The Status Quo is Not Fair
Many of us have spent the past 100+ days grappling with our priorities in the strange new country revealed to us in November. Though of course this is not truly a brave new world — for many of our sisters November was not a dramatic reveal so much as a sickening confirmation of truths they have known in their bones and in their experiences nearly every day of their lives. They did their best to warn us, and we failed to hear.
On the religious left, we are confronting the reality of how the values of social and racial justice that we easily claim in Saturday afternoon marches and Sunday morning sermons play out in our daily lives. On the political left, recent dust-ups within the Democratic party have revived the ongoing discussion over the place of reproductive rights within the progressive movement. Are they a social wedge that distracts us from the critical need to address skyrocketing inequality and the outsize – indeed, obscene – influence of money on our political system? Or is reproductive justice too integral a part of any progressive social movement to be left behind in order to win voters who would otherwise be swayed by economic arguments? We are learning difficult lessons, and I believe that once again we fail to listen to our sisters at our own peril.
Our values call us to social justice and, as Unitarians, we pray with our feet and with our service. For me, this means never forgetting that our service must be with and to those at the margins. And it means that to work for true social justice we must not forget that for many of us the intersections of those margins can be a truly dangerous – and often lonely – place. For those of us who identify as both women and economic progressives, the intersection of those margins is painfully clear: There can be no economic justice without reproductive justice. The latter is not a distraction, it is a crucial stepping stone.
For those of us who can become pregnant, consistent access to affordable birth control is perhaps one of the single most important factors to support our careers and education. Winning the fight for a livable wage throughout our country will mean nothing if we cannot access those jobs because we are pinned to childbirth and childcare we do not want.
For those of us who do become pregnant, the choice of whether to continue a pregnancy is colored by many factors, but to imagine that economics are not among them smacks of privilege: in the United States, the current cost of raising a child is nearly a quarter of a million dollars and the government offers precious little in the way of financial or legal support to help us shoulder those burdens. Telling a woman that she must give birth to a child she cannot afford is not a social frivolity, it is an economic policy.
When we do choose to have children, our workplaces often penalize us with lost wages and lower salaries. If we are in a heterosexual partnership with a man, we often make less than our partners and work in lower prestige careers because our society consistently devalues jobs that are coded as ‘women’s work.’ In California, where I live, the annual cost of childcare for an infant is nearly $12,000: 20% of an average family’s income and out of reach for over two-thirds of the families in our state. And so, because we make less and our jobs are less ‘important,’ it is women who systematically leave our jobs to care for our children.
These issues, of course, are magnified for women of color whose lives are marginalized not only by economic and gender disparity, but by a system of white supremacy designed to help those of us who are white at the expense of our sisters of color. We cannot truly address economic justice if we ignore the intersections of these margins: Over 90% of health aides and childcare workers are women, and the majority in both occupations are women of color. While childcare is prohibitively expensive for many families, it is simultaneously radically undervalued. In 2016 the average hourly wage for childcare workers was $10.18 per hour. Many of us who are white and economically privileged are only able to afford care for our children and families because the wages we pay do not fairly value the work that women of color are doing to keep us in careers we love.
The call for a moral revival of the religious and the call for social revolution from political progressives come at the same time because we all recognize that something has gone deeply wrong in our society. We live in a country of rampant inequality, and in our hearts we know a basic truth: The status quo is not fair. It is not just. It requires a change. But no revolution that requires the sacrifice of our bodily autonomy for the sake of false economic justice will succeed, nor is it a revolution of which I want any part.
Rebecca Fielding-Miller is a public health social scientist who conducts research on the social drivers of HIV and gender based violence at the University of California, San Diego. She is also an elected assembly district delegate to the California Democratic party convention and a member of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego. Her work can be found at www.RebeccaFieldingMiller.com