You Need to Pick Your Battles, Ladies

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It seems a number of women across various blogs and forums are taking issue with the President’s SOTU speech, or rather, with this particular line from it:

“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.”

Robin Swirling over at RH Reality Check stated:

“My worth as a woman, and as a person, is not imbued by my relationship to someone else.”

Melissa McEwan at Shakesville wrote:

Central to anti-violence advocacy is regarding women as autonomous beings, a concept which is undermined by reductively defining women by our relationships to other people…”

Maya over at Feministing posted this:

Like Melissa–and many other feminists I saw on Twitter–I really, really hate this framing… I think it is counter-productive and offensive to continually ask men to imagine a female relation when calling on them to support women’s basic rights.

More to the point in this case, last time I checked the State of [the] Union, while delivered to Congress, is a message to [the] whole nation.

The issue has even led to a petition on the White House site, which begins:

Stop using the “wives, mothers, & daughters” rhetorical frame that defines women by their relationships to other people.

While the above points are valid, there is a bigger point being missed here: Every speech the President makes is “to the whole nation”, and regardless of what this President understands, the fact is, vast numbers of both men and women see everything only as it relates to them. Forced ultrasounds don’t intrude on their lives, domestic violence doesn’t happen in their lives, equal pay is not an issue in their lives.

One aspect of political speech is that it must speak as much to those who don’t “get it”, as to those who do. Millions of Americans will not see the importance of an issue unless they understand how it could affect someone they care about; those are the people that need to be reached in the President’s speeches, not those already in the battle.

When Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards spoke at the DNC, she began her speech with:

“…On behalf of the millions of mothers, daughters, wives, sisters and friends…”

Was she “defining women by their relationship to other people”; no, she was simply describing the women in peoples’ lives, just as the President was doing in the SOTU. Semantics aside, the fact remains it is in our best interests that more men understand the issues that are important to women – regardless of how they come to that understanding.

Republicans, men and women, are legislating against the interests of women every day across this country. Conservative pundits are continually denigrating women, while people like Phyllis Schlafly, and sites like the “Independent Women’s Forum”, relish their roles as glorified cheerleaders for the GOP’s backward policies.

As long as women are comparatively few in Congress and in state legislatures, as long as there are groups of women fighting against women’s interests, and as long as Republicans continue in their attempts to undermine our rights, we need to pick our battles, and this is not one – not with this President. He has always had our backs.

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