Rometty’s Epic #FAIL to Lead at Augusta

Talk show bloviator Rush Limbaugh calls 30-year-old Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a slut for advocating insurance coverage of contraceptives. Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus compares women to caterpillars. And the Augusta National Golf Club’s perfectly manicured greens remain firmly planted among those last bastions protecting male hegemony over society’s most powerful economic and political institutions.

The all-male golf club, based in Augusta, Georgia, has failed once again to award its coveted green jacket to a woman who clearly deserves club membership—IBM’s president and CEO Virginia “Ginni” Rometti. IBM is one of three major corporate sponsors of the club’s vaunted Masters golf tournament, and Rometty is Big Blue’s first female CEO.

But as much as I’ve excoriated Augusta’s male leaders for perpetuating this exclusionary practice, and as much as I believe IBM’s board is culpable for not standing up for their own CEO, I’m even more distressed over Rometty’s failure to take this unprecedented opportunity to lift up not only herself but all women aspiring to the upper echelons of corporate leadership.

NEW! Listen to this TakeAway podcast with Gloria Feldt and Nicole Neily : Accusations of Sexism for All Male Augusta National Golf Club.

Rometty missed a historic chance to “sit in the high seats,” as Frances Perkins described it when tapped by President Franklin Roosevelt to be the first-ever female cabinet secretary in 1933, the same year Augusta National Golf Club was founded. Perkins took the challenge visibly as a woman because of her sense of obligation beyond herself. “I had a kind of duty to other women to walk in and sit down on the chair that was offered,” she said, “and so to establish the right of others long hence and far distant in geography to sit in the high seats.”

Women have advanced tremendously since Perkins’ time, not because high seats were offered but more often because women themselves opened doors, broken through glass ceilings, challenged discriminatory laws, brought their own chairs in, and risked being ridiculed in the ensuing controversy.

Rometty herself stands on the shoulders of those brave women, whether she acknowledges it or not.

Thus far, she has not. Her response to calls for comment about being excluded from the golf club have been met with “no comment.” What a shame. And what a missed opportunity to sit in the high seats on behalf of women now and those yet to come.

For until women have reached full parity in top leadership positions across all sectors, each of us—especially a woman like Rometty who has broken through that proverbial thick layer of men to earn a place at the top of a major corporation—still bear responsibility to other women to take every opportunity to push the fulcrum of justice toward greater fairness and full equality.

Kathy Groob, publisher of ElectWomen Magazine says we should call Augusta’s exclusion of women what it is: sexism.

For years, women have been excluded informally from golf course business deal-making arenas because women typically didn’t play golf and golf courses have been somewhat of an all-male sanctuary for men. The number of women golfers is increasing as women now make up approximately 22% of the golfers in the United States.

Rometty happens to be among that 22% of women who golf. But whether she plays golf or not is not the most relevant factor. The power of access and access to power are.

Because the symbolic importance of that green jacket is not about golf, as Martha Burk, the former head of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, is fond of pointing out. It is about power.

When power brokers hang together, they naturally do business deals together. So it’s a big deal negative for women when power-brokering sources like Augusta National hang out the “No Girls Allowed” sign.

Sure, women have single-sex clubs too, but rarely does any man clamor to get into, say, the Junior League or Business and Professional Women or even a Curves workout studios that might be conveniently located in his neighborhood. The stature of Augusta’s all-male entity comes from its power and influence that no women’s group to date is perceived to have.

And while Augusta as a private club might have the legal right to discriminate, it’s still wrong for them to exclude women. For in doing so, they keep women from accessing a main source of power in business: the human connections that are made when 300 of the nation’s most powerful business leaders bond on Augusta’s greens and in its clubhouse.

As a woman who has more than earned the right to be among them, Rometty should stand up and speak out now for the inclusion of women.

She can start by signing this petition that has been started to get her into Augusta.

This article originally ran in a blog post for FORBESWOMAN. Check it out here.

Hoodies, Gender, and Telling Truths

Politico Arena Asks:

Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) plans to send House Speaker John Boehner a letter requesting that the House chamber’s dress code be more strictly enforced after Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) was booted from the House floor yesterday for wearing a hoodie.

Rush sported the sweatshirt and a pair of sunglasses to bring attention to the shooting of Trayvon Martin.  However, some members argue that Rush was unfairly treated as it is fairly common practice for members to ignore attire rules.

Is this incident a sign that the Trayvon Martin case has become too politicized? If so, who is responsible?

My Response:

Between Trayvon Martin, Sandra Fluke, and women’s reaction to the Komen Foundation’s epic fail, the world is splitting open and making way for many previously untold truths about race and gender.  Far from being too politicized, these issues are just now finally becoming politicized enough–by and for those who for so many years have been marginalized and silenced.

Cleaver’s request to Boehner should be unnecessary. Boehner should be standing next to Rep. rush wearing a hoodie. That’s not likely to happen, and therein you have the answer to your question about who is responsible: The right wing of the Republican party and their allies in the Tea Party and zealous fundamentalists. They created a toxic culture in which hatred could thrive. But apparently their ability to bully the silent majority is on the wane.

The personal is, after all, always political.

