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June 2012 Issue

Responsively Yours: A Peek Into the Gender Gap

By Harriett Jane Olson

When the news media focuses on differences in voting patterns between men and women, they use the term “gender gap,” an expression that suggests male voters are the norm and women voters are unaccountably different. The “gap” gets attributed to a candidate’s general “appeal” or a semiserious exploration of the question “What do women want?” as if it were mysterious or hidden. Why isn’t the gender gap an analysis of how male voters come to their decisions?

What if we talked about what women want as if it were the norm? Women in general operate with a sort of enlightened self-interest, not selflessly, but in ways that take seriously our own needs, the needs of our families, our businesses and our communities, the people and places we know best.

We might start with women’s health. Access to health care, including reproductive health care, is basic. Without quality, affordable health care, everything else to which we might aspire is compromised.

Maternal health is the beginning point for the long-term health of children, and elder care is necessary so that women are not “sandwiched” to the point at which they spend all their energy caring for children or parents.

Along with health care comes nutrition. Every local food bank throughout the country and national mission institutions like Lessie Bates Davis Community Center in East St. Louis, Ill., and Toberman Neighborhood Center south of Los Angeles, Calif., see increasing numbers of families coming to them for food assistance even as government support for the centers decreases.

We want to live in healthy environments. We don’t want our children or our elderly or ourselves to be exposed to toxic levels of emissions or contaminated food or to find that enterprises, large or small, have leaked hazardous chemicals into our drinking water.

Another key to meeting women’s expectations is education. The children and youth in my family, county and state need the best education we can provide. We want this sort of education for all children — not just children in families who can afford private school fees or who homeschool. Starting again from our own self-interest, we want a community in which all members can thrive. We do not want a school system or a social structure that assumes some children will be lost along the way, dropping out of school and heading for lifelong marginalization.

Our current system includes what the Children’s Defense Fund calls the “cradle to prison pipeline,” which predominantly affects African-American males, and it is not healthy for them or their families or the society deprived of their talents and contributions.

Of course, we want safety, especially for ourselves and our children. However, we are skeptical that global peace or local security are best achieved by the proliferation of weapons possession.

We know that our society has failed when there is so much violence and so little security that “stand your ground” laws are viewed as an appropriate response. Understanding the fear that draws people to weapons in the first place, we must create better, stronger communities that enable all of us to imagine and work toward a different future. Security lies not in weapons or in militarization but in peace building.

This is not a comprehensive list, and it is not rocket science. But I believe anytime there is a gender difference, United Methodist Women members and other women across the country ought to pay attention.

What if we close the “gender gap” by insisting that candidates attend to these matters? If more voters — male and female — prioritized the hard work of these “soft” issues, we can make a difference. Let’s give it a try.

HARRIETT JANE OLSON
Women’s Division
Deputy General Secretary
holson@unitedmethodistwomen.org

Last Updated: 03/18/2014
 
 

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