good ideas and smart policies and engaged thinkers we can get. Even Parker herself grudgingly admits that “men and boys may expect to benefit from what is helpful to women and girls.”
This man, for one, couldn’t agree more.