Are You Angry Enough to Embrace Your Power To Act? (3 Signs You Are)

Get power-to without leaving home!

Join me for a No Excuses Facebook chat on my fanpage Sunday, March 25, at 3pm eastern, 2pm central, 1pm mountain, noon pacific, etc. I’ll be on video, you’ll be able to ask questions and talk with others via chat box. It’s easy. Really. And there will be giveaways! Let me know if you’re coming here.

In decades of experience as a women’s advocate, I’ve learned people can be inspired to action by one of two things: anger or aspiration.

A roiling, boiling anger is propelling women — even many who’ve never been activists before — to embrace their “power to” to take leadership and make change. They’re making their voices heard over the din of political rhetoric they might shun under other circumstances.

There was no one trigger, rather a succession of insults. I talked with Richard Lui about them this week on MSNBC’s Jansing & Co. Here’s a smattering:

  • After 30-year-old Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke was denied the chance to speak about why contraceptives should be covered by insurance…
  • After the stunning optics of an all-male “expert” panel pontificating on women’s reproductive health before a Senate committee (also all-male because the women on the committee were so incensed they walked out)…
  • After shock jock Rush Limbaugh denigrated Fluke, calling her a slut and a prostitute (can one be both—don’t sluts give it away?) and demanding to see videos of her having sex…
  • After bills like those in Texas and Virginia forcing women seeking abortions to submit to 10″ ultrasound “shaming wands” (as Doonesbury dubbed them), an AZ bill requiring women to bring notes to their employers verifying they take birth control for health reasons not pregnancy prevention or risk being fired, and a Tennessee bill that mandates public reporting of the doctors by name and the demographics of each patient…

Women are rightly furious.

Why is this happening?

Writer Susan Swartz, who blogs at Juicy Tomatoes, notes, “It’s not just the warbling of a choir boy who believes that sex should only be for procreation and wants to turn the country into a theocracy. It’s a growing roar against women with one wild-eyed effort after another to attach new laws to women’s bodies.”

Hillary Clinton take at the Women in the World conference in New York recently was, “Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me. But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women. They want to control how we dress, they want to control how we act, they even want to control the decisions we make about our own health and bodies.”

Have women finally stopped playing nice about all these “power over” affronts? Here are three signs that tell me the answer is a resounding YES!

  1. Individuals aren’t waiting for someone else to tell them to take action. They’re just doing it. Like Sandra Fluke—who now says she’d consider running for elected office. Go, Sandra, you’ve sure got my vote!
  2. Pro-woman legislators, previously silent, are filing in-your-face bills that smoke out those cruel and unjust measures that shame, blame, and make women barefoot and pregnant again. The antidotes? Requiring men seeking Viagra to first have a cardiac stress test and rectal exam or watch videos of treatment for prolonged erections to one that would restrict vasectomies to men who are at imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm.
  3. Between the spontaneous petitions, thousands of smart-ass but well taken questions on TX Gov. Rick Perry’s Facebook page (“What kind of tampons do you recommend, Gov. Perry?” “I’ve been researching chastity belts and would like your opinion.”), and constant chatter about the issues, I haven’t heard this decibel level of righteous anger since early 2001.

In my book No Excuses, I urge women to redefine power from the oppressive power over, rightly resisted by many women, to the expansive leadership implied by power to.

So yesterday on my Facebook page, I asked: “Are women finally getting angry enough to embrace their power to?”

Hong Kong spa director Shoshana Weinberg asked in response: “Why does it have to be anger? Can’t love get us there?”

My answer was:

Love without using our power to stand up for ourselves got us into this pickle. Anger is a good motivator to action. But you are right, anger isn’t enough. After we get riled up by anger, we need aspiration. Aspiration to use the “power to” for good. For me, that’s another, more intentional word for love.

More on aspiration in another post. But for now, I want to know:

What about you? Are you angry enough to embrace your power to? How?

And PS: Want to talk about the concept of power to and the Power tools in No Excuses? Join me this Sunday, March 25, at 3pm eastern for a chat on my Facebook page. It’s easy! Full info and instructions here.

This article originally ran in a blog post for FORBESWOMAN. Check it out here.

How Far Women Have Come and Where They’re Going

“As an activist for women through almost four decades, I know that no movement for social justice moves forward without struggle, nor does forward movement necessarily go in a straight line.”  

Today, March 8, is celebrated around the globe as International Women’s Day .  Some decry its commercialization, as corporate sponsors have realized it’s in their best interests to appeal to women who make over 85 percent of consumer purchases around the globe.
But it’s a day whose meaning inspires me to think back to a very special moment on September, 1995.

I was attending the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, where hugely ambitious and thrilling goals were set for improving the lives of women, and by extension their families and the world.

The official conference was in Beijing, but the much larger convocation of activists from nongovernmental organizations—40,000 enthusiastic women and a few good men like my husband—was literally stuck in the mud in Huairu, a suburb an hour’s drive from the city.

Thousands of sleepy people had arrived at dawn on the morning of Sept. 6, to stand packed together under a roof of brightly colored umbrellas, jockeying for the few hundred seats inside the auditorium where then first lady of the United States Hillary Clinton was slated to give a speech.

