Obama, UConn, & the White House Council on Women and Girls

. Tuesday, April 28, 2009
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I'm guessing that by now you've already seen President Barack Obama's comments about the University of Connecticut women's basketball team that went 39-0 and won the NCAA national championship.

I found his statement touching and if you haven’t watched it, check out the video above (courtesy of Poltico).

Anyway, the reference to his daughters got me thinking about a post I read on the SmartLikeMe blog a while back that responded to a critique of Obama’s Council on Women and Girls.

At issue was the way in which a Washington Post blog by Chris Cillizza appeared to reduce Obama’s reasons for supporting the council to personal and posturing reasons rather than a genuine concern for gender equity.

From SmartLikeMe:
So Obama’s “personal” reasons for putting the council into place are that he has a wife and daughters. Yawn. How insulting to think that men are only concerned about women’s issues and the male-centric models of citizenship and public policy because they have daughters. I would hope that there might too be fathers of boys who are concerned about gender issues so their sons could have the socially-supported ability to be at-home dads if they choose, without their masculinity being denigrated and without threat to family finances because their female partner’s career is being stymied by gender discrimination (by pay or “mommy tracking”) or sexual harassment in the workplace.
There were other critiques as well, ranging from the idea that he did not give the office enough power to the idea that there should be a parallel effort to look after boys (see the blog Jezebel for more on the criticism of Obama’s Council).

Obama's Council has the power to influence women's sports...and beyond

Regardless of what we think about Obama’s motivation, Theresa Moore of Women’s eNews makes the point that Obama’s Council on Women and Girls has the potential to have a major impact on the enforcement of Title IX:

We need to push for an updated image and understanding of Title IX. Too often it is perceived as "the sports law." It is much more. Access to financial aid for women, scholarships and admissions to professional schools; all have been supported and enhanced by the Title IX legislation.

And today, Title IX can and will be pushed into play in some of the most contentious of contemporary issues: educational budget cuts, sexual harassment on campuses, availability of financial aid and single-gender classrooms.

In a hard-pressed economy, the access of students and families to financial aid is more important than ever to preserving educational opportunity.

At the same time, laid-off workers who are returning to school to sharpen up their skills or change fields will also need financial aid. Prior to Title IX, financial aid was withheld from women who were married, pregnant or had children.

The White House Council will have the power to ensure that these types of harmful limitations do not creep back into practice and that Title IX is used to promote the needs of girls and women so they have full access to and receive an equitable allocation of every type of financial aid.
In summary, what makes Obama’s comments about UConn and his daughters significant is that this is not just the routine acknowledgment of a championship women’s sports team that most every president is willing to follow through on. In this case, Obama’s words might actually have teeth if the Council on Women and Girls beefs up enforcement of Title IX in its full sense.

I will confess that it is difficult to "read" Obama's intentions in many cases. But in this case, I think we can come to the conclusion that Obama legitimately cares about the issue of gender equity and may even push the country forward in that regard. I will eagerly await results...

Transition Points:

Ok, maybe it’s not such a big deal.
It’s quite possible that I’m still just a little awestruck by the fact that we have a POTUS who can put together more than two sentences on the path to a narrative in public. It’s just nice.