To Run the World (Better), Power Up Feminism

by Gloria Feldt on April 30th, 2009
in Politics and tagged , , , , , , ,


In the Spring ’09 edition, On The Issues Magazine writers and artists discuss feminist and progressive values that transcend politics — our Lines In The Sand. I’m pleased to have been asked to contribute this article to the mix.

Were you thinking we were done with elections and could take a few minutes to celebrate a pro-woman administration and a Democratically-controlled Congress that appears ready to embrace pro-choice and pro-equality measures? Sorry, my Sisters. Elections are never over when they are over.

Candidates are already gearing up for 2010 and 2012. It’s critically important that feminists review the lessons of 1992 and its parallels to 2008 so we can avoid repeating mistakes—and more urgently, so we can charge ahead with strategies that advance a bold vision of gender equality and justice.

After all, men have been making America’s political decisions for over 200 years now, and I don’t need to tell you it’s not a pretty picture. Women, especially those not afraid to identify themselves with the F-word, are the change we need. But whether women will be the change we get depends on whether we use the power we have.

For the one constant in politics is that every victory sows the seeds of the next defeat and every defeat sows the seeds of the next victory, unless eternal vigilance is applied. This means using a movement mentality that continually advances bold new ideas and keeps its grassroots watered.

Ideological Whiplash Sneaks Up
A quick look back: 1992’s “Year of the Woman” was deemed a transformational moment similar to 2008. The nation was ready for change, tired of Republican presidents who took us into war while taking the economy downhill, and disgusted with wedge-issue politics that kept the country fighting about abortion and homosexuality when people were hurting from bread-and-butter woes. Women voters were especially outraged (read that, “activated”) over the Senate’s treatment of Anita Hill after she accused the eminently unqualified conservative Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.

“Year of the Woman.” Then, Boom! The Right came roaring back.

Then, Boom! In 1994, the right came roaring back with the Gingrich Revolution and ultra-conservative “Contract for America,” (or as I prefer, a “Contract on America”). Republicans, mostly of the hard right variety, grabbed a net gain of eight Senate and 54 House seats.

Karan English, a pro-choice Democrat supported by Emily’s List, typifies what happened. English was elected to Congress from Northern Arizona’s swing District 6 in 1992. Though backed even by “Mr. Conservative,” the late Senator Barry Goldwater (who in his inimitable way said that “all good Christians should kick Jerry Falwell in the ass”), she was defeated in 1994 by Limbaugh-like Republican J.D. Hayworth.

Far from being passé, conservative political strength regained its headlock on Congress and the national psyche. This scared the bejeezus out of Bill Clinton’s still wet-behind-the-ears administration. In Texas, George W. Bush defeated Governor Ann Richards that same year, setting the stage for his 2000 presidential win, which by any measure has been devastating to 20th century advances in civil rights, women’s rights and reproductive justice.

It’s tempting to credit the likes of Gingrich and Bush’s spinmeister Karl Rove with right wing resurgence. But this ideological whiplash could have been prevented if only the women who turned out to vote in droves in 1992 had returned to the polls in 1994. Instead, women demonstrated voting power, and then too many vanished from the political firmament. The right, on the other hand, never, ever goes away.

In 2008, Ann Kirkpatrick reclaimed English’s district (now redrawn Dist. 1) for the Democrats by beating extreme right-wing incumbent Rick Renzi, again securing even some conservative endorsements. But will she keep the seat in 2010?

Get Serious About Gender Parity
Power unused is power useless. It takes sustained ethical use of power to get and secure liberty. Yes, women friends, we must understand that power is not inherently bad; it’s our responsibility to use power in the service of feminist values both in political office and in influencing policy decisions. Feminists must get a bigger vision for feminist and female equality in making public policy, and mean business about achieving it by date certain. NOW has begun to identify what that agenda includes. My take is that we all know it when we see it, so don’t let the lack of a document agreed to by every women’s group keep us from taking action without delay.

