State of the Union: Takeaways for Women’s Issues

SOTUOn Tuesday, President Barack Obama gave his fourth State of the Union address, laying out a vision for his second term. While the address focused primarily on the recovering economy, gun violence, voting reform, education and climate change, President Obama had some strong words on women’s issues.

For one thing, Obama urged the House to pass the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was voted out of the Senate on Tuesday. It authorizes $659 million in program support for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.

The president also asked Congress to finally pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this year, which would require employers to show that pay disparity is due to job performance, as well as prohibit them from retaliating against employees who share salary information with coworkers. While the gender gap is decreasing, women are still only earning 82 cents on the dollar, a statistic the Paycheck Fairness Act would work to improve.

But despite advocating for VAWA and the Paycheck Fairness Act, the president drew criticism among feminists when he said, “We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, and free from the fear of domestic violence.” Melissa McEwan of Shakesville found this wording alienating and misogynist and has petitioned the White House to stop using the “wives, mothers & daughters” rhetorical framework to define women solely by their relationships to other people.

President Obama also spoke in support of marriage equality, women in combat and benefits for gay military families.

Toward the end of his address, the president told personal stories about a few exceptional women to illustrate the issues of gun violence, good citizenship and voter reform. The first, Hadiya Pendleton, was a 15-year-old majorette who was shot and killed near her home in Chicago only three weeks after performing at the 2013 inauguration. Obama also told the story of Menchu Sanchez, a New York City nurse who rescued 20 newborns during Hurricane Sandy, and of Desiline Victor, a 102-year-old woman who stood in line to vote for six hours in the last election. Sanchez, Victor (who received a a standing ovation) and Pendleton’s parents were in attendance.

The president closed his address by reiterating that despite their many differences, Americans are all “citizens” who must work together toward the “next great chapter.” Hopefully.

Image courtesy of the White House Flickr under United States Government Work license


  1. Thinking Liberal says:

    Excellent article!

    I personally believe that same-sex marriage and gun control, among other things, need to be adressed, and dealt with so they are no longer issues.

    One minor nitpick: The quote,

    Melissa McEwan of Shakesville found this wording alienating and misogynist and has petitioned the White House to stop using the “wives, mothers & daughters” rhetorical framework to define women solely by their relationships to men.

    Having looked at Melissa’s petition, the more accurate wording to represent her meaning would be,

    “… it defines women by their relationships to other people.”

    Remember, it is possible for a woman to be a wife, mother or daughter to another woman, as well as a man.

    Thanks for your viewpoint,

    … Huh.

    Turns out my second quote is, word for word, a direct quotation from her petition. I didn’t notice that the first time I looked through it.

  2. My issue with that phrasing is the “our”, which implies that he is speaking to and on behalf of men. I guess some women have wives, but for the most part, this phrasing suggests that he isn’t speaking to or from the point of view of the women of the country.

  3. I’m appreciative that a President is addressing these issues at all.
    I don’t want to reflect on the smaller items, such as semantics. Let’s focus on the positive steps instead of distract people’s attention away from the big picture.

  4. The possibility of public pre-school for 4-yr olds is encouraging on many levels, but where is a discussion of the desperate need for affordable quality childcare, especially for infants and toddlers? By affordable, I mean even for solidly middle-class families, especially those with 2 or more children. Where is the discussion of school days that support work days –beginning with 8:30-5:30 coverage and including providing back-up for snow days, weather-related delayed start days, teacher in-service and conference days and any other weekdays when school is not held?

    If the President is serious about addressing the gender wage gap, he will recognize that it is a gap between MOTHERS and all men/ childless women, in other words a motherhood penalty.

  5. Its great that women get equal treatment but please represent all women. I didn’t hear any stories from the president from women who were able to protect themselves from violence by using a firearm. I see small stories in the press on occasion. The best way to protect yourself is to be armed and be comfortable with your weapon of choice.
    As far as women in the military goes I don’t agree with them being in a combat situation. When I went through bootcamp they lowered the standards for female recruits. The standard wouldn’t be changed in an actual situation.

  6. Kimberly Lockwood says:

    I agree with Lauren. The President has made some politcally incorrect statements along the way. (I personally emailed a rebuke to him for calling one of our local female reporters “dear” during his first campaign) But when the rubber met the road, he has brought about more positive change for women during a time when there is formidable opposition than I would have believed to be possible. It is his leadership from the workplace to health care to domestic safety that we are so fortunate to be able to depend on. Have you noticed the alternative voices out there?

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