To celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, President Joe Biden announced the formation of the White House Gender Policy Council, which would discuss current feminist issues in America and provide female perspectives to White House affairs.
The council would potentially be a step forward for American women, but it seems to be more of a performative act to further prevent real change from occurring on a federal level. Having the first ever female vice president is not the solution to feminist matters, nor is simply forming a federal council for women.
The council is a reformation of the White House Council on Women and Girls, created under the former Obama administration, and is intended to provide Biden with a feminist perspective as he makes decisions.
Obama’s council was formed with the same intentions, but it was dismantled under former President Donald Trump. The White House Council on Women and Girls seemed just as symbolic as Biden’s Gender Policy Council. It did not directly accomplish anything concrete like passing legislation or completing initiatives.
The official White House statement released March 8 determines the Gender Policy Council’s intentions. The council would combat systemic discrimination, increase female economic security, ensure women’s access to health care, eliminate violence in places of education, promote better female education opportunities and attempt to advance global gender equality.
Almost all of the hopes for the new council are established guarantees within the Equal Rights Act (ERA), which was written in 1971, yet has not been passed by federal legislation.
Proponents have been attempting to pass it for the past 50 years. It would not only provide a feminist perspective to the president but also establish equal opportunities for women in the U.S. Constitution.
The act would amend Title IX laws, which prohibit discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation in government-funded facilities, into the U.S. Constitution, making it not only against the law, but also unconstitutional to discriminate against someone on the bases of sex or sexuality.
The Gender Policy Council seems like it could cause minimal impact compared to the influence the ERA would have if passed. A 2020 Associated Press poll of 1,353 participants found that 3 in 4 Americans support the ERA, including 6 in 10 registered Republicans. The council is a step in the right direction, but not the step the American people have been calling for and supporting for decades.
The council is also made up of members who were already involved in White House affairs. Council co-chairs Jennifer Klein, who worked in the Clinton administration and senior adviser to former First Lady Hillary Clinton, and Julissa Reynoso, First Lady Jill Biden’s chief of staff, already worked in the White House before the council’s creation.
Along with the co-chairs, the council would consist of the 15 secretaries of the White House departments and 22 other already existing employees, including Vice President Kamala Harris’ Chief of Staff Hartina Flournoy, according to the March 8 executive order, which is virtually identical to the members of the Obama administration’s version of the council.
By adding already existing employees to the Gender Policy Council, Biden can portray his White House council as a pioneering endeavor when in reality it’s just business as usual. The council will not be providing Biden with new feminist perspectives but rather the perspectives he already had, proving that it is entirely performative.
If he wanted the council to be truly impactful rather than persuade Congress to pass the ERA, he could fill the council with hired professionals in women and gender studies to advise his department heads, instead of filling the council with just the department heads themselves. This would show that Biden is actually working toward equality and not just creating a symbolic council of leaders already employed by his administration.
If the Biden administration wanted to enact long-term change in the lives of American women then it would pass the ERA and hire women who are professionals in the field of women and gender studies instead of creating a council of people who can already influence White House affairs.