Everywhere I turn online today the news at religion and religion-and-politics websites is the recent panel discussion at Georgetown on the theme of poverty, at which President Obama made an appearance. Commonweal is featuring a statement today from E.J. Dionne, who was a contributor to the discussion, and in his "Morning Briefing" column at National Catholic Reporter this morning, Tom Roberts points readers to a version of Dionne's statement that has just appeared in the Washington Post.
Among all the commentary about the Georgetown event, I'm struck by Patricia Miller's frank and valuable reminder of who was not represented at this much-touted beltway (because Georgetown; because all the big players one expects always to be at such an event were there) confab. I'm struck by Patti Miller's important reminder of whose voice was not heard, and who was significantly not at the table, as we're being told by the same old, same old centrist commentators that we're at an entirely new point in the discussion of poverty and religion in the U.S.
The much-touted panel on which President Obama appeared lacked a single women who was deemed expert enough to discuss solutions for poverty alongside the likes of American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, and Harvard University Professor and Bowling Alone author Robert Putnam.
This, despite the fact that women constitute the majority of poor Americans: nearly 6 in 10 poor adults are women and 6 in 10 poor children live in households headed by women. And the lack of representation for women of color was especially striking given that the poverty rate for African American women hovers near 28% compared to just over 10% for White women.
Just as striking, and not surprising given the composition of the panel, was the lack of discussion about reproductive justice and unintended pregnancy and their relationship to poverty. Actual poverty experts are increasingly recognizing the importance of preventing unintended pregnancy among young, unmarried women living in poverty—who are five times more likely to experience an unplanned pregnancy.
Synchronistically, just three days ago, Bill Moyers's blog features an essay by William Greider that previously appeared at The Nation, which comments on a conference on banking and financial officials held last week in D.C. at what Greider characterizes as "the soberly serious International Monetary Fund." As he notes, the conference posed as its "provocative question" functioning as an "implicit subtext" for its discussion the query,
If women were in charge of banking regulation, could they save us from the Wall Street cowboys who crashed the global financial system?
IMF Director Lagarde prompted them with a droll question: "What would have happened if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters?"
What she meant was that different values might have prevailed if women had held the controlling positions at the brokerage or were the government regulators enforcing prudent standards. Women, as Lagarde has observed, worry more about financial exclusion. Worldwide, 42 percent of women have no access to financial services. Only a measly 3 percent of bank CEOs are women.
More to the point, Largarde said research shows women are more risk-averse — a quality utterly missing in the reckless banks and brokerages rushing like lemmings to the cliff. Women in charge might have asked tougher questions.
I have no utopian belief that women constitute by nature the "better" gender. I am under no illusions that women cannot be just as ruthless as men can be, and that women with power in their hands cannot abuse it just as badly as powerful men routinely abuse power. The most seriously disturbed — seriously dangerous — boss I've ever had the misfortune of working for was a woman who would, in any setting other than at the tables of rich and powerful men for whom she's a kind of willing tool, be classified as a sociopath who might well need to be confined in a penal treatment center to keep her from harming folks.
I am persuaded, however, that the experience of many women in the world of dealing with severe economic challenges while fending off gender-based injustice and seeking to care for children whom the men who father those children often feel minimal obligation to support gives women a unique perspective on issues like poverty, money, the banking system, and how the laws privilege some people while punishing others.
Just as I'm persuaded that talk of "new moments" and "breakthroughs" that's being channelled to us by the same old, same old tired (and customarily white, male, heterosexual, and affluent) voices is seriously unpersuasive talk. It's time to let some other voices into the centrist conversations, if the chattering folks occupying the center expect really to be taken seriously.
And if we expect to make any headway in solving the pressing problems of the world, including intractable poverty and gender-based discrimination . . . .
The graphic of data from the U.S. Census Bureau in 2008 is from Center for American Progress.