It’s true that gender politics has become more nuanced, as the paradox of faux feminist Sarah Palin illustrates. But that makes it even more important to support women (and men–see below) who explicitly and publicly support feminist values and policies. That’s not necessarily partisan, incidentally, since the Republican party was first to support the ERA. it’s all about who wields voting power most effectively, and the Republicans’ shift to the right because of right-wing organizing precinct by precinct is yet one more cautionary tale.

Deal A Three-Handed Strategy
This three-point strategy will get us our rightful half of the policy-making pie: 1) elect women with feminist values; 2) promote women for appointive office, and 3) mobilize movement and grassroots support for policies that will secure equality and justice for women.

1. Elect women (and men) with feminist values
Women make up only 17 percent of the U.S. Senate and 16 percent of the House. At the current rate of increase, it will take 70 years to reach parity. Personally, I can’t wait that long. It’s well past time for women to have parity in all decision making bodies, especially the reins of political power. So let’s set specific goals and hold ourselves accountable to reach them:

  • 50 percent feminist legislators by 2015. They may be male or female, but all must proactively support progress toward gender equality in a legislative agenda and in electoral office. It’s going to take both men and women to make change, so why not bring men into the effort for gender parity?
  • Full gender parity in Congress and state legislatures by 2025. If nations as diverse as Sweden (47 percent) and Rwanda (56 percent) can do it, why can’t the U.S.? Not surprisingly, the quality of decisions improves when women exceed the UN’s “critical mass” definition, or 30 percent, and, according to the World Bank, the more women in parliament, the less corruption. So everybody benefits.

2. Promote women for appointive office
Essentially the same commitments apply as in the electoral strategy. Think about the judiciary, for example. Dahlia Lithwick speculates on what we mean when we say there should be more female judges and why it matters. But suffice it to remember how Sandra Day O’Connor cobbled together majorities to hold onto Roe v Wade’s ever-diminishing thread during her tenure. Multiply this by cabinet posts, and local, state and federal commissions, and the impact is exponential.

Go for it. Seek out an appointment. It’s also a good way to get your feet wet and prepare to run for office yourself.

3. Mobilize movement and grassroots support for women’s equality and justice
We need to dramatically beef up support and encouragement for women officials at all levels of government through a strategic coalition of the burgeoning existing organizations dedicated to recruiting and training women to run for office. The infrastructure is there, but could easily be leveraged with some forward looking leadership.

Get us our rightful half.
In regard to taking on issues, here’s a reproductive justice example that applies, too, and to any measure. In 1992, a raft of state anti-choice ballot initiatives were soundly defeated. One I had to contend with in Arizona as CEO of Planned Parenthood was rejected by a whopping 67 per cent to 33 per cent, causing pundits and pro-choicers alike to declare that the nation had decided, once and for all, that abortion should be legal (as if once-and-for-all could ever be in a democracy). Well, in 2008, South Dakotans faced and defeated a ballot measure almost identical to the one rejected in Arizona in 1992. Now, several states are mounting draconian egg-as-persons initiatives for 2010.

We should change the dynamic by mobilizing supporters around initiatives like the Prevention First Act and the Freedom of Choice Act at state and federal levels.

Activists need to act, so let’s act from the power of setting our own agenda rather than reacting to attacks from the other side.

Hard Times Make Good Chances
Gender parity won’t solve all problems, but women’s lives will be significantly better and our laws more just if we commit to carrying out these three strategies.

The current economic mess is the best opportunity we will ever have to hasten the pace of change toward gender parity, since people are more open to breaking boundaries during chaotic times. But like any profound change, it won’t just happen. It’s up to women to elect, promote, and mobilize our way to equality and justice.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

8 Responses to To Run the World (Better), Power Up Feminism

  1. Mark says:

    Gloria,
    I believe that all people should have equal rights. I believe that women are just as good as men and should always be respected. I believe that femenism, the idea that women should be equal to men, is a great idea that should always be embraced.

