My Turn: Women's self-sufficiency at stake in the voting booth

Posted: Monday, October 04, 2004

While registering voters this spring, I called an apparently disadvantaged young woman over to my table to talk about voting. As she balanced her toddler on her hip, she told me, "I don't really know much about politics. I always vote for who my dad says I should vote for." I wondered if her dad advised her based on his political needs or hers, if he was into patriarchy, if he liked women systematically weakened, or if he was the kind of dad who wanted equal opportunity for self-sufficiency for his daughter.

Patriarchy is broadly defined in Webster's dictionary as "control by men of a disproportionately large share of power." Patriarchal institutions, such as supremacist, conservative, or evangelical organizations, are battling to maintain this historical imbalance of power in our modern world. Although Americans embrace the logic of checks and balances and equal power as important safeguards from tyrannical government, conservatives are suspiciously reluctant to apply that logic to relationships between men and women. And tyranny is thriving in Alaska, where conservativism and its partner, patriarchy, dominate policy. Imbalanced Alaska is commonly known to be tops in the nation for wife-battering, rape, and child abuse.

Hope is on the way. Despite the effort of conservatives, the ancient order of patriarchy is slowly dying at the hands of scientific progress and other changing environmental forces. The question is, how many more generations of women will suffer before it's finally over? If women do nothing but wait for more men to evolve and support equal rights policies, the end will come later. If most women, including dominated women, simply vote for equal rights candidates now, the end to the prevailing tyranny of patriarchy will come sooner.

In the Nov. 2 election, opposing candidates and party platforms clearly take one side or the other: patriarchy vs. equality. Following are some contested issues taken from "The ABC's of Women's Issues," which impact the equal rights and self-sufficiency of women.

Access to bank credit and federal government contracting goals and safeguards for women-owned businesses must be improved.

Affordable, quality child care for all who need it must be a national priority.

Women must be explicitly guaranteed equal rights by the U.S. Constitution.

All women and their families must have access to affordable and comprehensive health care.

Privacy rights guaranteed by Roe vs. Wade and comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education including discussions of disease prevention, family planning, and birth control must be defended and promoted.

Current inequality of pay between men and women is the result of occupational segregation and traditional patterns of discrimination. Women and men performing work of equal skill, effort, and responsibility should be paid equally, even if job titles are different.

Any effort to weaken Title IX, such as giving educators more flexibility to establish single-sex education or decreasing funding for women's sports should be defeated.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) must be fully funded as well as improved with new, innovative programs providing assistance to victims of violence.

There are men who appreciate the benefits of equal rights for women and behave accordingly. Other men, conservatives especially, prefer that women are hobbled. They demonstrate that preference by using public policy and religious pressure to preserve their imbalanced, patriarchal system.

Women with patriarchal partners may feel afraid to assert their political beliefs. Despite that, there are ways these women may safely vote for their own best candidate. Less-restricted women may go to the polls and rely on the private voting booth for safety. And no threatened woman need ever tell an abuser how she actually votes. Whatever it takes, I urge every woman, in honor of our chastised, suffragette foremothers and in the best interests of our granddaughters, to vote as if her life depends on it ... because it does.

• Barbara McDaniel is president of Mat-Su National Organization for Women (NOW).

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