Thanks to my training in clinic defense, which had taught me how to form a wedge and move expeditiously through even the most aggressive crowd, I was fortunate not only to get inside but to get a seat. The program was running late; Hillary was running even later and the crowd was getting restless.

Just as it seemed a revolt might be brewing, Shirley May Springer Stanton, the cultural coordinator of the conference, sauntered onto the stage and began to sing a capella, ever so softly: “Gonna keep on moving forward. Never turning back, never turning back.”

Then she asked the audience to join her. Pretty soon the house was rocking. By the time the first lady arrived and gave her brilliant “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights” speech, it truly felt like the global movement for women’s rights was unstoppable.

Hillary Clinton, Beijing 1995

It was, you might say, an ovular moment.

Where are women today? How far have we come?

Here in the United States, that moment can seem long ago. Today, women are aghast that presidential candidates are railing against birth control (yes, birth control!) access for American women, and members of Congress argue against funding for international family planning services that could reduce the millions of unsafe abortions and risky pregnancies that cause 500,000 unnecessary deaths each year globally.

But the U.S. women’s movement can take inspiration from working in sisterhood with women from around the globe. When the United States failed to meet its commitments to the global public-health community, many developing countries began funding these essential women’s health services beyond all expectations and the European nations stepped in to fill much of the void left by America’s abdication of leadership.

Women’s economic development projects are also fueling economic growth around the world while bringing greater equality to the women in their societies. Sex trafficking and other acts of violence against women, long merely routine facts of life for women, are becoming subjects of international media attention and human rights action. And female heads of state have been elected in Europe, Africa and Latin America.

  18 female elected heads of state

And though the U.S. has yet to follow suit, Hillary Clinton almost broke through that “highest and hardest glass ceiling,” is serving the country with great distinction as Secretary of State. And that puts her in a position not just to talk about, but to implement her declaration that women’s rights are human rights at the highest policy levels.

As an activist for women through almost four decades, I know that no movement for social justice moves forward without struggle, nor does forward movement necessarily go in a straight line.  All of us who support it must have the political will, courage, commitment, stamina and a never-ending creation of inspiring initiatives that touch real people’s lives. A movement, after all, has to move. Power and energy come from moving into new spaces, not from standing still.

On this Women’s Equality Day, we can proudly acknowledge that women have changed the world, much for the better in terms of justice and equality. That’s exactly what scares our adversaries and causes the kind of backlash from those who do not want women to be able to stand in our power and walk with intention to our own unlimited lives, as the Power Tools in my book No Excuses show how to do.

One of those Power Tools, “Employ Every Medium” was used very effectively by a group of African women who attended the Beijing conference and told their story about how they stamped out spousal abuse in their village when they had been unable to get their local law enforcement officers to do it.

The women banded together, took their cooking pots, and took up positions outside of the homes of men who had committed violent acts against their wives. They banged on those pots so loudly that the whole neighborhood came out and took note. And after a while, the men came out of their homes and agreed to change their behavior.

Each country today has different reasons to bang their pots on this International Women’s Day 2012. But the refrain for all of us who aspire to global justice for women is the same.

Gonna raise our voices boldly, Never turning back. Gotta keep on moving forward, Never turning back, Never

This article originally ran in a blog post for WOMEN ON THE FENCE. Check it out here.

Has the “War on Women” Gone Too Far?

Surely Politico jests. I’m sure you can add to my examples:

Politico Arena asks:

Democrats are raising money with a petition against the “Republican War on Women.” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chair, repeated the jibe Sunday on “Meet the Press” when asked about Rush Limbaugh’s recent comments on contraception.

Now that Limbaugh has apologized, will voters see “war on women” language as overkill? Particularly those who oppose the Obama administration’s contraception coverage policy on moral/religious grounds?

My Response:  You’re kidding, right? There’s hardly even a truce.

Rush Limbaugh calling Georgetown University student Sandra Fluke a slut and a prostitute as she asked her university to cover hormonal birth-control and the subsequent fury that caused many of his advertisers to abandon him (and his very lame non-apology apology) was one small skirmish in the much larger and ongoing war on women being waged by an ideologically driven minority who would much prefer that women had remained barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.

Just this past week, Roy Blunt and other Senate Republicans sought to pass legislation that would allow any employer to deny preventive contraceptive health services to their employees on the basis of any religious or “moral” objections. As though women are wanton hussies with no morals or religion.

Senator Carolyn Maloney pointed out the obvious during a House hearing called to discuss Obama’s contraception mandate: “What I want to know is, where are the women? I look at this panel, and I don’t see one single individual representing the tens of millions of women across the country who want and need insurance coverage for basic preventative health care services, including family planning.”

At another all-male hearing on the now-tabled Blunt Amendment to limit access to contraception, Rep Barbara Boxer limned, “Not one man suggested that men shouldn’t have their Viagra, but we’ll put that aside”

When an all-male news crew can un-ironically discuss the all-male panel, women’s voices are marginalized, excluded even from discourse surrounding issues that exclusively affect their lives. In another shocking media moment, Fox news broadcaster Ross Shimabuku suggested that female NASCAR athlete Danica Patrick was a “bitch” because she complained about being publicly called “sexy.”

