Women and Children Last: Congressional Talk Is Cheap

We see them on TV all the time talking, but what do our legislators spend the most time talking about when they’re legislating (I use that term lightly for some).  Most of us don’t have time to watch CSPAN all day, and it has become increasingly clear that the mainstream media often marches to orders from sources hard to fathom. It’s certainly not citizens Jane and John Doe. 

An interesting way to analyze the speeches of Congress is to use Capitol Words, the Sunlight Foundations super cool tool based on word and phrase searches. Recently, Nancy Watzman posted a comparison of the terms “golf” and “breastfeeding” on BlogHer. Guess which word congressmen use most often?  I’ll give you a hint–it’s the one they don’t do.

With all the talk about women’s health, SCHIP, contraception, health, stimulus, aid, etc., I thought it would be fun to perform some searches on Capitol Words,  which Watzman describes this way:  “Capitol Words works as a kind of zeitgeist-meter, showing what words members of Congress speak on the House and Senate floors as printed in the Congressional Record.”

First, I compared mentions of women + health, men + health, and children + health.  As you can see when you look at the graph, the relationship between the three items is pretty consistent over time, as is the order. Children’s health is mentioned most often, women’s health is mentioned next often, and men’s health is mentioned least often when compared to the other two.  There are a number of ways we can look at the frequency pattern, but let me suggest one way.  Children’s and women’s health are talked about more often than men’s health on a consistent basis because there’s more to talk about.  As Nancy pointed out, men don’t breastfeed, give birth to babies, and even though more and more men are sharing childcare with their partners, women still carry the brunt of childcare responsiblities.

Did you know that 51% of children in low-income families—14.6 million—live with a single parent, and the majority of those single parents are women?

Thus, the reason Congress spends more time talking about women’s and children’s health and welfare is because there are more children living in poor families headed up by single mothers.  And because we don’t do enough to resolve poverty for working families in the United States (childcare, a living wage, etc.) the health of women and children in these families becomes the province of lawmakers all too often.

The recent cuts made by “moderate” congressmen to the American Recovery Act were made at the expense of the health and welfare of poor women and children.  As Amanda Terkel notes;

“In particular, health care provisions not only disproportionately boost women and children, but also minorities. After all, preventive health care spending is stimulative; it creates jobs and saves the country expensive long-term medical costs.”

All of this is just a long way of saying that Congress spends so much time talking about women’s and children’s health and welfare because they are so often objects of legislative negotiation–a fact we should all be ashamed of–particularly in light of who we didn’t question providing aid too in the recent past.  How is it that aid to poor families isn’t as important as aid to these guys?

Photo courtesy of Women's Health Matters


Lance W.
Lance W8 years ago

I would buy these arguments only if men and women were just as prone to die from disease and if men and women were equally healthy. As it stands, men are far more likely to die from just about every malady with the exception of breast cancer. Yet, far more money is spent on women's health and research then on men's. Until we invest equally in both men's and women's health, we (ie: those of us who consider ourselves egalitarians) will continue to write to our legislators - and anyone else who will listen - to demand equality. If anything, we should be investing more money on men then on women simply because men need far more help then women. The Life Gap is real - it is time that it starts getting at least as much press as the Pay Gap. What is truly disturbing: people are far more concerned about money (ie: pay) then they are about life!

Marie Flynn
Marie Flynn9 years ago

Aid for men, women, and children, inclusive. Do not exclude men, either.