Friday, June 1, 2012

America: Land of the Free, Home of the Scared? (Part 1)

Part 1: The War on Women

By Nancy Campos

Courtesy of

“All men are created equal. No matter how hard they try, they can never erase those words. That is what America is about.”—Harvey Milk
The United States tends to be synonymous with freedom and equality for all. That’s what the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem all say, in one way or another. We stand out as a country that was founded by those seeking refuge
from religious persecution; people who dared to be different and challenged the monarchies that tried to control them and their beliefs. This country was founded on the beliefs that “all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” So why are we so scared of the same beliefs that founded this nation?
The history of the United States is very complex. We have made some progress, but at a high price for many. A quick look back and there is much that can be criticized about the laws governing the land. We can talk about slavery and the resistance that was met to end it. We can talk about Jim Crow laws that made segregation legal. Interracial marriage was once banned in several states. What about laws that prevented women from having the same rights as men as citizens of the United States? Or what about laws that were specifically written to exclude members of different races from becoming citizens? Those are just a few of the examples of American history that may leave you wondering where the “all men are created equal” part comes into play.
Many like to say that things have changed and are getting better. While this is true to an extent, it seems hypocritical that a nation that boasts so much freedom, and is often criticizing other nations for their lack of freedoms, has to continuously fall back on the we-are-making-progress argument. I can argue that the above mentioned laws have left a lasting effect, especially on those that have been disenfranchised, and have created cycles of oppression that are hard to break, but there is no sense living in the past. So let’s focus on the present state of affairs. Let’s look at three different social issues of today that directly violate people’s rights and freedoms: the war on women, immigration, and same-sex marriage. We’ll start with the war on women for now…
Courtesy of

The war on women has been going on since the founding of this country. As I stated earlier, women were once not considered to be true citizens of the United States solely based on the fact that they were born women. They could not own property (in some cases, they were considered a man’s property) or even vote. In 1893, Colorado became the first state to grant women the right to vote; a whopping 27 years later, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was added and gave women in the United States the right to vote. Why is this important? Never mind that it only took 144 years since the founding of this nation to grant women the right to vote (so-called “progress”), but women were now in the forefront of major political debates. Equal pay for equal work, preventing discrimination at work or school based on gender, rights to contraceptive use, and safe and legal abortion are all major issues that have dominated political debates.

Today, women are still fighting in order to receive the rights they deserve as citizens and women of what is considered the most powerful nation in the world. Even with all the supposed progress and freedom of the United States, women still face a lot of opposition. Everywhere you look, there is a new attempt at silencing women and stripping them of the basic rights they have fought so hard to attain. From disparities in employment to health care, women must face the harsh realities of a society that, for the most part, undervalues their worth.

We can all agree that women are important to any society for survival. Not only do they give birth, but they are also still the main caregivers at home. We can also all agree that employment is important for survival. In the United States, especially, being a “hard worker” can open new doors for people; it can mean new job opportunities, promotions, a raise, bonuses, and extra job perks. This is great news, unless you’re a woman. According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), women working full-time still earned only 77 percent of what men earn. That’s a 23 percent gap and only 18 percent increase in the past 30 years! The pay gap is not going away anytime soon, but the family reliance on women working in order to make ends meet is increasing. This poses a problem for many families, especially single parent households, where women must carry the heavy load all on their own. It can be very discouraging, even for the hard working women out there who are just trying to get a fair chance at success in a man’s world.