If more proof that the War on Women continues apace, note that three Democrats voted against tabling the Blunt amendment. So women should be very careful about sending money to the party that allows its members to violate cover values in its own platform. Personally, I’m supporting only pro-woman, pro-choice candidates. Because I’m in this to win, not merely to live to fight another day.

Is Fox News Swinging Left?

Hahahahaha. I’ll believe this when I see it but it was fun to contemplate whether Fox will swing left any time before hell freezes over. Can MSNBC’s ratings be that high that Fox is running scared?

Arena asks:Is Fox News swinging left?

My response: Fox is starting to report the news instead of parroting right wing screed? What a thought!

Could this move be related to something in the headlines today, a new feminist channel announced by Alltopic to compete with Google’s, signaling a renewed interest in these issues? Or to the obvious national consensus that birth control is actually a basic element of health care and should be covered as such? Or has Rupert Murdock’s corruption scandal made even Roger Ailes rethink the ethics of running a media outlet on ideology rather than, well, news?

[Photo: Roger Ailes at Fox News. | Reuters ]

I’m not going to switch my viewing habits anytime soon, but it is heartening to see that worshipers of marketplace economics are susceptible to the same marketplace economics. Maybe I’ll be a little less annoyed in the future by television screens in public places blaring Fox newscasts.

Here’s the link to my original post on Politico

Women See Red, Get Over Komen Pink, and Embrace Power

This commentary was published yesterday on the Daily Beast with the title “Komen Incites Women’s Tahrir Square Moment.” If you haven’t read it there, please hop on over  and give me a share, stumble, and/or comment. There’s quite a lively conversation going on. Then come back and tell me what you think here.

Mostly, I’d like to start a conversation about taking the great passion this kerfluffle between Komen for the Cure and Planned Parenthood has generated and catapult it into a more vibrant, durable, and most of all proactive women’s movement. Clearly, the huge outpouring was about more than the two organizations themselves. There was a lot of pent up readiness for activism and just plain demanding respect as women–as persons–with brains, hearts, and moral autonomy–not as subjects of society’s political whims or social narratives that we did not write.

Let me get off my soapbox and let you read on….

“I am off to feed my daughter (with breasts that were examined by Planned Parenthood doctors when I had no health insurance).”

Allie Wagstrom, a young mom in Minnesota whom I know only via Facebook, posted this on my page after she heard the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, parent of the ubiquitous pink-ribboned “Race for the Cure,” bowed to political pressure from the right and announced last week that it would no longer fund breast exams and breast health education at Planned Parenthood clinics. Komen’s astonishingly sloppy handling of the situation (for which they have now apologized and semi-retracted) put a black mark in indelible ink on their sweet pink ribbons.

Planned Parenthood Supporters
Planned Parenthood supporters demonstrated following a press conference by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) outside at a Planned Parenthood Clinic on Feb. 3, 2012 in Seattle, Washington., Stephen Brashear / Getty Images

Facebook popped a picture of Cynthia Nixon, the lead actor in the Broadway drama about ovarian cancer, Wit, next to Allie’s comment in an advertising tactic. Nixon’s bald head and gaunt face shocked the breath out of me, while social media exploded with the wrath of millions of women who felt scorned by a charity for which they had raced and purchased pink products they didn’t need.

Why this outpouring, even from women who had never openly supported Planned Parenthood? Abortion politics remain an uncomfortable abstraction to many. But we all have breasts. What woman hasn’t had that moment of fear when your heart skips a beat and you’re sure you’ve found the lump of doom?

Fear. Komen’s handling of this debacle is a case study in it. Republican members of Congress and far right anti-choice activists have been using fear of retribution to bully Komen into dropping Planned Parenthood for years, just as Congress held up the federal budget over funding to Planned Parenthood last year and groups like Project Mustard Seed threaten to boycott businesses and funders who support Planned Parenthood.

Komen finally buckled. Spokeswoman Leslie Aun told the media Planned Parenthood was dropped because of an investigation (read: witch hunt) by an arch-Republican House member, Cliff Stearns from Florida. And despite the frivolousness of many inquiries (in my 30 years with Planned Parenthood, congressional investigations were such a routine method of intimidation that we joked our offices should provide permanent space for federal auditors), Komen had a new policy prohibiting funding groups under federal investigation.

At least one of Komen’s corporate funders, Bank of America, is under federal investigation, and many suggested that the “new rule” should work both ways.

But by Brinker’s failed damage-control interview two days later with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, the story had changed. Congressional investigations had no impact on Komen’s decision, claimed Brinker, herself a top Republican donor and former Bush appointee.  No, Komen dropped Planned Parenthood after a 20-year relationship because the foundation would no longer support groups that do screening and referrals but not mammograms, Brinker said, as if none of us had been following the story.

Gloria discusses Komen Foundation’s Epic Public Relations Fail and the Rise of a New Feminism on WORQ710, NY City Interview

The political dots connected directly: from the appointment of avidly anti-abortion activist, former Georgia secretary of state, and failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel as a Komen senior executive to Rep. Stearns’s conveniently timed investigation, to the new policy announced then retracted by Brinker. The Republican right is out of control, the War on Women is in full battle formation, and it was finally time for women—and men—to be mad as hell and stand up to the bullies. To have our Tahrir Square moment.

