Why Representation Matters

In an effort to consolidate support for the ill-fated American Health Care Act, Mike Pence met with the House Freedom Caucus, a coalition of conservative Republicans, to discuss changes to the bill that was slated to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The meeting precipitated a compromise whereby the new bill would eliminate the ACA’s requirement that all insurance plans at a minimum cover certain essential medical services—including maternity and prenatal care.

The photo of the meeting, which shows a group of lawmakers that does not include a single female, is emblematic of an administration that is becoming known for letting men make decisions that affect women.

Speaking to the Professional Business Women of California, Hillary Clinton said she was “appalled” by the photo and criticized President Trump for having so few women in cabinet-level positions (women hold only 4 out of the 23 cabinet positions). The lack of representation in the Trump administration is also reflected among his senior advisors, who are overwhelmingly made up of men, with Kellyanne Conway being the notable exception.

Rather than just being a problem of perception, the issue of representation is, of course, in a cause-and-effect relationship with policy decisions that limit the reproductive health care choices of women. And while the attempt to repeal essential benefits provided by Obamacare failed along with the AHCA, the Trump administration had another all-bro photo op just two months ago, when President Trump signed an executive order denying aid to foreign organizations that so much as counsel women about abortion or advocate for the liberalization of abortion laws. The photo of the event shows Trump sitting at his desk in the Oval Office surrounded by men.

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But gender is just one component of this paradigm. The fact that the Trump administration is also lacking in ethnic diversity is reflected in its divisive approach to immigration and Trump’s comments praising stop-and-frisk policing, which has been ruled unconstitutional.

In an opinion editorial for the San Francisco Chronicle explaining her opposition to Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination, Senator Kamala Harris addressed what exactly is so problematic about power in the hands of those who have not experienced systemic injustice or benefited from efforts to correct those injustices.

Judge Gorsuch is an originalist, seeking to interpret the Constitution as it was understood by the men who drafted it. He does not believe it is the role of the judiciary to consider the real world implications of their rulings. Senator Harris criticized Judge Gorsuch for valuing “narrow legalism over real lives,” citing a ruling in which he sided with a company’s right to terminate a truck driver for abandoning his cargo when his truck got stuck on the road in subzero temperatures. Senator Harris also cites the case of Grace Hwang, whose employer refused to extend her leave of absence when she was getting treatment for cancer. Gorsuch sided with Hwang’s employer.

Judge Gorsuch is perhaps most well known for his decision in Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius, in which he ruled that a corporation can deny an employee federally guaranteed rights to birth control based on the religious beliefs of the corporation's owners.

At best, it seems as if Gorsuch, the Freedom Caucus, and President Trump are operating under the myopic and ignorant assumption that what is fair to them will be fair to everyone. A more sinister interpretation might cast that ignorance as indifference.

Either way, as long as the administration, its allies, and proxies is made up of mostly white men, that is whose interests they are likely to represent.

Public Filter

This column is informed by the belief that an honest and brave conversation about what it means to be a woman is vital to understanding what it means to be a human. Its scope is temporal but its ambition is to discern the essential. Above all, it seeks to connect Milk readers to each other and the world around them. Email Jennimaria with corrections, questions, comments, and suggestions at publicfiltermilk@gmail.com.

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