This morning I was reading some articles in USA Today about the problems confronting us with Social Security. In particular, there is an article by DeWayne Wickham (USA Today, Tuesday, January 25, 2005, Page 13A, “Social Security reform: Women may be big losers”). This article sounds the alarm for American women.

Mostly, Mr. Wickham focuses on the disadvantages for women of private investment accounts, the solution proposed by the administration. You can read the details for yourself. But what really caught my attention was near the end of the article. Wickham cited one of our congressional representatives (a Republican from California), Bill Thomas. Mr. Thomas appeared on NBC’s Meet The Press yesterday where he suggested the following solution: Cut benefits to women. Why? Because statistically, women live longer on average than men. So to even things out, they’ll just reduce the amount of money women can collect from Social Security. They call it, “Gender adjusting Social Security”.

Hello? Have I been sent back to 1960 in a time machine? What is the man talking about? I think he’s talking about penalizing women for living longer.

Well, let’s take it one step further. You might give us a choice, like – Hmmmm. Give us an option for ending it all when our husbands die – kind of like they did in India for centuries. No need for cremation, just dump us in the coffin and close the lid. Or if we’re single, just figure the average life expectancy for men. We can sign an agreement prior to receiving our first Social Security check that on the date that we hit that age, we will go to the doctor and get “put to sleep”. If we refused to “self-expire” on the appointed date, they could prosecute for breech of contract. Sounds reasonable to me!

Of course, if you weren’t willing to “go quietly into that good night”, they could just cut your benefits. Which is what our Mr. Thomas is proposing. What this effectively means is that there is one more sphere in which women’s work earns less than men’s work. It means that our labor is worth less than a man’s labor. That may not be his intended message, but that is the bottom line.

There are many less offensive ways to deal with the dwindling Social Security coffers. Why not simply raise the retirement age? Both men and women are living longer on average, so raise the retirement age for everyone. If we’re living longer and healthier lives, it makes sense to me that the need for retirement necessitated by failing health and the desire to have a little “R and R” in our golden years could come a little bit later.

I would urge every American woman to read Mr. Wickham’s article in today’s paper. It was a real wake-up call for me – not only about Social Security, but about a creeping sexism that seems to be eating away at the progress women have made in this country over the course of the last forty or so years. To me, at least, it’s not even subtle.

Maybe next someone is going to suggest that since women outnumber men in our society, their votes should count less in order to “even the playing field”.

(Can someone please explain to me why misogyny seems to go hand-in-hand with so-called conservatism in this country)?

© 2005, Robin Munson

 Category: Robin's Nest

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