That Wagstrom and so many others are furious enough to vow spontaneously to stop Racing for the Cure, boycott Komen’s corporate sponsors (see which household names like Kitchen Aid, Yoplait, and Crayola you want to stop patronizing) and rip up those pink ribbons that have become badges of intolerance tells me something bigger is happening than whether any one organization gets funded.
If this were just about Planned Parenthood or yet another battle over abortion, the outrage would be dissipating. Women’s groups would have screamed their righteous indignation, raised a lot of money, and made no systemic change. Soon, the same Kabuki drama would be played out with another congressional attack or another worthy organization defunded.
But as a friend e-mailed me, “This is not a time to forgive, this is a time to find an alternative.” The American Association of University Women cancelled plans to incorporate a Race for the Cure into their National Conference for College Women Leaders.

When I asked AAUW Policy Director Lisa Maatz whether they’d reinstate the race since Komen changed its position, she replied AAUW is “staying the course” until they see what Komen does long term. She added, “we hope everyone has taken note of what women’s solidarity can accomplish—in the press, on the web, and in our nation’s capital. AAUW hopes to continue to harness this energy and sense of purpose…to turn out the women’s vote in 2012.”

At last, women saw enough red to get over the pink, the fear and the preference to play victim rather than to embrace our own power.

And that’s exactly how to stand down both ideologues who are terrified of women getting a fair shake, and the small but powerful fringe obsessed with other people’s sex lives. Embracing our power is how to overcome the shaming and false allegations toward women’s human right to make their own childbearing decisions and reproductive health services that have saved the lives of everyday women, pro-life in the largest sense of that word. It is how to overcome the right’s demonization of anyone who doesn’t toe its narrow conservative line, whether it’s racist attacks on President Obama’s citizenship, intolerance of gays and lesbians, or disrespect for the moral capacity of women. To borrow the right-wing’s favorite book, Atlas isn’t going to take it anymore; we’re making a collective shrug on this one.

No excuses. No more fear. This is the moment for women to say, over and over and over, “You will pay a price if you try to get your way on our backs.” To win elections in the short haul, and fight forward with a progressive feminist agenda in the long haul.

Now that will be the real race for the cure.

 

Should Romney Be Running Scared into FL Primary?

Newt won it in SC after a dismal performance in NH. What do you think will be the next exciting episode in the Republican primary soap opera? And is Romney toast or has he just taken a temporary step back?

ARENA ASKED: Newt Gingrich has won the South Carolina primary, the Associated Press projected Saturday night. Should Mitt Romney be running scared after his second-place finish? Or will the Jan. 31 Florida primary prove a firewall?

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

MY ANSWER: Groundhog Day came early in South Carolina. Newt Gingrich’s candidacy popped its head up from what seemed to be a deep hole into which he had dug himself with his philandering and arrogance.

Gingrich’s victory in the South Carolina primary shows that for all their anti-gay, anti-women’s rights, pro so-called family values rhetoric, Republicans care most about power for their own interests. If the earth really were flat, they would be rolling off the far right edge of it at this moment. Mitt Romney has never quite proved he’s ready to go into that abyss, so he is in real danger of joining Florida’s own Herman Cain on the sidelines after 1/31.

Romney should be running scared–of both Gingrich and Santorum, who mark my words will make some kind of unholy alliance to drive a stake into him in Florida. Endless money and even a tiny spoonful of voter common sense could yet save the day. But, no “sure thing” ever is. And so the fight goes on.

Here’s the original post on Politico.

The Grand Folly of Focusing on “Common Ground”

I believe in making common cause with people of all persuasions, but here’s what I learned about the quest for common ground on issues where people have diametrically opposing worldviews. Originally published at On The Issues Magazine.

©Elaine Soto
©Elaine Soto

The day before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was expected to rule, rumors circulated that the agency would approve Plan B One Step emergency contraception as a non-prescription item and allow it to be sold without age restrictions. Freelance writer Robin Marty predicted via e-mail, “Conservative reaction will be a total shitstorm.”

Instead, the next morning, it was Marty and other progressive women who doubled down in paroxysms of shock and anger.

The same unholy alliance of theology and right wing politics that defines zygotes as persons apparently had tied into knots the intestinal fortitude of President Obama and his Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, in a raw political preemptive strike, unprecedented in American history, overturned the FDA’s scientific ruling that would have brought Plan B out from behind the pharmacist’s counter.

Our “Common Ground”-obsessed president had done it again — betraying the very women whose votes were the key to his election, while getting nothing in return from anti-choice extremists who would never vote for him, no matter how much he tried to appease them.

But wait. During his campaign, candidate Obama vowed to prioritize passing the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) to guarantee women reproductive self-determination as a civil right. How is it that within a few months after election, he not only said FOCA wasn’t high on his priority list, but also persuaded leading pro-choice groups to back the Capps bill to make federal restrictions on abortion for low-income women more pervasive than ever?

That cascaded into the political shitstorm known as the Stupak amendment, which, in turn, spiked federal and state anti-choice bills in a magnitude unseen since the mid-1990s. Without the countervailing force of proactive initiatives, the pro-choice side fell on the defensive again.