Now let’s look back at presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s comments about the need for stay-at-home mothers to leave the home and find a job in order to discover the “dignity of work.” Leave it to a man to decide what constitutes “dignity of work” for women; Romney received much needed criticism after his comments. So, not only do women get paid considerably less than men, they are also given conflicting messages about their roles in society. A woman can stay at home and raise her children and be a “great mother,” but she lacks dignity of work. Or she can find a job, get paid less than men, have to pay a lot of money for good childcare, and then be criticized for not being involved enough in her children’s lives…

Of course, the other huge debate when it comes to women concerns the control of their bodies and their health. Fellow Rogue Scholar, Carlos Camacho, did a phenomenal job outlining the sexism that exists within each new, proposed law prohibiting women from accessing birth control (a medical necessity for some) and safe and legal abortions (even in cases of rape or health risks for women), so I will refrain from restating the points he made so eloquently. Instead, let's focus on a different angle concerning women's health choices: health insurance. Women are free and equal citizens of the United States, but they do not have the right to make decisions about their own health. For a moment, let’s disregard that women have been arrested for having abortions or can be fired for using birth control; to many, those are just extreme cases that are few and far between. But what about the cost of health insurance for women? 

A recent article outlined the costs associated with owning a vagina. As I read the list, I nodded my head and sighed in agreement. It costs A LOT of money to be a woman. It can cost anywhere from $500 to $3000 a year to be a woman who takes care of her vaginal health (this does not include other important female health needs, such as mammograms, prenatal care, etc.). Fortunately, we have Planned Parenthood that offers many of the services women need for an affordable price, though, at this rate, that may also cease to exist in the future. Some can also turn to health insurance to help cover the costs, but there are great disparities when it comes to this, as well. It would seem logical that health insurance costs the same for everyone, right? Except that is not the case. Women often pay more for health insurance than men do. The reason given is that women supposedly use more medical services (more visits to the doctor, more regular checkups, etc.), though this reason is questionable considering the difference in rates can be as little as 10 percent or as high as 81 percent. So why do we not support women taking care of their health? It is important for citizens to be healthy in order to function and thrive in society; this is what is best for society as a whole, unless we’re talking about women. Forget attempting to ban abortion and contraception, both often based on religious discourse, but instead, let’s think about everyday health care. By making women pay more for health insurance (the same women who are paid less at work), we are sending the message that we do not care about their health, and what does that say about this nation and the value of its citizens?

We seem to criticize women for all the decisions they make regarding their own lives. A woman can choose to stay at home or go to work, but in the United States, depending on the situation, both are seen as poor choices. If a woman goes to work, she is most likely going to be paid less than a man. If she stays home, she will not be considered a “hard worker.” If she chooses to take care of her health, she will probably pay more for it. Why do we treat women as if they are second-class citizens? Men have been in control since the beginning; every time women fight for their rights, it is a challenge to the control of this nation. Every time women win a battle, they gain more power. But why is that bad? If we are truly a nation of liberty and justice for all, giving women equal rights should not be that difficult, except that the mere idea seems to scare those in control. We are a nation that is scared of change, of consistent progress, of true equality and of “minorities” taking over. We create laws to try to slow down any of the above fears from becoming realities. Progress and change can be very good for a country, but we continue to curb these by feeding into our fears. It is time we face our fears head on! It is time to stop fighting against women and instead, to see them as valuable assets to this nation.

*In my next two articles, I will continue to discuss the fears of American society and how they are affecting (1) our LGBTQ citizens’ rights and freedoms and (2) our policies on immigration. 


TheSmartOne said...

I agree! Women should get vouchers to subsidize the cost of maintaining the vag! It benefits society as a whole.

Another issue is leave from work. I talked to a woman the other day and her baby shower gift to her pregnant daughter was to cover her expenses for an extra month off to care for the newborn. The soon-to-be mother's employer would allow her to take the time but unpaid...

Brilliant gift but tragic.

Danielle J said...

Great article! You have done a wonderful job of describing the systematic ways that women have been, and are currently marginalized within society, without portraying women as victims.

I appreciate the way you dissected the concept of "making progress," and how many people in our society condone prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination, on the grounds that we are "making progress" in this country. Making progress does not give our nation the green light to disenfranchise women.

Also, Mitt Romney's "dignity of work" comment is just absurd. His statement implies that women have to earn their dignity, instead of simply being dignified for who they are.

Nice shout-out to Carlos Camacho as well! :-)

As a researcher and advocate of LGBT issues and sexual identity, I am very much looking forward to your forthcoming article about LGBTQ citizens' rights and freedoms.