    Unfortunately, femenism has the reputation for being a group of far-left, extremists who will only defend women who agree with their politics. This stereotype has come about because of people like you. People who disarm the credebility of the femenist movement by only defending who you agree with.

    You disgust me. You make it that much harder for women to get rights and be thought of as equals. You either need to rethink how you carry out femenism, or get the heck out of the public eye.

  2. Dave says:

    It’s time that everyone realized that Feminism is a HATE Movement – and this monster epitomizes the typical Feminist. Very important that you all remember that.

    It’s also important to remember that the Feminist movement is also historically a racist movement as well.. Google it.

    Men and women are different. For two things to be equal they need to be the same. Saying that men and women are ‘equal’ is like saying air and water are ‘equal.’ Only a very, very, very, very stupid person would buy into any of this Fraud.

  3. Shannon says:

    Hi Gloria,

    First of all I must say that I thank you for all of the good things that you have done for women. Those lives that you have affected by your activism and motivation will always be thankful.

    I have been wondering lately what feminism really means. See, I always thought that I was a feminist because I have always believed that while we may all hold different beliefs, religious affiliation/no religious affiliation, or socio economic backgrounds, the one thing that we do have in common is that every women deserves to be treated with respect, be free from sexual harassment, equal opportunities in education, pay, that men enjoy.

    While throughout history I understand there have been several feminist ideologies I found a definition in Wikipedia that in my view applies to the fundamentals of feminism generally.

    Feminism is the idea that women should have political, social, sexual, intellectual and economic rights equal to those of men.

    I have been struggling in this believe, trying to understand some things that I have seen and heard of late. I am sad to report that I think that I may have been wrong. Am I wrong in my belief that the feminist movement meant that we were united as sisters for a common cause, and that this common cause applied to ALL SISTERS. I thought that my fellow sisters agreed that it’s wrong for women to be called “Bitches and Hoes”; we agree that men do not control our destiny’s-WE DO. As recently as the presidential elections we sisters were outraged at some of the comments that were made of Hillary that had nothing to do with her ability to lead the nation. These comments were about her hair, her cleavage, cheating husband, and the fact that her voice sounded more like e a nagging wife. So let me just say….while I may not believe that she was the best candidate for the job, I was as equally outraged at the comments. The sisterhood stuck together in their outrage and the leaders in the movement were out in force. The leaders were on TV, being interviewed on MSNBC, CNN, and yes it may be hard to believe-Fox.

    So, I have laid the ground work to how I have felt up until this evening at about 6:00 pm CST. On May 1, 2009 I heard something so amazing, so horrific, that I was infuriated and hurt at the same time. I heard something so absolutely SEXIST, ignorant, and intolerant come out of someone’s’ mouth that normally I would hold at the highest regard for their good work. I actually heard a Feminist cattily say that someone should have had a heart transplant instead of a breast implant –and felt justified because the person that she said it about deserved it! I watched the interview, and then went online so I could watch it over and over and over to make sure I heard it right. This comment was not a “quote” of someone else; the comment was not set up that way. This is truly shocking.

    Let me school you about something. I don’t have a Harvard Law degree, I don’t write books on feminism, and I don’t speak at ladies luncheons. I grew up hard and have personally been a victim of discrimination because of my sex and treated like a dumb blond because I choose to wear a short skirt or short shorts. I may not believe in the same things that you do, or Laura Ingram, or even Katie Couric. But I would NEVER< NEVER< NEVER say some of the things that I have heard other news commentator and even yourself would say about another women. If I do not hold the same belief as you do, does that mean that I do not have the same rights as you do? Does that mean that instead of having an intelligent debate about our differences it is appropriate to make comments about my body parts? Why in the world would someone who had built her career on the rights of women violate another’s? Do you not see the hypocrisy?

