South Carolina is great at protecting women. And if you don’t believe that, ask any of the men in its elected leadership who have been crowing about it since President Biden announced his proposed modifications to Title IX rules, which would theoretically allow trans kids to play on sports teams opposite their biological gender.
From all the posturing and squawking to “protect our girls,” one might be led to believe that this change was a significant threat to our children – and maybe more importantly – to our women. But as of 2021, it had only happened twice in the prior five years, according to the Post and Courier, so the massive threat doesn’t quite seem to have a solid shape yet.
Still, the debate rages on, under the banner of “protecting our women” and “protecting our girls.” As a South Carolinian – and mother of girls – it seems a worthy cry, until you look deeper and note that the same words have been a mantra of the Southern elite since forever, including in 1944 when 14-year-old George Stinney was given the electric chair for the murder of two white girls – a crime which he did not commit and for which he was exonerated 70 years after he was murdered. Still, decades and centuries later we still wring our hands over the best ways to protect the “weaker” sex, in both our prevention of theoretical offences and response to the real ones.
At least, that’s how it looks on the surface.
But dig any deeper, and you’ll find that while South Carolina is great at protecting its women against threats that either aren’t real or aren’t significant — similar to boogeymen and the flying spaghetti monster — we are less adept at protecting and promoting our women in their day-to-day lives. Still, the pitch of the whistles carries over the silence of real progress in the State House, and the true threats go largely unanswered.
Take, for example, S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson’s recent OpEd, posted to FITSNews, in which he claims the Biden administration’s “proposed rule change would erase five decades of hard-fought progress for women.” That “progress” is a callback to the growth in the number of girls who play high school sports today which, while definitely larger than before Title IX, also doesn’t take into consideration the cultural and societal shifts that occurred naturally over five decades, from 1972 to today. The progress that happened was likely to happen anyway — even in spite of the state, perhaps.
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Wilson then goes on to quote a study by the Peterson Institute that claims that “women who play sports are likely to stay in school longer, suffer fewer health problems, become better workers as adults, are more likely to land better jobs, and no matter where they are, they’re more likely to lead.”
That’s great stuff. Worthy of being protected. Important. But look closer, and you’ll find that the “protecting women” line leaves a lot to be desired — especially if you’re actually a woman in South Carolina.
Stay in school? According to data compiled by WalletHub – and posted to this site only two years ago – South Carolina ranks 45th in the nation for the high school graduation rate for women (we’re only 36th in looking at that data across both sexes). Overall, that same information showed SC to be 48th in the gender gap for education.
What about those lesser health problems? Maybe — unless, of course, you want to look at things like maternal morbidity and mortality, which shows that SC women die at a rate of 26.2 deaths per 100,000 live births. (Comparatively, the US as a whole sat at 17.4. per 100,000 live births, and most of our global peers are under ten). Of course, we’re still 42nd in the nation for overall female health and wellness, too.
Still, the argument holds that by protecting South Carolina against a handful of kids switching teams, more girls will play sports (even though this isn’t a problem at the current time, as numbers clearly show), and then, per the Peterson study, they can be better workers and land better jobs. But the real data (from 2023) shows South Carolina is 50th in the nation for working moms – falling two whole spots in one single year. The state also ranks 45th in work-life balance (staying steady from 2022), and 45th in opportunities (dropping three points). And even though women are making huge strides in small business ownership in this state, good luck trying to get investment funding at any significant level.
As for the notion women will be more likely to lead in the Palmetto State, it is worth noting South Carolina maintains one of the nation’s lowest rates female-to-male executives. In government, women make up just 16 percent of the S.C. House, 11 percent of the State Senate, 11 percent of our delegation in Congress and a whopping zero percent of the state Supreme Court.
So what are we protecting our girls for, again? And from whom are we protecting them?
The most insane part all of this is that while the elected leadership in South Carolina ties itself in knots over a few kids in high school sports (whether you believe in the legitimacy of the issue or not), virtually nothing is happening to address some of the most real and significant issues from which South Carolina’s women actually need protection.
For example, the fact South Carolina ranks sixth nationally for women murdered by men, or that 42.3 percent of our state’s women will experience physical violence from an intimate partner within their lifetimes. And while 46 out of every 1000 people will be raped in South Carolina, 90 percent of those will be women – and many of them will never see justice, whether due to non-reporting, the rape kit backlog, or simply a lack of judicial seriousness (see Bowen Turner, who received five years’ probation after being accused of three felony sexual assaults).
And although South Carolina did implement a 2022 deadline for a computerized assault kit tracking system, which still isn’t done, if it follows the same timeline our child welfare tracking system did, perhaps it will be up and running in another thirty years. In the meantime, if the worst happens and you or someone you loves ends up pregnant – hopefully you figure it out and are able to get into the healthcare system within a matter of a few weeks. And, hopefully you’re not located in one of the ten South Carolina counties with no resident obstetric providers.
South Carolina is both a beautiful and frightening place to live. But I, and so many others, grow tired of lackadaisical (yet highly publicized) claims to “protect” women, while the efforts to address real issues die on the table because there isn’t a spotlight on and a mic available.
If we really want to talk about “universally accepted fundamental realities and truths,” let me offer one: It is highly unlikely that my daughters will end up on the ball field with a child whose gender is in question, and even less likely that they will lose any material benefits should that happen. But there is a great chance that at some point in their lifetimes, they will be assaulted, beaten, or murdered in this state, and if they are blessed enough to avoid that, will still have to go on to fight tooth and nail to grow into the leaders they are meant to be.
At least, that’s what the facts say.
Still, Mr. Wilson, we agree on at least one matter: This is more than just a policy disagreement. Truth and reality are on the line. I’d love to see South Carolina face them both.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Jordana Megonigal is a politically homeless former journalist, three-time business owner, wife of one and mother of three residing in Upstate South Carolina.
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