The Reality Gap

"No Wonder Dole Has [a] Gender Gap Problem," screamed the headline of a New Jersey newspaper. The op-ed piece that followed issued a threat. If Dole doesn't get rid of the Republicans' pro-life plank, the writer said, disaster awaits, because women will vote for pro-choice Democrats. The truth is, the electoral battle between the sexes is not over hot-button issues like abortion. The real gender gap issue is over welfare. In a recent Atlantic Monthly article, political analyst Steven Stark writes that during the 1994 elections, men voted Republican by a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent. Women voted Democratic 54 percent to 46 percent. That made for a gender gap of 22 points. But, Stark writes, "although . . . media accounts . . . give the impression that the gap is greatest on ‘women's issues' such as abortion," the gender gap actually centers around "issues involving the . . . expansion of the social-welfare state." When you think about it, that makes a lot of sense. Thirty years ago, the sexual revolution emancipated both men and women from traditional sexual mores. For men, the benefits of this revolution were abundantly clear. Sexual conquest would no longer be such an ordeal. Men no longer felt they had to take a woman to the altar before taking her to the bedroom. The sexual revolution also liberated men from their responsibility to their children. Investing decades of their lives in caring for kids was considered too restrictive. But, while men gloried in their libertine lifestyles, women found they were often the ones who paid the price. Divorce and desertion by husbands and fathers created a new demographic trend known as the "feminization of poverty." When papa became a rolling stone, the women who were left behind turned for security to Uncle Sam. Is it any wonder, then, that women flock to support a welfare state that promises to feed and clothe their children? Of course, most women don't like living on welfare. Recipients often find themselves trapped in a violent and hopeless subculture. Today we realize that welfare programs often hurt recipients more than they help them. How should Christians respond to this problem? First, we have to help people recognize that at the root of the gender gap is a moral problem--one that has led to immense harm to women and children. Second, we have to help our leaders translate gender-gap issues into public policy goals. In the past few weeks, Bob Dole has tried to close the gender gap by offering a tolerance plank on abortion. President Clinton is also wooing women by promising to back abortion rights and other issues dear to feminist hearts. But this strategy just won't work. The candidate who attracts the most women will be the one who says he'll hold men to a high level of accountability--that he'll go after deadbeat dads and crack down on divorce laws that unfairly penalize women and children. The candidate who closes the gender gap will be the one who understands the truth: that the gap is caused by moral problems--and requires moral solutions.


Chuck Colson


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