On Wednesday, the Tennessee Senate failed to pass legislation out of committee that would have extended the state’s Economic Council on Women, ending the initiative after it had operated for 17 years.
The vote came after a hearing in which lawmakers grilled the council’s executive director, Phyllis Qualls-Brooks, over why the council exists in the first place. Sen. Mike Bell (R) started things off by asking, “With women making up 51 percent of the population of the state, why don’t we have a men’s economic council?”
He went on, “Why don’t we have a Hispanic council, why don’t we have an African-American economic council, why don’t we have this group and that group, why do we have a women’s economic council and why is it needed?”
After Brooks responded, in part, by telling him, “Because men basically are running everything anyway,” Bell replied, “I need to tell my wife that men are running everything.”
Watch the hearing; the exchange with Bell takes place at about 29:00:
Bell wasn’t the only lawmaker to question why the council focused on women. Sen. Janice Bowling (R) said, “My concern is balkanization. If we divide and subdivide and subdivide our own population, is that beneficial…particularly now that we’re the majority, 51 percent?” She addd, “I always have a concern that we create the balkanization of our population and we become almost by implication a victim group, and I don’t perceive women to be victims at all.”
Sen. Mae Beavers (R) also voiced concerns. After asking whether there is an economic council “similar to this that would cover every population,” she added, “If you’re going to do an economic council, why not have it cover everybody.”
Women may exert some power at home, particularly as they responsible for the majority of consumer purchasing in the economy, but that power doesn’t necessarily extend outside the home. Tennessee’s own legislature, for example, is less than 20 percent female, but no state legislature has reached an equal gender split. Congress is less than 20 percent female. And of course, a woman has never been president.
Women lack economic power as well. As an indicator of the purpose the council served, its latest report found that in 2010, the rate of Tennessee women’s labor force participation was 69.8 percent, below the national average, and they had a higher than average unemployment rate. They also held a lower than average share of managerial jobs — only 36 percent — and ran a below average share of the state’s businesses, only about a quarter. More of the state’s women lived in poverty than did in the country generally.
The gender wage gap in the state means women who work full time, year round make just 82.7 percent of what men make. That figure is better than the national average, however, as American women generally make just 78 percent of what men make. The wage gap doesn’t disappear no matter how much education women get or what job they take.