What Obama’s “State Of The Union” Address Said, And Didn’t Say, About Women

You may have watched President Obama’s “State of the Union” address in person. Me? I watched the first episode of season one of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” (It had been a long day.) Reading the “State of the Union” address online this morning, I’m once again proud of my president and the country I come from. But I was dismayed — a tiny bit surprised, even — to see no mention of women’s rights or women’s issues — or even women at all — in the “State of the Union.” As Courtney E. Martin put it, writing for Feministing, the speech was “sort of unremarkable to these feminist ears.” As is customary with the “State of the Union,” President Obama set forth many important goals regarding education, innovation, the economy, and the environment. Several of the President’s goals include:

  • By 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.
  • Prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (i.e. STEM).
  • Make permanent the tuition tax credit — worth $10,000 for four years of college.
  • By 2020, make America once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.
  • Stop deporting the children of illegal immigrants who have lived here all their lives, been educated in our public schools and contributed to our culture, when they could instead stay here and contniue to make a positive impact on our society. (This is likely a reference to The DREAM Act, which failed in Congress in December.)
  • Improve our infrastructure with faster Internet access and higher quality roads, railways and bridges. This includes setting a goal that in 25 years, 80 percent of Americans will have access to high-speed rail and in the next five years, making it possible for businesses to “deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage” to 98 percent of all Americans
  • Double our exports by 2014.
  • Freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years, which will reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade.
  • Thwart a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.
  • Simplify the tax code.

Noble goals, to be sure. But the omission of anything directly pertaining to women — 51 percent of the population — is not intentional on my part. Though the President referenced the fact that our troops are “black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American … Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim… [and] some of them are gay,” he never specifically addressed women, troops or otherwise.

The issues he addressed are human issues, to be sure. But ladies have our own specfic problems we face. What about addressing the relentless, state-by-state assault on reproductive rights? What about abstinence-only sex ed that is leaving an entire generation of youngsters ill-equipped to care for their own sexual health? What about the pharmacists who are refusing to fill prescriptions of the morning-after pill or the abortion pill? What about the abortion providers who are menacingly depicted in “Wanted” posters by anti-abortion extremists? What about the proliferation of so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” that mislead women with an unwanted pregnancy? What about bomb scares at abortion clinics? To listen to President Obama’s speech last night, you would think none of this was happening.

Let me be clear: I’m not naive enough to believe the President would get up on the dais and rant about a woman’s right to choose, which I know is just a fantasy from my tree-hugging, bleeding-heart commie dream world. It’s too controversial for a speech that’s supposed to be about Congress working together in harmony. Still, it is disappointing that reproductive rights, which is the number one issue that sets my heart on fire — and the hearts of thousands, if not millions, of other American women — was completely left out of his speech.

If Obama had wanted to mention women’s rights or women’s issues at all, he would not have even had to skew to controversial subjects. The President could have at least mentioned one sentence about the kickass work to curb violence towards women and help victims of violence that he and Vice President Joe Biden outlined in a speech last October. He could have made a passing reference to working mothers. He could have done anything.

But he didn’t. We’ll never know what parts of the speech ended up on the editing room floor, or why. As much as I want lower taxes, better education funding, and more technological innovation in my country, I also wish my president had acknowledged that I existed.

[NPR: Transcript: Obama’s State Of The Union Address]
[Feministing: State of the Union Roundup]
[Wikipedia: The DREAM Act]