So much for common ground.

Meanwhile, the FDA did its job as a scientific body and removed the restriction that purchasers of Plan B had to prove they were 17-years-old. But even in the Bush-era’s dismal War-on-Choice once an FDA ruling was made, it stayed.

It’s been calculated that if all women had access to EC and used it properly, up to half of unintended pregnancies and abortions could be averted. Shouldn’t that make EC the ultimate “common ground” in the abortion debate? Logically, opponents of abortion should be lining up to advocate for emergency contraception. But as author Rita Mae Brown has said, “If the world were a logical place, men would ride sidesaddle.”

To understand the seeming illogic, it’s necessary to confront a triple whammy of reasons why attempts to find common ground fail: the wagging finger of patriarchy, the clashing world views about sex and the contrast of constituencies.

Wagging Finger of Patriarchy

Insisting that women are moral equals to men is still a big elephant in the room, sometimes even hard for people who identify as pro-choice to confront. Because it’s hard to change a culture while you’re living in it. Harder still to see injustice when it’s all around you, and feminism is an unfinished revolution that aims to change a deeply patriarchal culture from within.

Obama’s Dad-in-Chief response to overturning greater EC access (the old “I don’t want my 11-year-old daughter to get it so I support the age restriction, medical advice be damned”) was presaged by his post election finger wagging at women when he reneged on FOCA: “I think that those who are pro-choice make a mistake when they — if they… suggest that this is simply an issue about women’s freedom and that there’s no other considerations.”

The same phenomenon emerges in public opinion polls that find the more in control of her own life and decisions a woman is, the less others support her decision to choose abortion. The less in control, the more of a helpless victim the woman is, the more likely people support her right to choose. For example, if the pregnancy results from rape or incest, around three-fourths of respondents think abortion should be available, whereas if a woman is married and financially stable, the ratio flips to fewer than one-quarter saying she should be able to terminate the pregnancy.

Differences in worldview about women and sex are rarely acknowledged on abortion and contraception…

Simply an issue of women’s freedom” doesn’t sound trivial to me, but when one is operating from a male-dominant framework, it makes all the sense in the world. It’s why every advance toward women’s reproductive self-determination has resulted is an explosive reaction, why in 1873, as women were just beginning to assert their rights, Anthony Comstock created the New York Society for the Prevention of Vice and fought to pass the laws making it illegal to send information about abortion or birth control through the mail. It’s why so many opponents of abortion are also opposed to birth control. It’s why doggedly logical pro-choicers’ attempts to foster common ground by making birth control available to prevent unintended pregnancy are routinely rejected by abortion opponents.

Although conservative fundamentalist groups such as Focus on the Family would likely be apoplectic at the suggestion, the fact is when we’re talking about family, what we’re really talking about is sex. Without sex, there is no family. And when we talk about sex, what we’re really talking about a complex web of social interactions, all of them defined to a significant degree by women’s personal agency and sexual power.

Michelle Goldberg writes in The Means of Reproduction, “There is one thing that unites cultural conservatives throughout the world, a critique that joins Protestant fundamentalism, Islamists, Hindu Nationalists, ultra-Orthodox Jews, and ultramontane Catholics. All view women’s equality and self-possession as unnatural, a violation of the established order.”

Clashing Worldviews about Sex

Freeing women from those ancient biological bonds of involuntary childbearing changes the gender power balance profoundly. And, yes, that does change the family structure.

Yet these differences in worldview about women and sex are rarely acknowledged in common ground discussions about abortion or contraception.

So what seems to pro-choice individuals like a slam dunk – EC is another method of pregnancy prevention; therefore, even those opposed to abortion should embrace it — is yet another sign of the impending fall of the republic to those who oppose abortion. The latter are just as queasy about birth control because they are queasy about any sex without procreative consequences. Their argument goes that if women — and heaven forfend, teens — have access to pregnancy prevention after intercourse, they will become promiscuous hussies.

No wonder then that in 1978, five years after Roe v. Wade, as the anti-abortion movement was starting its first forays to recriminalize abortion, a young reporter bounded into a news conference where I was being introduced as the new executive director of Planned Parenthood in Arizona and declared, “My nightmare is that 40 years from now, I’ll be a little old lady still asking the same questions, reporting the same story of the clash between the two positions.”

Forty years will soon be upon us, and the debate rages on.

Contrast of Constituencies

People with conflicting world views can work out some common cause: measures they can work on together to build relationships. Supporting local food banks, for example. But don’t expect common ground on policies rooted in something as fundamentally clashing as views about whether sex is for procreation or pleasure, and whether women will be treated as true equals or not.

Yet many — usually people supportive of the pro-choice view — still try to find the common ground. That, too, stems from fundamental differences in the two constituencies.

Pro-choice activists need to put a lot more starch into their spines…

To name a few such efforts: There’s the Common Ground project at RH Reality Check (duly eviscerated by Frederick Clarkson and by RHRC’s own editor-in-chief Jodi Jacobson, as well). It tried to get out ahead of Obama’s Common Ground quest that resulted in a bill called “Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act,” cosponsored by pro-choice Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and anti-choice but pro-family planning Tim Ryan (D-OH) Not surprisingly, the legislation suffered its demise at the hands of the anti-choice majority in the House of Representatives.

