Women’s oppression by rich, privileged men is nothing new. As the rights of (male) citizens were being inscribed in the Constitution, women were being prevented from divorcing violent predators, claiming custody of their children, owning property, voting or even sitting at a bar alone. In 21st century America, women are still the underclass making 80¢ for every $1.00 men earn. In 2019, only 6.6% of the biggest companies in the U.S. (the Fortune 500) are run by women. Although 51% of the U.S. population is female, they are represented by 25 senators out of 100 and 102 representatives out of 435. Only 9 women (18%) are currently serving as governors.
Over the last decade, some things have changed. Punishment has transformed the landscape of gender equality. Wealthy and powerful men in the entertainment industry, Silicon Valley, media (even public radio and TV personalities), politicians, all the way up to the president have been hauled into the spotlight to face multiple accusations of sexual crimes and many have seen their careers evaporate. Several are in the process of being hauled into criminal court and threatened with years behind bars. If the outing of prominent men really has a deterrent effect on the behavior of others, much good can come out of the painful suffering of so many victims. Even now, there are undoubtedly more rich and powerful men hoping their crimes will remain hidden.
But that’s not even half the story. Far from the headlines with stories that don’t attract media attention are millions of women suffering privations that only a vicious capitalist empire can inflict on its most vulnerable: women undocumented or poor or both working in sweat shops and on farms who are prime targets for wage theft, and sexual abuse. Rather than shining a light on these injustices and introducing bills to criminalize such behavior, political leaders from both sides of the aisle choose to make them double victims, of their abusers and of the state. The recent history of two federal programs —Food Stamps and Medicaid —are emblematic of the empire’s dumping on women threatening their health (Medicaid) and their family (food stamps).
If the past is prologue to the present, the Obama presidency and his cynical partnership with right-wing elements in the his own and the Republican party with an eye on the demands of his Wall Street major donors is a prime example.. In 2009, when President Obama took office, 25.6 million women relied on food stamps to feed their families. In the opinion of the plutocracy, eager to hold onto their trillion-dollar tax breaks and billion dollar subsidies, something had to give. It was time for a major austerity push directed at poor women who had already been designated by this cabal as non-persons. That didn’t sit well with those who had been promised “hope and change” by nominee Obama. They demanded he live up to his campaign promises to right the wrongs done to those at the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. What a dilemma. How to satisfy the requirements of the people who counted (rich donors and right wing political leaders in both parties) with the pesky demands of the people who had believed in his empty promises? Fortunately backtracking on campaign promises was a staple of past Democratic presidents. First, a bit of rhetorical flim-flam, which Obama excelled at “[Welfare recipients] didn’t cause the financial crisis, recklessness on Wall Street did.” (as though anyone besides Obama and his Wall Street cronies thought they did). Then while everyone was looking the other way, his stealth maneuver — slash the food stamp budget $12 billion and simultaneously reward his criminogenic finance industry buddies with tax breaks and subsidies worth at least $10 trillion. Today food stamp recipients are living large, their food stamp budget amounting to $4.17 per day per recipient which comes to $1.39 per meal.
Proving that the oppression of women is bipartisan, President Donald Trump came on the scene to complete the route. His latest budget proposal (July 23, 2019) to “save money” will threaten three million needy families (including 1 in 4 of all U.S. children) with terminal hunger. Over fifty percent of families receiving food assistance are in women-led households. In fact, women, in their unique role as the major caregivers of America’s children, are the major recipients of food assistance. Twenty-two percent of women have received food assistance (food stamps) at some point in their lifetimes as compared to 12% of U.S. men (Pew Research Center). Another bright idea coming out of the Trump administration — eliminate food stamps entirely and provide poor and hungry Americans with boxes of cheap and unhealthy food whose consumption will increase the already dangerously high rates of obesity and diabetes among poor children.
Funny isn’t it that there were no barriers to eligibility when it came to the $1.5 trillion tax cut for the wealthy, no mention of the “deserving rich.” Rich folk have no hurdles to jump in any administration —Republican or Democrat.
From the most unlikely source, Ben Carson, failed Republican presidential candidate, right wing ideologue and Trump Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary, comes the most prescient observation — “[the country] is in severe financial straits and they have decided to use their resources to build the military rather than feed their people…” Oops, wait a minute, Secretary Carson hasn’t had an epiphany or lost his far-right marbles. North Korea was the country he was pointing to. Secretary Carson was spot on… about the wrong country.
Hunger turns out to be just the tip of the catalogue of human misery in the U.S. Politics becomes satire when a nation that spends more on healthcare than any other nation on the planet, $3.5 trillion, experiences a higher infant mortality rate, a higher prevalence of obesity and a lower life expectancy than most OECD (36 of the highest income countries in the world) member countries. (America’s Health Rankings 2018 Annual Report).
Starving poor women was Trump’s starting point, he went on to target the already bare bones medical coverage (Medicaid) that passes for healthcare in the richest country in the world. Parachuting off Obama’s $72 billion Medicaid cut, Trump’s budget plan, according to Senator Bernie Sanders, “would result in $1 trillion in cuts to Medicaid, [over ten years] which will throw 15 million people off the health insurance they currently have.” Coming on top of the thirty million who have no health insurance and the fifty million who are underinsured, the empire has hit rock bottom.
The stark differences in the lives and well-being of U.S. women depending on their class and ethnicity continue to confound. The hundreds with power, money and glamour capture media attention and have run many sexual predators off the reservation. The millions who are poor and lack celebrity advocates, many them women of color, face deprivations that should be unthinkable in the richest country on the planet. Who’s got their back?
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