Updated: Apr 8, 2020
If you really want to know a nation’s priorities, you have to follow the money.
Our federal budget is a document that clearly lays out our priorities and morals — it should come as no surprise that it’s been a stronghold of toxic masculinity for far too long. Toxic masculinity has been defined by researchers as a set of behaviors and beliefs that include: suppressing emotions or masking distress, maintaining an appearance of hardness, violence as an indicator of power (think: “tough-guy” behavior). Our federal budget has prioritized programs that facilitate violence at the cost of everything else. But this new class of women in congress and the women leading the House Appropriations Committee are making progress in combating these insidious beliefs.
You might be wondering how vast is the value divide? How “toxic” are our nation’s budgetary priorities?
America has a long history of equating strength through force and violence, a hallmark of toxic masculinity. In 2018, the federal government allocated $712 billion (yes, billion with a “b”) to the military — that’s more than half of the money Congress had available to allocate, and doesn’t even include the cost of Veterans Affairs. Just 10% of this portion could have paid for 881,625 elementary school teacher’s salaries for the whole year. According to the Learning Policy Institute, America is short roughly 112,000 teachers, especially in rural areas. A reallocation could have alleviated this extreme teacher shortage eight times over. It isn’t difficult to find places to cut costs. Imagine how impactful it would be if policymakers redirected wasteful funds from the military from, let’s say, a $9,314 chair and $1,200 coffee cups to programs that increase teacher retention and salaries.
While the military is flooded with funds, government agencies that prevent war and conflict like the State Department have been decimated, feeding the vicious cycle of threat inflation and a war-mongering. The average taxpayer in 2018 paid $1,734 to military contracting companies (like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman) while only paying $122 for the State Department and $51 for foreign aid. In other words, we pay nine times more for military contractors that produce weapons to fight wars abroad than the programs that actually prevent conflict worldwide.
There is a simple solution to this problem: reorganizing our budget priorities and recalibrating what we mean by “national security.” Does national security exclusively mean armed forces, weapons, foreign and domestic enemies? Or can we include in our discussions of national security priorities like having healthy, well-educated communities who don’t have to live paycheck-to-paycheck? Scholars have constructed a new term for a more balanced lens of security, “human security,” which elevates individuals and their complex social and economic interactions while focusing on non-traditional threats communities face such as poverty and disease.
Right now it is arguably the most important time of the year when it comes to navigating what our nation will value — through the authorization and appropriation process that crafts an annual budget from the ground up. It is possible to invest more in healthcare, education, transportation, and a plethora of other issues that Americans face everyday without sacrificing our security, we just have to have elected officials brave enough to prioritize them.
For the first time ever, two women, Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Kay Granger (R-Tex.), are leading the House Appropriations Committee and will have a strong voice in what your taxpayer dollars buy this year. The last time two congresswomen led a committee was in 1977, and the panel was the Select Committee on the House Beauty Shop. Forty-two years later, women have gone from controlling hair products to controlling one of the House’s most important powers, the pursestrings.
Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Kay Granger (R-Tex.)
We know that women in power govern more effectively, introduce more bi-partisan legislation, and shift government priorities away from military spending and towards public health. However, the degree of that shift depends on the proportion of women in the legislative body and how many allies lend their support to build momentum. Right now, women in Congress only make up 23 percent of lawmakers — and the majority of our budget’s discretionary spending is still going towards the military and nuclear weapons. We have historically spent more on defense than China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany combined. So while two women lead the House Appropriations Committee this year, they have an uphill battle against an institution that is overwhelmingly male and entrenched in its prioritization of brute strength.
Women state legislators from across the country are behind them. Last month, over 80 women state legislators, whose states depends on funds from the federal government, wrote a letter to Congress urging them to prioritize community needs over increasing funding for the Department of Defense. The federal government and its budget decisions have an impact that is felt not only at the extremely local level here in the USA, but by millions of people across the globe. As long as the government keeps marching to its toxic masculinity drum beat of weapons, wars, and violence, everyone will suffer.