The "Women's Agenda" for the Clinton Presidency is a "Men's Agenda" Too.

As we tumble towards November, hoping – and expecting - to witness the election of our first female President, columnists and pundits are rushing to define the "women's agenda" for a Clinton Presidency.

May I point out that a "women's agenda" is also a men's agenda, that men want the same policy initiatives that women want?

What makes the "women's agenda" a women's agenda in the first place is that we assume that women vote and make policy not specifically as women – i.e. in opposition to men – but rather as female workers or as mothers.

What are erroneously called women's issues leads to a fictitious opposition, a battle of the sexes or something that supports the silly, and by now utterly disproved notion that women and men are from different planets.

Here are 2 Axioms for Earthlings:

1. Men want what women want. Increasingly we are finding that what makes men happier and healthier are the very things that women have identified that they need.

2. Women need men's support. We know that we cannot fully empower women and girls without engaging boys and men. Full stop. Seriously, name one reform that women wanted that didn't require men's support. Suffrage? Even President Clinton – the Hillary version – is going to have to work with a male-dominated Congress.

So here are 3 policy initiatives that would be part of a "women's agenda" that are also on the men's agenda.

1. Paid Parental Leave.

The United States is now the only industrialized country, and one of only four countries in the world – in the world! – that offers no paid parental leave to anyone, male or female. (The others are Lesotho, Swaziland, Papua New Guinea.) This is a national scandal!

We typically think of this as a women's issue. After all, new moms need time to recover from giving birth and to bond with their newborns. True, enough. But it is not a women's issue; it is a parents' issue. And increasingly men are identifying as parents as well. Men need and want paid parental leave because we want to be there for our children's first months of life, and we, too, want to balance work and family. Survey after survey show that both women and men want to do more than just "balance" work and family; we want to integrate them. In today's workplace, entry-level women and men want the same thing. We are far more similar than we are different in our career and family aspirations and expectations. Again, forget Mars and Venus; young people already have.

And this is not just "parental" leave. It's family leave. Given that our parents are living longer than ever before, and since people are waiting until their late 20s and 30s to have children, most of us will have a couple of decades in which we are taking care of dependent children and dependent parents. No longer are we trying to leave work early to coach our daughter's soccer game, but we are now coaching the game and then rushing off to take our mother to a doctor's appointment.

2. Women's Reproductive Rights.

We know that women need full reproductive freedom in order to fully participate in public life and balance their family lives and their working lives. Access to safe and effective family planning, including birth control and abortion, is essential if women are going to be able to be both sexually safe and, well, sexual in the first place.

We're long past some ideologically driven fictions that hold that any sex that is not reproductive is somehow morally wrong – or the equally ideological policy that only women should be responsible for unwanted pregnancies. Both women and men are sexual beings, sexual citizens. And, as Jefferson reminded us a long time ago, citizenship requires a balance of rights and responsibilities.

Women need full reproductive freedom to make sexual decisions and to weigh their reproductive choices. I would wager that virtually every single woman reading this essay is grateful that she has had some degree of choice.

But where are the legions of men supporting women's reproductive rights—especially as the right wing seeks clever new ways to abridge them? As with their efforts to suppress voter turnout, the Republican Congress has tried to find new ways to make access to contraception and abortion increasingly difficult to obtain.

But men benefit enormously from women's ability to claim reproductive rights. What's true for me is true for millions of men: I'm so grateful my partner was able to have a safe and legal abortion.

We need men to stand up and say this publicly. "Men for Choice." Men need to claim how we benefit from women's reproductive rights. As much as we need female legislators to listen to the testimony, we need men to testify! Men to say, "I'm glad my partner had a choice because…" we weren't ready to have a baby; or because we had already had two children and couldn't afford to have another; or because we'd just met at a party and weren't even really in a relationship. Or because we wanted to have a baby -- and we could do that exactly when we wanted to!

3. Campuses Free of Sexual Assault.

In the last few years of his administration, President Obama and Vice-President Biden have made campus safety a centerpiece issue, from the "Dear Colleague" letter of 2011 to the Administration's visible support of sexual assault survivors.

And clearly this is an important issue for women. It is simply unacceptable that one in five will be sexually assaulted during her college years.

But recent research suggests that only about one in twenty men have been perpetrators, which means there are serial rapists and lots of enablers and bystanders. In the age of Snapchat and Instagram, no one is ignorant of these events very long.

Again, men's voices have been largely absent. Yes, it's true that the administration developed a campaign to engage men, #ItsOnUs, and supported many bystander intervention programs. But too often these programs have encouraged men to see themselves as enlightened knights rescuing damsels in distress – which leads to a syndrome I like to call "premature self-congratulation."

We need strong policies and effective adjudication of campus sexual assault because without it, women's ability to claim an equal education is compromised. And men who are afraid of being falsely accused, or being tainted by the same broad brush that paints all men as potential predators, need to step up and transform a culture that still pretends that sexual assault will end when women dress differently, drink differently, or flirt differently. Sexual assault ends when men stop raping. It's on us.

Women and men together want and need paid parental leave. Women and men both need and want women's reproductive rights protected. And we both need and want safer college campuses, where women aren't afraid to to parties or out on dates, and men don't fear they'll be "misunderstood" or "falsely accused."

The women's agenda turns out to be a men's agenda as well. And maybe that's what gender equality is supposed to be about.


August 17, 2016

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