    I enjoy being out in the blogosphere. Lately I have read some commentary from feminist that are more hateful towards women then some of the most sexist of men. Why do we attack other women so harshly when they have a different view? The other day I read a blog about Palins choice for AK Attorney General a Mr. Ross. This man is a pig, pure and simple I think that we can all agree. However, the photo in this blog was not of Ross, it was of Sarah Palin in a bikini, holding a machine gun. The photo had nothing to do with the blog, which was written by the way by someone who claims that she has been an advocate for women rights since she refused to join the Brownies. So, this women-who advocates for other women, does not feel that Sarah Palin deserves the same rights as any other women because she does not believe in abortion, wants to pray away the gay, and shoot wolves from helicopters. Just as you do not believe that Miss California deserves the same rights as a female who has been harassed by a man, makes less than a man who holds the same position, or controlled by a pimp….because she question based on her beliefs and then gracefully apologized if it offended anyone.

    Sarah Palin and Miss California are victims of the very same actions that we accuse men of doing to keep women down…..and they are being victimized by their fellow sisters. I am asking that women stop attacking each other because they hold fundamental differences. What you did simply justifies the actions of those that still believe that women are unequal, sex objects, and are of less intelligence then men. Why….if a feminist can say such things why would it be wrong for a man to? Why is not ok for men to talk about women like that but it is ok for a women to talk of another women like that. Let me just remind you…..if you were in the workplace and made that comment about a co worker or someone you manage-you could be sued for sexual harassment.

    I am not your kind of feminist; I believe that ALL SISTERS are equal. And guess what, I will never say something that is inappropriate about your hair, breast implants, or lipstick color just because I think that you are a horrible person and should apologize to EVERY women out there for being a hypocrite.

    Shannon G

  4. Gloria Feldt says:

    This is a comment from Thomas. I moved it here from where he had posted it because it seems to be more germane to this conversation:

    I figure that a positive comment would be something helpful. I, contrary to the previous statements, feel that you adequately portrayed what feminism is actually about. People seem to have forgotten the true ideals of feminism. They automatically feel that because male commentators made rather vulgar comments regarding a female, any feminist would roll over and defend her, but you showed that feminism is about ensuring the equality of all people. Not solely defending someone because they are a women, because that in itself would be an idea that is contrary to the feminist movement, and this is coming from a student at one of the only all-male colleges in the country. Heaven forbid you judge someone on their ideas instead of their gender.

  5. Gloria Feldt says:

    Mark and Shannon, I can defend a person’s right to say what she believes, as I have done, while at the same time arguing against that belief and working hard to see that her belief isn’t the law of the land.

    In the case of Sarah Palin, it was entirely appropriate to hold her accountable for the consequences of her policies, such as wanting to take away the right to decide about childbearing from other women. In the case of Carrie Prejean, she was competing to represent our country in a global beauty contest. She would not have had any policy making authority but she would certainly have gained a kind of moral authority from that position. I would prefer that someone representing me on the world stage be someone who believes in the equality of all people regardless of sexual orientation. Just as 50 years ago, people could be racially biased or opposed to school desegregation and be allowed to get away with it, today, people like Carrie can be biased against gays and some people are willing to say “oh well, that’s just her opinion.” I would say as I did at the beginning, it is her opinion and she has every right to hold it but I think it is a bigoted opinion; thus I have a moral obligation to speak against her opinion.

  6. The Bender says:

    Gloria,

    You embody everything that is wrong in the world of PC. Disagreement is absolutely a valid path to take when discussing any issue. Emotion, including anger, is also a welcome component of an open debate. However, you choose to expose your intolerance of dissenting opinions using personal attacks and indefensible rhetoric. Do you think the posts appearing on this blog are written by idiots?

    As part of the assault on Sarah Palin , you and your cronies attacked her looks, her opinions, her motherhood, her church, her husband, her ethics, her Downs syndrome child, etc. using terms that were often disgusting and vile. At no time did any “feminist” suggest that Sarah’s inclusion in Presidential politics was a positive role for a woman or brought a women’s perspective to the debate. She was excoriated simply because she is a Conservative woman.
    The same vitriol was directed at Ms. Prejean. You cannot defend your actions, the were and will continue to be inexcusable.

