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YOU Are Funding the Feminist Agenda!

Independent Women's Forum The Women's Quarterly Summer 2001

Henpecked on the Hill Christine Stolba totes up the cost of female phobia on Capitol Hill

Would Barbra Streisand or Rosie O'Donnell be willing to dig deep into their own pockets to support feminist ideals-and, indeed, even feminists themselves-if financial support from the federal government dried up? I doubt it. Feminist organizations are, according to policy historians Joyce Gelb and Marian Palley, far more dependent on federal largesse than most interest groups-in part because of their declining membership rolls over the years.

Although the amount of money these organizations siphon from the federal well is comparatively small-the National Organization for Women's (NOW) Legal Defense and Education Fund received $394,682 in government grants for fiscal year 1998, for example-it adds up.

Congress is now considering the "Getting Our Girls Ready for the 21st Century Act"-or, the "Go Girl" Act, as it is called. Sponsored by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a California Democrat, it would spend $50 million "to encourage girls to pursue studies in and careers in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology."

While nobody wants to hinder a woman from becoming an engineer or scientist, it should be noted that the wording in this bill reads like a feminist playbook. The $50 million would be given out in grants to "local educational agencies on behalf of elementary and secondary schools," meaning that your local chapter of NOW-an "educational" organization-could soon be putting "Go Girl" grants to work in your child's elementary school.

Not surprisingly, the Clinton years were good to the feminist establishment, which saw those sympathetic to their positions move into important jobs and successfully add programs that, like kudzu-the quietly aggressive southern vine-now wend their way through federal agencies. Will a Republican administration spell trouble for these programs? Not as much as you might think.

President George W. Bush had the gumption to end one notable Clinton-era political payoff: the White House Women's Office-a bureau that appears to have spent its days churning out giddy press releases about Women's History Month or Take Our Daughters to Work Day. But efforts to curtail other pork barrel projects routinely bring out the wimp in legislators.

A case in point was a failed attempt earlier this year to eliminate the Women's Educational Equity Act (WEEA) from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, an appropriations bill. Under WEEA, the government funds feminist groups that promote such school activities as gender equity "scavenger hunts"-to the tune of $100 million over the past few years.

WEEA may have looked like a sitting duck in a Republican-controlled Congress, but it easily found its way back into the education bill. According to Krista Kafer, an education policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, this happened because members of Congress-male and female, Democrat and Republican-fear being seen as hostile to women.

This spirit is evident throughout the federal agencies as well. A brief trip through the bureaucratic bowels of our federal departments reveals many feminist follies, the sheer number (and silliness) of which is staggering:

At the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), not normally thought of as a bastion of gender politics, taxpayers are coughing up money to "provide agricultural science career role models for young women." How might the USDA succeed in doing this? Mainly by "making efforts to portray women in non-stereotypical roles" in the agency's information and outreach materials.

Over at the Department of Transportation (DOT), taxpayer dollars are being spent on the agency's "Women in Construction Initiative," an effort to "provide opportunities for women in highway construction trades." The agency also boasts a Task Force on Women's Issues in Transportation. Those issues are largely left undefined, though mention is made in DOT literature of research into "women's travel issues" and "women's mobility."

The National Science Foundation funds "The Poster Project," a UCLA-based effort to use "visual means to challenge stereotypes" and "change the intellectual and emotional climate surrounding the idea of scientific research" by girls and women. Posters celebrating female mathematicians are emblazoned with slogans such as "Imagine all the possible ways we can use geometry to describe spatial realities."

If there is a unifying theme to the many "women-oriented" programs in place throughout the federal agencies, it is the need for female empowerment and self-esteem-all at taxpayer expense. At the Department of Education funds are devoted to helping "at-risk girls" deal with "peer pressure" and improve their sense of self-esteem in public schools. Though not an unworthy end in itself, it should cause concern that these programs begin from the assumption that girls are victims of a society that treats them badly.

Gender sensitivity is also part of the to-do list of the department's administration of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act of 1998, which requires that states "appoint a sex equity coordinator to oversee gender equity in vocational training programs." The act also decrees the states spend $150,000 each "for nontraditional training and employment for jobs in which one gender comprises less than 25 percent of individuals employed by occupations."

Internally, the Department of Education is no less vigilant in its pursuit of gender equity. The department employs a full-time gender warden-the Special Assistant for Gender Equity-who, since 1995, has been charged with doling out grants to "support the training of teachers in gender-sensitive methodology and instructional strategies that take advantage of the differences in perception, motivation, and cultural styles of male and female students." Between 1995 and 2000, the folks at Education also spent more than $7 million a year on "Equity Assistance Centers" that "help school districts to identify and correct practices that discriminate between boys and girls."

A perusal of the department's published materials turns up workbooks with such intriguing titles as "Making It Happen: Pizza Parties, Chemistry Goddesses, and Other Strategies that Work for Girls and Others."

The self-esteem mania has spread to other agencies as well. At the Department of Agriculture, officials are required to do more than make sure the world is safe for female aggies. In recent years, the agency has pledged to "incorporate more entry level, esteem-building employment opportunities into USDA programs and activities." Their friends at the National Park Service have done one better: They launched a program called "Women Implementing New Goals Successfully"-whose uplifting acronym is "WINGS."

