COMMENTARY: Alaskans need a champion of women on the court

Should Brett Kavanaugh be nominated to take a lifelong seat on the Supreme Court?

The national debate on Roe vs. Wade presents an opportunity to step back and take stock: what is the status of women’s rights in America? Will this nominee strengthen democracy, improve equality and justice for all? As a strong Alaskan and female leader, we count on Sen. Lisa Murkowski to ask these questions as she weighs her decision.

Consider two things you need to control your life: 1) financial independence, and 2) freedom to control your own body. Kavanaugh poses a threat to these critical rights. His non-committal stance on Roe alarms those concerned with the freedom to choose to bear children. This question is critical to a woman’s capacity to support herself and her children, a challenge that still places women at a disadvantage.

To those who assert, “women control over half the nation’s wealth,” and are therefore financially secure, I ask, what does “control” mean? And which women? Sweeping language about women unilaterally having economic power equal to men distorts truth: women still face hurdles to equality.

The median pay for women on the list of the highest-paid U.S. chief executives was  $15.7 million in 2014, $1.6 million less than for men. Have we broken through the glass ceiling? Only 11 of those 200 CEOs were women. Census data confirms that women earn $.80 cents on average for each $1 dollar that men do. Progress has been hard fought and slow paced, and remains predominantly enjoyed by white women.

Across all major racial and ethnic groups, women earn less than men of the same group. Female leaders in corporate America earn compensation packages that rival their male peers. But how many women make it to the top? Women of color made up only 5% of executive or senior-level managers in 2015. In 2017, Hispanic women earned 62.1% what White men earned, and Black women earned 67.7% of White men.

Given the Supreme Court’s role, Kavanaugh’s nomination has tremendous impact on the future of women. Let us thank the powers that be for ‘elastic’ Constitutional interpretations - for if it were not the job of the Court to interpret, rather than simply impose, women would lack legal access to any kind of equality today. Does it not say that, “all men are created equal”?  That’s not us, ladies.

To many of us, the bottom line is this: if a woman cannot 1) earn enough to support herself and 2) control her reproductive rights, then she cannot be a full participant in democracy. Voting is powerful, but only one tool.

The right to decide when and if to start a family represents a significant determinant in both financial and personal freedoms. Women with children often leave the workforce to do most of the unpaid labor of raising the next generation of citizens, a well-documented setback to lifelong earning trajectories. These women are raising the our future scientists, Supreme Court nominees, social workers and manual laborers. In other words, all of us.

As a single woman under 30, I want what many “up and coming” women do; home ownership, a corner desk, and financial security for the family I will start someday. I’ll need the law’s support to do that.

Sen. Murkowski holds a seat in the United States Congress, whose membership is only 20% female. She knows there are inequities; she has championed women before. Now we’re counting on her to do it again.

Claire Pywell resides in Anchorage with her partner, Dave. She is a volunteer with several community organizations and an avid outdoors person.

 

Updated: 
08/15/2018 - 12:08pm

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