Men need to step up on ‘women’s issues’ — and four did in Maryland

Men need to step up on ‘women’s issues’ — and four did in Maryland

By: Petula Dvorak, The Washington Post

Equal pay. Child care. Paid family leave. An end to pervasive domestic violence and sexual assault on college campuses and in the military.

You know who’s going to make the breakthroughs on these issues happen? Men.

This is the stuff that women talk about and fight for and talk about some more. We’re really good at talking to each other, aren’t we? But real change simply cannot happen without men.

And that’s why it was so noteworthy this year when four guys joined the nation’s oldest state women’s caucus, Women Legislators of Maryland. These four elected officials — two lawyers, a former political staffer and a union organizer — are the very first y-chromosomers in the nation to do such a thing. Which is remarkable, when you stop to think that women make up 51 percent of the U.S. population.

“Really, I had no idea it would be such a big deal,” said Del. Erek L. Barron (D-Prince George’s County), the first of the men to join the women’s caucus. “It was a no-brainer.”

Yeah, you’d think.

Then again, in the shushing world of GOP presidential candidate Rand Paul and the mansplaining universe of vile, misogynistic e-mails that Tucker Carlson explains away as an “accident,” it’s no wonder it took this long.

But this is the new way. These four Maryland men are the bow wave of 21st-century feminism, and the rest of the male legislators in the nation should pay attention to what they did and why they did it.

The real question is: Why did it take so long?

All of them are freshmen. So that right there tells us something. These are fresh thinkers, legislators who are acting on issues rather than on the musty traditions of an old-boy network.

Barron, a lawyer who worked on Capitol Hill for then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden (D-Del.), did a lot of work on sexual assault and domestic violence. So, for him, it was natural to follow the issue. And that led to the women’s caucus.

“Those issues are everyone’s issues,” he said, not hesitating a minute before joining up and paying his $200 dues.

Amen.

This is the sentiment that set off a cross-country cheer in January when President Obama used his State of the Union address to point out that so-called women’s issues aren’t all about the double x.

“It’s time we stop treating child care as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us,” the president said.

And that goes for equal pay, health care, family leave, domestic violence and every other issue that is often marginalized by those with power and championed by the few women who do come into power.

Anyhow, dudes, even if it’s not about your heart, check out your voter registration stats. More women than men vote in Maryland — and nearly everywhere else. Since 1964. By the millions.

Del. Andrew Platt (D-Montgomery County) is one of those young, new politicians who ran for office to make a difference. He grew up with a divorced mom who worked two minimum-wage jobs to put food on the table, was laid off, lost her health insurance and had a stroke.

It didn’t take him long to realize that the very issues he wants to tackle are the meat and potatoes of the women’s caucus. And joining the group that makes those issues a priority made sense for Platt, he said.

He sees which of his constituents are most likely to live in poverty, make less money than they should, and wind up being the victims of domestic violence or sexual assault.

“I think, in terms of public policymaking, men in public office need to get a bigger grip on what women face,” he said.

Del. Will Smith (D-Montgomery County) also got that education at home, from a strong mom who worked hard so he could go to college. And when he was in freshman orientation for the state legislature in Annapolis, all the issues that the women’s caucus focused on — pay equity, protective orders, family leave — are the things he kept hearing on the campaign trail.

“It was a spur-of-the-moment thing to join,” he said. And he had no idea he’d be among the first men to do so.

Same went for Del. James J. Tarlau (D-Prince George’s County), whose agenda included all the things “that aren’t just women’s issues; these are issues that affect the whole family,” he said.

The women’s caucus has been inviting men to join every year since it was founded in 1972, members told my colleague, Ovetta Wiggins. So it wasn’t some reverse-Augusta exclusion plot that kept men away. I’ll tell you one of the things that repelled them: Three of the four men who made history told me they have since been teased for joining the women’s caucus. Seriously.

Come on, boys, grow up. Y’all aren’t on the playground, and this isn’t the 1950s. Real change can’t be made by women alone.

It’s the dads who take sick leave when a kid has strep throat, the men who hire women without worrying about their reproductive lives, and the candidates who treat female interviewers with respect who are the new face of feminism.

These four Maryland legislators are pioneers. And instead of taunting them, politicians across the country need to follow their lead.

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