The goal of WINGS is to "educate and enhance the development of professional, emotional, and personal growth of female employees" through the creation of workshops and support groups for Park Service employees.

Even the Department of Energy (DOE) is energetically fighting stereotypes. In 1997, the DOE's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory started a monthly seminar series "to address the special concerns and needs of women." Women at DOE "feel isolated or disconnected from their colleagues," the series literature claims, and thus require specially organized (and specially funded) programs to build confidence and connections.

One area garners a disproportionate share of government grant monies: female feelings about math and science. Fewer women than men enter math and science-related fields. Common sense suggests that this is an example of women's preferences for certain endeavors over others. But for feminists-and now, for the federal government-the gender gap in math and science is a "problem" to be solved by more pork barrel programs.

The aforementioned Poster Project at the National Science Foundation (NSF) is merely a questionable undertaking. A sillier waste of federal funds can be found in the NSF-sponsored program called "Eyes to the Future: Middle School Girls Envisioning Science and Technology in High School and Beyond." The girls in this program are supposed to be envisioning future careers in science by constructing a webzine (with the girl-power title, "Speak Out!"). What they appear to be doing instead is goofing off.

Contributors to the 'zine include "Anna," who says that "the things I like to do after school is [sic] hang with friends and just chill....I think that high school is going to be cool." As an afterthought, she notes that "I definetly [sic] think girls should go into science." Another future physicist waxes rhapsodic on her love of Eminem and Limp Bizkit. Eighth-grader "Marianne" describes her ambition of becoming a fashion designer.

NSF has other self-esteem-building science projects. Lest one think NSF missed even the most obscure potential grantees, they gave $874,800 to fund "Agents for Change: Robotics for Girls," a summer program to encourage the nation's young women to build robots.

At the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), where there is concern about the "alarmingly low" number of women pursuing science degrees, employees have created partnerships with groups such as the American Association of University Women (AAUW)-sponsor of the methodologically flawed study, "How Schools Shortchange Girls."

NASA sponsors a women's website whose theme-"There's space in my life"-flows across the home page in a flowery font. The site features a special "herstory" section about fearless female aviatrixes and aeronautical engineers, as well as diet and exercise pointers from astronauts. The touchy-feely tone shows that NASA's "research and technology is not just about distant galaxies, astronauts, and supersonic aircraft." Clearly, it's about how we feel.

On the "Young Women of NASA Advisory Council" page of the website, for example, members keep "Adventure Journals" and draw inspiration from a prominently displayed quotation by faux-spiritualism guru Marianne Williamson, whose oeuvre includes such titles as Enchanted Love: The Mystical Power of Intimate Relationships. "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate," the Williamson quotation reads. "Our deepest fear is that we are all powerful beyond measure." If NASA's intent is the Oprahfication of outer space, it is well on its way to success. Worries over the representation of women in math and science echo larger concerns over occupational segregation. Occupational segregation-the tendency for men and women to gravitate to certain fields-has long bothered feminists, who view it as further evidence of discrimination against women. Now federal bureaucrats are fretting over it.

For example, at the Department of Labor, the Women's Bureau is attempting to end the evils of occupational segregation by funding "nontraditional" job training programs for women and offering a monthly feature on "Nontraditional Occupations" on the agency's web site. A recent offering featured Colleen Muldoon, a bricklayer, who "liked the freedom and comradery" of her job but found that "the work itself was grueling." Unable to handle the pressures of the bricklaying patriarchy, Colleen "burned out and decided to get out" of the field. She moved on to a desk job at the International Masonry Institute, where, oddly given her own experience, she "heads up a task force to recruit and retain women bricklayers."

Although ant discrimination laws already on the books ensure that jobs are open to all applicants regardless of sex, Congress continues unnecessary legislation such as the "Women in Apprenticeship and Non-Traditional Occupations Act of 1992," otherwise known as WANTO. WANTO grants give money to labor unions such as the Minnesota Teamsters, as well as to automobile dealers associations "to recruit and retain women in the auto repair industry." Next time you take your car to the garage for a tune-up, look around for those WANTO women!

Even the U.S. Geological Survey (part of the Department of the Interior) has spent half a million dollars every year since 1991 to augment already existing recruitment efforts for women. As part of their Human Resources Initiative, they provide female employees "with the opportunity to participate in local and national women's organizations for the purpose of addressing and resolving women's career issues." A related division of Interior, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has crafted a "Vision for Diversity," which holds managers at the agency "responsible for increasing the presence of women" within the service's ranks.

Many government agencies proudly trumpet their partnerships with feminist groups. The Department of Labor's "Women's Outreach Program," created in 1996, boasts of having worked with "major women's advocacy" groups, including NOW and the National Committee on Pay Equity-the latter an organization that uses misleading data about the gender wage gap to call for more regulation of the economy on behalf of women.

Besides the considerable amount of money wasted on programs like these, there is the further problem that they often become permanent, resource-gobbling activities for federal agencies.

The Bush administration has an opportunity to take a serious look at these follies. But in a town where it is anathema to be perceived, however unfairly, as anti-girl, the end is not in sight. Unfortunately, Barbra and Rosie will not be asked to put their money where their mouths are.

Not when ours is available.

~Christine Stolba is a senior fellow at the Independent Women's Forum.

Copyright 2001 - Independent Women's Forum Women's Quarterly Home: Independent Women's Forum Home:



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