There’s the well-respected Public Conversations Project founded by Laura Chasin that has tried mightily to facilitate productive common ground discussions about abortion. I myself joined with Chasin and several dozen other remarkably smart and sincere people in an online abortion conference sponsored by the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute and lasting, appropriately, nine months. But that labor couldn’t birth significant actionable common ground, either.

The two constituencies differ about the roles of women and the purpose of human sexuality. Oh, we all have the same body parts, many of the same aspirations for our lives and we almost all use birth control at some point. Kristin Luker found in her groundbreaking comparisons that pro-and anti-choice women are surprisingly similar in family demographics.

Difference lies, however, in the breadth of tolerance for other points of view. Some of those opposed to abortion, like the Catholic Bishops and fundamentalist Evangelicals, have no stake in finding common ground, because any shred of tolerance shakes the foundations of their absolute and unambiguous positions.

I asked mediation expert Victoria Pynchon how a mediator would try to bridge this divide. When she found herself sitting in flight next to a fundamentalist Christian Republican woman who “believes that a zygote is a person that trumps the life of a woman and believes in every literal word in the Bible as she was taught it,” she asked respectful questions to probe whether she would find an opening for genuine discussion of alternative views.

“Martha,” the name Pynchon gave her seatmate, articulated these beliefs: (1) life begins at conception; and, (2) “inconvenience” or even serious burden to a pregnant woman cannot justify the termination of any human life. Women, in particular, should be prepared to sacrifice their own lives to protect the lives of their families and children. She believed in a set of fixed moral rules from which there can be no deviation.

Eventually, “Martha” came to say, “I don’t know what I would do” if she were raped. But then she mused that Jaycee Duggar, whose years of enslaved sexual abuse resulted in children, nonetheless loves her offspring and wouldn’t wish them nonexistent.

“You have to be able to enable the other person to acknowledge a place of doubt,” Pynchon told me, in order to engage in a conversation that could lead to common ground between two diametrically opposed views.

But how do you translate that into actions? Or policies, for that matter?

For that, Pynchon didn’t have an answer. She concluded that the culture war over abortion isn’t based on views about what the Bible says or when personhood begins, “but deeper fears about authority vs. self-determination; rules vs. ethics or morals that require critical thinking; and, the desire to draw a bright line around human life so that no mistakes are possible.”

“Doubt R us,” I replied, describing pro-choice constituents. We love to turn over ideas and take contrary positions for the fun of it. Pro-choice is live and let live. It’s don’t tell me what to do or say or, especially, think. And that makes the perfect opening for people with moral certitude and water-on-stone persistence. They stay with an argument until they wear us down.

Course Adjustments Needed

The folly is in trying to force common ground, where one side has no stake in compromise, whereas the other side wants to appease.

Pro-choice activists need to put a lot more starch into their spines, clarify their bedrock beliefs and learn from their adversaries about the efficacy of persisting.

Women voters, in particular, can declare their independence (here’s a petition to deliver the message) when a president betrays their trust, and use the power of their voices loud and clear: “We elected you and we demand you stop giving our rights away or we will unelect you.”

Because in fact, no, we can’t all get along all the time. If women are to preserve what’s left of our human and civil rights to make childbearing decisions, we must get over thinking we can make everyone happy and, instead, lead ourselves forward to do what we know is right.

 

Exclusive: Obama’s Epic #FAIL on Plan B

Please read this article, and just as the steam is coming out of your ears, go sign the petition and leave your comment for the president. It’s up to us to hold him, and all politicians, accountable.

Beyond-CrankyOut of patience with Obama Administration betrayals on health issues, a coalition has launched a petition demanding an agenda that is fair to women.

It wasn’t the first time that President Barack Obama played to a right-wing constituency at the expense of women’s interests, but the reversal last week of an expected decision on emergency birth control provoked perhaps the most critical reaction so far toward the administration by women’s health advocates and feminists across the nation.

When Dr. Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, recommended that Plan B, a contraceptive pill that when taken immediately after unprotected sexual intercourse prevents most pregnancies, be made available as an over-the-counter medication to all at risk for pregnancy, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius took the unprecedented action of publicly overruling the FDA commissioner.

Sebelius’ reversal of Hamburg’s decision means that girls under the age of 17 will have to get a prescription for the drug, which for most girls means a visit to the family doctor—which means telling their parents. Those 17 and over will need to ask for the drug at the pharmacy counter. In a small town, that means telling an authority figure—one who may challenge your decision—that you might be pregnant.

Then Obama added insult to injury with a condescending statement about Sebelius’ maneuver. “As the father of two daughters,” the president said, “I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine.”

The Paternal Prerogative

The callousness of Obama’s statement hit hard. His characterization suggested that Hamburg, a medical doctor who had reviewed the science, had made a nonsensical determination (silly her!), even as he asserted a paternal prerogative over the bodily integrity of every girl.

It’s the classic conundrum of nearly every female person on the planet: before she is of the age of consent and majority, a girl is subject to conditions that will shape her life ever after in ways that are simply not experienced by boys and men. Though couched in the language of protection, Obama essentially claimed that it’s up to a girl’s father to determine whether or not she will bear a child.

