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Changing the Conversation About “The Woman Card”

The “woman card.” It’s so much nonsense. Donald Trump is merely the latest to accuse a woman of playing identity politics because she, well, actually discussed the fact that the U.S. still has much to improve in terms of gender equality. Trump alleges that Clinton is discussing women’s issues so she can win the votes of women. The nerve of her, trying to win the support of more than 50 percent of the population! It’s like she’s running for the highest office in the country, or something. Clinton’s response was terrific: “If fighting for women’s health care and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the woman card, then deal me in.”

Other responses to Trump’s comments bothered me, though. Elizabeth Warren said that Trump “wears the sexism out front for everyone to see,” which is undeniably true. More than just one man’s sexism, though, the whole affair is a stark reminder that we really need to change the conversation when it comes to gender. And, doing so has to go beyond attacking people for the same things women abhor—emphasizing our looks more than our words. For instance, Warren made fun of Trump’s hair in her response to his comments. There’s no need to play that same game; his remarks would be no more palatable were he to shave his head or sport a mullet. Likewise, Clinton’s recognition of the importance of equal pay would mean no less were she a supermodel.

Too often, advocates of gender equality are marginalized because of how they appear. It is way past time that we worry about someone’s actions, not the package in which they are wrapped. Feminists come in so many varieties, and their work shouldn’t be trivialized because someone doesn’t like their voice or pantsuit or because of the antiquated notion that men can’t be feminists. Likewise, advocacy for gender equality should not be marginalized because the proponent happens to be attractive or even sexy, as is often the case when female celebrities like Beyonce speak out. Similarly, when we disagree with a sexist remark, like those made by Trump, we have to resist the urge to comment on his appearance, as it also shifts the focus and entrenches us into the same duel mentality.

It’s unbelievable that issues affecting all of us are even still called “women’s issues.” In this patriarchal society, labeling something a woman’s issue reinforces the same binary way of thinking about gender that produces the problem in the first place. Like Gloria Steinem argued decades ago in her classic piece “If Men Could Menstruate,” shifting who is the oppressor or the oppressed does not challenge structural inequality. Birth control and reproductive freedom, for instance, are not “women’s issues,” they are concerns for anyone who wants to (or does not want to) have children, not about males or females. Paid family leave is about families, regardless of the gender of both parents. Domestic violence is not a women’s issue, it’s a public health concern that costs the country an estimated $8.3 billion annually. These are issues of justice and of human rights. But, it will be impossible to change the way we view these problems until we stop using the same tactics that the sexists use.

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Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

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