  7. Shannon says:

    Gloria,

    It seems you again are justifying your mudslinging. The point that is being made here is that it is indefensible that you would make that comment in the first place. I have no doubt that you are an intelligent women, what I cant understand is why you would attack someone on a physical attribute instead of the position that she took. I agree with you that people should be held accountable for their actions however, that does not make it right to make a comment that is degrading about something that has nothing to do with the issue. How I percieve the matter is that everything you said was overshadowed by the hate that was on your face and voice. That is what is being repeated…not your message. Perhaps if more time was spent in debate over the issue at hand instead of it being overshadowed with ignorant language, something could be accomplished. One of the most beautiful things about a women is her heart, that my friend was not gracious and did not show much of a heart.

  8. Social Medic says:

    Gloria,

    I found out about your website from an interview, if you could call it that, you had on Fox “News.” I had been studying the epidemic of the Anne Coulter clones for some time now and had recently added Prejean as symptomatic of that spreading virus of high-profile, anti-feminist, fascist, female bigots (you know, Roper, Palin, Hasselbeck, Bachman … ). I have to say here because I never see anyone mention it that women like these seem to think that having just any opinion is quite OK, even if it is a fascist one, not to mention highly uneducated. Democracy depends, however on its public to be well educated. A nation of ignorance can not self rule. It is quite unfortunate that Prejean has inherited her fascist views from her upbringing as she claims but it is even more tragic that she has blindly and uncritically accepted them. It is further disconcerting that a pageant, that is supposed to be a competition to win scholarship money, thinks of itself as so outdated that it must update itself to consider a profession that offers high pay in exchange for exposing the maximum amount of flesh “acceptable,” even desirable. What on earth does THAT have to do with feminism, and where on earth do these badly educated, self-righteous females come off expecting feminists to defend any female who does it, much less one who proudly parades herself about as a fascist bigot, whose bigotry is just an innocuous opinion that she is ENTITLED to???? Clearly, the majority of the women, to say less of men, in this country have no clue what feminism is about and the men are more than happy to keep women in this ignorance and let them spout as much ignorant nonsense as they please because to overcome that ignorance would mean empowerment and that is the very last thing men, of all races and creeds want. True freedom entails responsibility and I doubt any of these woman want that burden. The fact is that it is THESE women who are keeping ALL women down. They blame feminists because they are too poorly educated, or to lazy and complacent, to overcome this ignorance. Through the use of the institutions of religion and marital relationships, ultimately economics, they attempt to control those of us who do not want their traditional prostitution rammed down our throats. And if there are ANY men out there who would have relations with us – they exercise the power of bad publicity in our disfavor, slander and libel us, and so marginalize us even from relationships. Fascism has been confused with democracy for about thirty years in this country. The far right has assumed the center and pushed the female intellectual out to the far left. Religion demands that woman be forced into dependency on men, be it their fathers and later the husbands …. let any woman really try to enjoy the dignity of work and independence by pulling herself up by her own bootstraps and it is nearly impossible. Many who try end up marginalized with gigantic student loans and at that point, they are untouchables, highly undesirable to men. It is at this point that educational borrowing becomes a human rights issue. It renders women unmarriageble. They may as well have leprosy. And what do these fascist women do? Attack birth control? Attack gay marriages? Attack secular thinking? It is a pity they can;t do something useful in the female cause like raise money for female scholarship. It is pointless to try to explain to women of this type that there is more to life than just the life cycle, that things of interest exist outside of who is getting married and who is pregnant. American culture has become a prison for women who want intellectual freedom and a life that is not financially dependent always on a man. These women may be comfortable in their settling for prostitution of varying kinds but some of us are not and should not be forced into it because these women think their fascist opinions are harmless. This fascism is evil and must not be allowed to prevail.

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