No other explanation pans out. The drug used in Plan B is progesterone, which has been shown safe for use by girls of child-bearing capability as young as 11. Other drugs sold over the counter hold the potential of worse side-effects than Plan B, noted Dr. Susan Wood, a former FDA assistant commissioner in an interview with the New York Times.

Speaking of the pain reliever best known under the brand name Tylenol, Wood told the Times, “Acetaminophen can be fatal, but it’s available to everyone. So why are contraceptives singled out every single time when they’re actually far safer than what’s already out there?”

Woods resigned from the FDA in 2005 because of the Bush Administration’s politicization of Plan B availability.

In fact, right-wing tactics increasingly reveal it’s not just abortion that anti-choice forces oppose: contraceptives, too, are in their sights. To make the case against Plan B, many right-wing opponents falsely claim the drug to be an abortion pill although, if taken immediately after unprotected sex, it expels the egg before it is fertilized.

Politics and Pregnancy

Just like Obama’s previous betrayals on women’s health issues, this one had politics written all over it. No one believed him when he claimed to have had nothing to do with the decision. Some wondered aloud if the Plan B reversal wasn’t the price paid to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (who oppose all forms of birth control) for the provision of no-co-pay contraception in the president’s health-care plan. That plan, ironically, is where the president’s penchant for flicking away women’s health concerns first made its appearance during the negotiations surrounding the infamous Stupak amendment, which, while defeated, ultimately led to the virtual removal of abortion coverage from the American health-insurance system (starting in 2013). At the center of that battle were men in mitres (as the bishops’ ceremonial headgear is called).

And I’m sure that such voters as those in Ohio are on the president’s mind, as well, as he heads into the 2012 election. In Ohio, Catholics who oppose women’s rights can sometimes be convinced to vote Democratic for economic reasons, and Ohio is a make-or-break state on the electoral map.

The response from feminists came fast—and furious. Wrote Jodi L. Jacobson at RH Reality Check:

[A]pparently helping teens actually prevent unintended pregnancies isn’t an authentic a goal of this administration. Perhaps it was among the topics on which President Obama came to “understand the concerns of Catholics [read the 281 bishops],” as Archbishop Timothy Dolan assured the New York Times after his private meeting with the president.

At The Nation, Katha Pollitt took offense at the president’s statement:

Who died and made Barack Obama daddy in charge of teenage girls? Would he really rather that Sasha and Malia get pregnant rather than buy Plan B One-Step at CVS? And excuse me, Mr. President, thanks to your HHS, acquiring Plan B is prescription-only not just for 11-year-olds but for the 30 percent of teenage girls between 15 and 17 who are sexually active…

Redress of Greivances

Others decided to do more than vent, applying a more organized form of political pressure through a petition. US Women Connect, a national umbrella group of state coalitions that work on women’s social justice issues, launched a petition (which you can sign here) under the heading, “President Obama: We are BEYOND CRANKY!” The petition reads, in part:

It’s time to Occupy Ourselves. To say this isn’t okay. For young women, especially, to say, “You’re playing with our future and we’re not going to take it. Do not take our support for granted.”

Among the petition’s signers is Gloria Feldt, author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power (and a WMC board member). Feldt, an activist who works with US Women Connect, and former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, added this to the petition’s comments section:

I respect the president and the office he holds. But I have been increasingly concerned about the many ways this supposedly pro-choice White House has been going back on campaign promises to protect women’s reproductive rights, health, and justice…. We deserve better than we’re getting but politicians can only do the right thing if we make it impossible for them to do otherwise…

Others advocate more radical action than a petition.

Linda Hirshman, author of the forthcoming book, Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution (HarperCollins), suggests the women’s movement take a page out of the movement for LGBT rights.

“We already know how the LGBT community deals with the president when he sells their interests out because of his own political calculation,” Hirshman wrote me in an e-mail exchange. “They pound him relentlessly and effectively, using the trifecta of political techniques: reveal what your adversary is really doing; invoke the assumptions of our secular, democratic republic; and assert the morality of your cause.”

As an example of the movement’s success, she notes how gay activists got the administration to decline to defend the Defense of Marriage Act—which denies same-sex couples the spousal benefits afforded those in heterosexual marriages—before the federal courts, even though it is customary for the Justice Department to defend laws passed by Congress. Taking a cue from the slogan of the early gay-rights movement (“Gay is good”), Hirshman suggests adopting a similarly effective slogan: “Teenage Pregnancies Are Not Good.”

The question remains whether Obama’s betrayal on this critical area of women’s health will affect his chances at the ballot box. Enthusiasm for the president among young people—a critical constituency for him in 2008—is already dampening. Women, too, could be turned off by the calculations of the president at the expense of their daughters and themselves. And in what is expected to be a closely contested race, the president can’t afford to have a single voter decide to sit this one out.

Many have said that women provided the president with his 2008 margin of victory. Most weren’t looking for a reward; they were just counting on him to keep his promises and defend their rights. Some are still waiting. Others may have already given up.

Here’s the link to Adele M. Stan’s original post found at The Women’s Media Center