February 20, 2012

It's Reigning Men: Birth Control Panel As One Float in DC's Televised Patriarchy Parade

Last week the blogosphere was abuzz with indignation over the dearth of women invited to testify at a Congressional hearing regarding whether or not religiously affiliated employers should be required to cover the birth control pill and other forms of contraception in their health insurance plans. Although two women did testify in a later panel, this image of the first all-male panel went viral after Representative Carolyn Maloney asked, “Where are the women?”

As Representative Maloney knows all too well, women are notoriously underrepresented on Capitol Hill, comprising only 17% of the U.S. Congress and filling just a few of the top posts in the Obama administration. But the picture conveys something that statistics, alone, do not. In Washington, it’s mostly men who deliberate, deal-make, and decide.

Take any group of photos featuring important discussions in Washington (particularly those not staged as photo ops) and you’ll see a similar pattern. Here’s one of the House-Senate Conference Committee formed to address the payroll tax cut continuation . . .


. . .a group discussing the SOPA and PIPA legislation . . .


. . . and a meeting of key decision-makers gathered in the Oval Office private dining room to discuss the budget . . .


These photos illustrate the extent to which white men continue to dominate in Washington—though there is evidence of some racial diversity, there continues to be scant representation of the group that comprises over 50% of the population. The real question is, why did the image from last week’s hearings create such a firestorm? In part, it’s because contraception coverage has been labeled a “woman’s issue”—and that, too, is sexist. Women and men are both affected when access to contraception is constrained. And women, like men, are concerned about issues like payroll taxes, internet freedom, and the national debt.

Luckily, the media is on it. MSNBC’s Morning Joe put together a panel to discuss the dearth of women invited to testify at last Thursday’s hearing. The resulting image is so ironic it belongs on The Daily Show (of course, even TDS has a “senior female correspondent” to trot out on occasions like this one).


To be fair, although MSNBC producers did not bother to schedule any women pundits for this particular discussion, they did include the pink symbol for “female” as a badge of gender equity in their title graphic. Of course, women are underrepresented in the punditocracy just as they are in Congress. So, this image also reflects the norm.

Once in a while, voters get bothered by all this patriarchy on parade. In 1991, an all-male Senate Judiciary Committee grilled Anita Hill during the hearings that would eventually confirm Clarence Thomas’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, despite Hill’s allegations that Thomas had sexually harassed her. The hearings, which journalist Ted Koppel described as “grotesquely riveting,” produced such unique images as this one:

Anita Hill Hearing

The ensuing backlash led to a record number of women being elected to the Senate in 1992—a year that was quickly dubbed the “Year of the Woman.” (By the way, the “record” number of women elected to the U.S. Senate that year was four. In 20 years we’ve only upped the total number of women in the U.S. Senate to 17).

Still, last week’s kerfuffle begs the question—will either party be able to capitalize on these images of women’s exclusion come election time? The only thing we know for sure is that both parties have plenty of room for improvement.

— Karrin Anderson

(photo 1: image credit: Planned Parenthood Facebook page/Think Progress.photo 2: Alex Wong/Getty Images caption: Members of the House-Senate Conference Committee on how to extend the payroll tax cut, clockwise from bottom, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) speaks as Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY), Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI), and Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) listen during a meeting February 7, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Members of the committee met to discuss whether they could reach a deal to extend the payroll tax cut before it expires by the end of this month. photo 3: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images caption: Michael McGeary (R) of the Hattery Labs Engine Advocacy project participates in a panel discussion organized by NetCoalition about the Protection IP Act (PIPA) and the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) at the U.S. Capitol January 19, 2012 in Washington, DC. Opposed to SOPA and PIPA in their current forms, NetCoalition is a lobying group representing Internet and technology companies, including Google, Yahoo!, Amazon.com, eBay, IAC, Bloomberg LP, Expedia and Wikipedia.) photo 4: Pete Souza/White House caption: April 6, 2011 “The President and Vice President convene a late night meeting to discuss the budget with House Speaker John Boehner, right, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, second from left in foreground, in the Oval Office private dining room. Pictured clockwise from the Vice President are: Chief of Staff Bill Daley; Speaker Boehner; Barry Jackson, Chief of Staff to Speaker Boehner; Sen. Reid; David Krone, Majority Leader Reid’s Chief of Staff; Rob Nabors, Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs, and Jack Lew, Office of Management and Budget Director.”) photo: Morning Joe via Mediaite.com) photo 5: C-SPAN)

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Karrin Anderson
See other posts by Karrin here.

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