State of the Union: Takeaways for Women’s Issues

On 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