Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman issued a challenge in his September 19 column: who will speak for Minnesota women? I can’t claim to represent every female in our state, but I can speak on behalf of the more than 2000 women and men who are members of our state’s chapter of National Organization for Women (NOW). The statistics quoted by Mr. Coleman, while disturbing, are not new to us; they are the reason that we do the work we do.
Unfortunately, Minnesota NOW and our allies are increasingly fighting against a culture that sees gains made by individual women as evidence of gains for all women. The electoral victories of Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Sarah Palin are laudable, but as Coleman points out, these wins have done little to end domestic violence or close the wage gap. The appointments of Supreme Court justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan won’t truly make history until their review of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 renders the 2007 Ledbetter v. Goodyear ruling null and void (for those not up to date on feminist history, that doozy of a decision allowed Goodyear to get away with shorting Ledbetter’s salary for over twenty years).
I was born and raised in Minneapolis by Hubert Humphrey voters who believed him when he said “compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism.” As Coleman wrote in his column, a disproportionate number of today’s low-wage workers are women, a large segment of whom also unpaid caregivers to children and/or elders. Quality health care (including, as Coleman notes, sexual health care), child care, and schooling are increasingly out of reach for Minnesota women, but our current governor recently likened federal health care funding to illegal drugs: toxic and corrupting. In such an environment, one can forgive Coleman for guessing that nobody cares.
What happened? I have some theories: inevitable backlash, conservative retrenchment, and a consumer culture that hijacked feminism’s language to sell us cigarettes, luxury cars, and high-heeled shoes. We’ve come a long way, baby.
It’s an irony not lost on me that the study Coleman quotes comes from the research institute that carries the name of my hometown’s former mayor. Minnesota has moved away from its culture of inclusion, towards an attitude of every man (pun intended) for himself. I commend Coleman for bringing these inequities to light, and I urge Minnesotans to ask their governor candidates what specific plans they have for eradicating them.
President, Minnesota NOW