A few weeks after election day last November, I attended a panel discussion at the New School about the governors race and the state senate elections. Among the panelists was City & State's fantastic Alexis Grenell, one of the best writers about all things New York politics as exists today. Grenell offered a pretty blistering critique of Andrew Cuomo's completely cynical and totally fake Women's Equality Party that went beyond just the typical horserace strategery being spewed the other panelists. She said she believed that the packaging of these issues in a pinked-up "women's" party was actually detrimental to the advancement of the interests of women, their families and, consequently, New Yorkers in general. It was a brilliantly effective argument that elicited the only genuine and sincere applause of the afternoon.
And, as I'd hoped, she's finally written up a version of that critique, "Andrew Cuomo's Pink Ghetto," and the lead is a masterpiece.
In the last election, Gov. Andrew Cuomo became the poster child for feminism. Rallying women to his newfound cause, the governor created the Women's Equality Party (WEP) in "answer to the assaults on the basic rights of women and our lack of progress," as per the website. No, he didn't include any women in the decision-making process. Nor did he consult any experts on the complex history of the women's rights movement. But he got into a pink bus and listened to a lot of Destiny's Child.
Beyoncé could be heard banging her head against a wall.
From there, Grenell tears into the cynical and damaging tactic of segregating "women's issues" in, her words, a "pink ghetto." She does this by quite correctly pointing out that women are not the primary factor in their own discrimination and that, any approach to these issues that relegates men to bystanders instead of stakeholders in the cause of social advancement, is one counterproductive to cause of advancing "women's issues."
Yet, this is precisely the strategy pursued by Andrew Cuomo's re-election campaign and their creation of a Women's Equality Party, one that sought to engage women and...nobody else.
Yet, men were few and far between at events for the WEP. Targeted mail went exclusively to women. I personally received an avalanche of pink postcards, while the male voter at my address got flyers touting the governor's record on tech, infrastructure and jobs.
After the election, the governor's campaign told Capital New York that the party's next step was to more actively engage female voters, even though women are already 54 percent of the electorate. Essentially the WEP problematizes women, which undermines the reality of gender inequality and excludes men from the solution. To make matters worse, the campaign's stated vision for a women's party is to "advocate for initiatives, programs and legislation that advances their cause." The possessive noun—their—creates a pink ghetto.
Creating a party devoted solely to "women's issues" sends a message that issues like pay equity, workforce participation, reproductive health and childcare, just to name a few, are only important to women. That's both absurd and extremely damaging to the advancement of those issues in the public sphere. These aren't "women's issues." These are issues that should be important to everyone.
And, as Senator Liz Krueger pointed out before the election, it's insulting that the head of the Democratic Party in New York doesn't seem to believe that his own party is the proper vessel for 54 percent of the state's electorate to achieve their own equality.
"Women are 54% of the voters in this state. When they vote on the Democratic line, Democrats win. I do not wish women to be relegated to some 'non party.' We have earned the right to be leaders in our party—the Democratic Party," Krueger wrote.
And it's not like Andrew Cuomo couldn't have helped secure a state Senate that would pass all ten planks of his Women's Equality Act years ago instead of creating an entirely new pinked-up party. But he didn't. Instead, he quite obviously preferred control of the Senate remain in the hands of a Republican majority, both last year and in 2012, that will never, ever pass the WEA whole.
Furthermore, he could put some pressure on large private employers who do business with the state to prove that their corporate policies treat women fairly, something he really doesn't need much legislative assent to do. Again, from Grennell's piece:
Imagine if the governor channeled his tremendous clout to make gender audits a condition of any state contract, making wages, promotions and related policies transparent? Instead of just blaming the state Legislature, Cuomo could secure commitments from his corporate donors to implement robust paid parental leave policies, on-site childcare and flexible work schedules.
Top Cuomo donors like Verizon, Cablevision and AT&T offer as little as zero to six weeks paid leave for new mothers, while enjoying big tax breaks and legislative benefits. The governor's top real estate donors wouldn't even return calls requesting information on leave policies. Incidentally, the same donors overwhelmingly backed a GOP state Senate, which only supports nine out of 10 planks of the Women's Equality Act.
Instead, we got a bus tour, a fake political party and lots of pink mailers imploring women to vote for Andrew Cuomo because he cares about "women's issues."
As I've said before, the Women's Equality Party was created by men. It was staffed by men. It was funded almost exclusively by a very small number of men. It ran mostly male candidates. And it was created solely for the benefit of Andrew Cuomo. It was created to drive a gender gap between Cuomo and Astorino as high as it could and to take the Working Families Party down as far as possible. That's it. It never had anything to do with advancing policy. That's why it's now broke and nobody really knows what to do with it. Even the public face of WEP doesn't want anything to do with it.
But that's all been obvious since the party was created last summer.
What's even worse is that Cuomo has actually damaged the cause of equality by tossing women and "women's issues" into a completely disposable pink ghetto that too many people will feel perfectly fine ignoring because it's "for women." He did that by trying to convince women that their place wasn't in the Democratic Party in which they are actually a majority, but in a completely fake party created by men to advance the political fortunes of another man, Andrew Cuomo.
And he did it all to squeeze out a few more votes against a guy who never had a chance while inflicting some real damage on a party he extorted for their nomination just months earlier. Cuomo won on all counts.
Everybody else, all of us, lost.
Originally Posted at The Albany Project.
(image via Gov Cuomo's flickr)