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It sounds hyperbolic to say the American government just doesn’t care about women. Women represent roughly half of the United States population, after all. But in light of the news that elderly white man Joe Manchin has forced paid parental leave out of the Build Back Better bill, coupled with a defense of abortion rights that might be kindly described as lethargic — how hysterical am I being about this, really?
I’ve seen it argued that lawmakers like Manchin are invested in a project to uphold the patriarchy and actively keep women subservient to men. I believe on some level — particularly when it concerns men within the Republican Party — that this is true. But speaking more broadly, it seems more a question of interest. Sure, Democratic men care about women’s rights and all that, but they have more pressing issues to handle first. If it’s a policy or a concern that primarily impacts women, it’s just never going to be a priority. It’s never going to be seen as truly serious.
When asked why he would not support paid family leave, Manchin answered that he simply “can’t do it,” because he’s thinking about his grandchildren. Excuse me, sir, but what are you actually babbling about? I keep hearing about this great labor shortage, an economic problem that Manchin (and Kyrsten Sinema, as well as all 50 Republican Senators) has chosen to address by making it harder for people to go back to work. Studies indicate that over the course of the pandemic, women have lost a net five million jobs, one million more than men. Women’s participation in the workforce is at the lowest level in 30 years, per Politico, and those numbers have stagnated. Economic studies also show that paid family and medical leave is beneficial to the economy — employee satisfaction and retention improves, and companies don’t have to spend additional funds on replacing workers. This is data that I was easily able to find, and I’m just a random woman on the internet. I assume the West Virginia Senator also has access to Google.
Paid parental leave wouldn’t only impact women, of course, as men would also be able to take parental leave to care for newborn children, though Republicans seem baffled by the concept of paternity leave altogether. From conservative men’s wildly unhinged response to Pete Buttigieg taking paternity leave to the right’s most influential pundits like Tucker Carlson and Matt Walsh apparently believing a father’s only duty as a parent is to model emotional repression (which explains some things about the psyche of the Republican Party, to be frank), it’s clear they have a lot of reading up to do on the subject.
But even if you do think dads should be able to access some kind of paid family leave, we all know who shoulders the majority of the caregiving responsibilities in the end. Without paid parental leave, men may be losing out on a benefit, but it’s the women who bear the consequences. And so the men don’t care.
Democratic men have had no shortage of opportunities lately to prove that they take women’s rights seriously, and that they are willing to put real muscle behind protecting them. Alas. As Texas’s Machiavellan and flatly unconstitutional abortion ban went into effect with the Supreme Court’s tacit approval, Biden sort of weakly shook his fist in their general direction and shrugged with a “What are ya gonna do?” attitude. And the weakened protections for sexual assault survivors on college campuses instituted by Betsy DeVos? The Biden administration has promised to undo these rules — but not until spring of 2022, making it hard to get a sense of real urgency here.
And why should it feel urgent? These are just women’s problems, after all.