Women and Public Policy in Minnesota

unnamed-10Government and politics do not necessarily uphold justice and equality. If you have picked up any history book in your lifetime, then you already know that. In fact, certain groups of people tend to be excluded from the political arena still to this day. Just look at the sea of white men in the photo of the 2015 Minnesota House of Representatives who make decisions about my reproductive rights, my access to higher education, and my working wage. It’s worrisome to see the lack of diversity, the elitism, and the visual example of the institutionalization of racism, sexism, transphobia, etc. in the state legislature. How can these people represent me and my interests when they don’t identify as me?

Today, only 67 women serve in the Minnesota Legislature out of the 201 elected members. Only a third of our representatives have the same gender identity as me. And when you look at racial diversity as well, the numbers become even more disappointing. Fun Fact: I actually could not find a report on the racial demographics of the state legislature, which I found very interesting or perhaps very telling… According to my personal research on Minnesota State Legislature website, there are 8 people of color in the legislature. Three of those are women. And there are only 3 three people who are openly gay or lesbian elected officials. Two of which are women. (**Side Note: Please feel free to correct my “research” and if you find a report with the actual demographics of the 2015 Minnesota State Legislature, please post the link in the comments section below!)

Just for kicks and giggles, here is a great look-a-like of two Republican House members I found during my “research!” The first is Bob Gunther of southern Minnesota District 23A, and the second is Tom Hackbarth representing Anoka County District 31B. I’m still not totally convinced that they are not the same person who switches glasses every so often. He could be tricking us into occupying two seats in the House. More investigative work will have to be done…

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Bob Gunther

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Tom Hackbarth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am critical of the government and its elitist or corporate interests as a former member of the working class. The institutions that dictate our day-to-day lives were created by men with regards to utilizing and preserving masculinity, and in their very function maintain and strengthen sexist ideals in our society. Women’s personhood status and civic rights are not built into the system, and thus sexist discourse is largely normalized in politics as women are assumed to be pre-political objects (If you don’t believe me, just watch some subtle and not-so-subtle sexist interviews with Hillary Clinton during her 2008 presidential campaign).

The politics of protection and regulation reinforce women’s subordinated status in the state. The state is masculinist by “protecting” women through providing welfare, but then women must be compliant to the system that reinforces and reproduces their subordination and low-income status. Thus, women require protection from men by men. Similarly, governing bodies create rules to govern women’s bodies. From the public programs forcing sterilization of the early 1900s to the abortion and contraception regulations of today, men hold control of the thing most intimate to me as a medium to express my individuality – my body. Our civil rights are not written into the institution of American politics, and thus government, as it currently is, cannot be a space to foster and encourage equality and justice.

However, I cannot just dismiss the political system. I want it to succeed as an area the poor and marginalized can access to gain assistance, exercise agency, and exert power. And I can easily argue that many people elected to the Minnesota State Legislature want to dismantle the system and see revolutionary change in the political institution as much as any college-aged feminist. For example, legislation for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the Minnesota Constitution and the Contraception Health Equity and Employee (CHEER) Act are working to change how the political system views women and their rights.

The ERA to the Minnesota Constitution will include women in the language of the Minnesota Constitution. It’s disturbing to think that in 2015, the Minnesota and U.S. Constitution does not explicitly recognize women as holding the same freedoms allotted to men. Adding the word “women” to the language of the Constitution is more than just adding words to a document; it’s a path to remedying the inequalities women continue to face in the workplace and society.

The CHEER Act protects female’s health and reproductive rights. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby created serious gaps in contraception coverage for females by exempting certain businesses from providing free contraception in their health insurance plans. At least seven Minnesota companies were able to exclude contraceptive coverage in their employee health plans. The CHEER Act will prohibit this practice. The legislation also requires that employers who do deny coverage due to religious reasons must provide written disclosure during the application process. The proposal includes an exemption for non-profit religious employers. Females own the right to decide when and if they want to use birth control and employers should not be able to intervene with these rights.

Thus, work is being done within the system to reform the governmental institution that reproduces and reinforces white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. However, is it successful? I’m known to quote Audre Lorde, “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” The bills I mentioned above are relatively stagnant in committees. The ERA to the Minnesota Constitution has the most potential to become law, but House Republicans will likely strike it down because of its implications for abortion rights. The legislative process and bureaucracy of state government are historically tools to uphold the privileged status and well-being of certain people by strategically reinforcing the subordination of others. So can this process be reversed to dismantle the systems that marginalized certain people? Not likely. How could we possibly “reform” the system by taking out patriarchy, an oppression built into the government, but leaving its foundation stable? It simply cannot be done.

I may sound like a pessimist, or a radical, or perhaps a hypocrite. All may be true, but they keep me questioning the realities and justice of the day–to-day life I live and the various institutions I am subject to – government, education, capitalism, etc. A critical lens upon the world is the first step to reevaluating and reflecting on things – laws, values, morals, etc. – I accept, take for granted, and internalize. Thus, I will not simply reject or reaffirm the state, but I will out maneuver it.

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