"When women succeed, America succeeds," President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address last night. While the speech was not overwhelmingly focused on women, there were some bright spots for female viewers, as well as some missed opportunities for the president to take a stance on some of the most important women’s issues of the moment. Here's a look at the five most important takeaways for women:
WHAT HE DID SAY:
"A woman deserves equal pay for equal work."
One of the most cheered lines of Obama's speech came about halfway through when he took up the issue of equal pay. It's an issue we've championed here at Marie Claire and one that we're happy to see get a prominent shout out in the speech. "Today, women make up about half our workforce, but they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns," Obama said. "That is wrong, and in 2014, it's an embarrassment." We only wish he had also called on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would create incentives for employers to pay workers fairly, among other things.
"Give America a raise."
Obama didn't directly offer any ideas for closing the gender pay gap, but in calling for increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour he was indirectly speaking to women. Raising the minimum wage would help close the gender pay gap because women make up nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers in the U.S.
"It's time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a Mad Men episode."
Highlighting the importance of paid family medical leave, President Obama said, "A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship—and you know what, a father does, too."
Women are more likely than men to take family medical leave, and thus are disproportionately affected by the fact that only 12 percent of Americans have access to employer-provided, job-protected paid leave in the event of personal or family illness, death, adoption, or pregnancy, according to National Journal.
Last month, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, introduced the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act to create a national insurance program that would allow employees to contribute 0.2 percent of their wages in exchange for up to 12 weeks of leave at two-thirds of their usual monthly salary.
WHAT HE DIDN'T SAY:
"Freedom from sexual assault is a basic human right."
That's an Obama talking point, but not one that featured in his speech last night. The line comes from a speech the president delivered last week when he unveiled a task force to combat rape and sexual assault at our nation's colleges and universities.
Given the State of the Union so closely followed Obama's speech last week, it seemed likely that the president would take the opportunity to push for action. He didn't, which is sad because it's a problem that for too long has been brushed under the rug and it would have been a powerful statement for Obama to address it in front of the nation. (For more on the issue, read "Big Shame on Campus.")
He also didn't address sexual assault in the military or call for Congress to pass a bill that would change the way the armed forces handles reported attacks, which is currently at a standstill in Congress. Since Obama's speech spent a fair amount of time on military topics—from ending the war in Afghanistan, to honoring the incredible Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg, who was gravely injured during his 10th (10th!) overseas tour—it's surprising that he didn't mention ending sexual assault in the ranks as yet another thing we can do to support our troops.
"We reaffirm our steadfast commitment to protecting a woman's access to safe, affordable health care and her constitutional right to privacy, including the right to reproductive freedom."
That line came not last night, but in a statement Obama made on the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade last week. Considering more abortion restrictions were enacted between 2011 and 2013 than in the entire previous decade—and House Republicans just yesterday passed legislation that would permanently ban federal funds for abortion, which the Obama Administration has threatened to veto—it would have been great to hear the president defend women's right to choose in his speech.
Seems that even with a well-executed, nearly 7,000-word speech, it's impossible to please everyone.