Mothers or Others? Why Choose? How Maternity Leave Policy Crushes Women’s Leadership Parity

parental leave policyJamera Lee Massop was an administrative assistant in New York when she became pregnant. She didn’t think being pregnant would or should impact her job.  However, with no reason other than “your contract says we can terminate you at any time for any reason,” Jamera’s company fired her when she was six months pregnant. Jamera felt sure that the company didn’t want the expense of hiring someone to fill in for her when she was on maternity leave. She knew that if she filed a lawsuit against her company she might win, but she felt she could not take the time or money to fight it at this time in her life. After all, she had no job and therefore no steady income. After her baby was born, with nowhere else to go, Jamera entered the New York City shelter system and had to rely on public welfare programs until she could get back on her feet.

Jamera’s story is just one example of how the lack of a viable maternity/parental leave policy harms both individuals and the economy by wasting human capital.

While Jamera was in an entry level position, the reality is that the percentage of women who were terminated shortly before or after their first pregnancy was at 4.7 percent between 2006 and 2008. That means that approximately 158,000 women were let go due to pregnancy during those years. 21.9 percent of these high potential women in leadership positions or on leadership tracks dropped out when they had children because they couldn’t see a way to fulfill their responsibilities as mothers as well as employees, given the dismal state of leave policies in the U.S.

Let’s face it: the structure of most organizations was designed by and for men who had women at home doing the domestic work.

Today women with paying jobs outside of the home make up half the work force. Many companies and organizations have happily welcomed women.  However, our society as a whole has failed to adapt the workplace so that women’s unique needs and those of the changing family structure can be met.

Young children bring a particular dynamic to a family in which two parents work regular jobs.  Children require attention and care, especially in their first few months and years.  If this is a nation that cares about the wellbeing of its next generation, maternity or better yet parental leave policy must be a matter of public concern.

If you think such leave policies are unrealistic, check this out: According to the Paid Parental LeaveInternational Labor Organization (ILO), 169 countries out of the worlds rough 196 guarantee some amount of paid parental leave to employees. For example, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Albania, and Croatia are among the 31 countries whose government run insurance programs provide a year or more of 100% paid, job-guaranteed, maternity or parental leave.

Along with Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Liberia, the United States is one of the few countries in the world whose government does not mandate any amount of paid maternity leave.

In 1993 the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which guarantees 12 weeks of job-guaranteed unpaid leave only to employees at companies with more than 50 employees became U.S. law.  Some states have passed their own more expansive requirements under the FMLA.  Of course, leave policy can be expanded further within the private sector if the organizations so choose.  But in 2011 only 21% of companies that are members of the Society for Human Resources Management offered family leave above the minimum required federal FMLA leave.

The United States makes much ado of defining itself as a forward thinking nation.  Yet it is absurd the way our public policy and work places treat parents, and by association, their children. If the United States believes in family values and cares about its children, it must change how the work force supports new mothers and fathers too.

Providing job-guaranteed paid leave would be far more cost effective than losing employees that companies have already invested time and training into. Companies need women’s talents, and a company that enables families to take care of their children will find themselves with much more loyal employees.  We need not choose between mothers and others.

Women and men who agree with the value of these policy changes can’t afford to wait until they need parental leave to influence their companies or organizations.  We have the assets to create smarter, healthier policies that will shift the work place to be a more family friendly space for the good of all. We must take the lead, and we can do this together.

You can start by taking a look at the New York City Equal Pay Coalition’s petition to end pregnancy discrimination and secure stronger laws for women’s equality. And then send us your thoughts on other initiatives that you support or think we all should.


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.

Faith-based Support for Abortion Rights

The Gallup poll is showing abortion as the #1 voting issue for women in key swing states, with the economy second. Though the pollster didn’t indicate whether the female registered voters polled were pro or anti choice, it’s clear there is a heightened awareness of the consequences of a Romney/Ryan presidency as well as the crushing (to use one of Romney’s favorite words) assault on women’s rights to reproductive self-determination at the state level.

I’m guessing this spike in prioritizing reproductive issues represents an awakened sleeping giant of pro-choice women who typically put other issues and causes first.

This data is a positive sign, not because the economy isn’t important, but because women, owing to the predominant media narrative marginalizing reproductive rights, health, and justice, have not always understood that the abortion wars have never been about abortion but are the tip of a much larger cultural and political iceberg of self-interested resistance to women’s full equality.

Today I’m pleased to share with you a second post by award-winning filmmaker Dorothy Fadiman, in which she explores an often overlooked aspect of support for abortion rights: faith-based affirmations that have always existed but rarely been reported.


Documentary Filmmaker Celebrates the Pro-faith/Pro-choice Connection

For 35 years, I’ve been putting a human face on controversial subjects, from contraception for women in the poorest villages of India to the vulnerability of women to infection with HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia.

One of the most controversial subjects is the current challenge to legal abortion in the United States. The Concentric Media team worked with me to put together a Choice at Risk screening tour, based on clips from our PBS trilogy on abortion rights.

We’ve mounted a fact-based challenge to counter the common belief that most religions are basically anti-abortion. While some anti-abortion picketers claim that “God Hates Abortion,” other religious traditions hold pro-choice positions. This tour brings together stories ranging from the back alley days to dangers faced by abortion providers today.

Pivotal interviews include clergy from different faiths who worked together to help women find safe, illegal abortions.

In the words of the founder, Rev. Howard Moody, an American Baptist minister:

We did this at a time in which it is illegal to counsel a woman about abortion. A $1,000 fine and a year in jail! But as religious people, as people who cared about people’s spirits, there was no way that you could do that without caring about their bodies.”

We meet courageous clergy from many faiths:

  • Rabbi Ticktin,arrested by a plainclothes policewoman posing as a pregnant woman;
  • Presbyterian Minister Peg Beissert, the first woman to join the service;
  • United Methodist Pastor Cornish Rogers, who served African American communities in South Central Los Angeles.

Why did they do this? When abortion was illegal, women were dying in the back alleys–especially the poor and the young. As Dr. Huw Anwyl of the United Church of Christ says:

“You don’t see something like this and then say ‘…it doesn’t concern me any more’.”

This tour was launched Sept. 27 by Pennsylvanians for Choice and the Unitarian Universalist Association. The evening was led by  Rev. Dr. Beverly Dale, aka “Rev Bev,” a progressive pro-choice minister, an ordained clergy in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), co-founder and co-convener of the PA Clergy for Choice and the Pennsylvania Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice. She advocated for justice in many forms during her twenty-one years as a campus minister at University of Pennsylvania. She wrote a pro-faith/pro-choice liturgy that celebrated the work of the underground Clergy Counseling Service and invited the audience to “honor their courage…. the battles they fought and continue to fight on behalf of the moral good. We honor those who live their religious beliefs by creating justice for women”.

In the responsive readings she noted that we must also honor ourselves, each other and the holy work we do on behalf of women:

“We are the hope when choices must be made, the hope that women’s lives will be saved and that adequate accessible medical services will be available when needed. May we be ever vigilant, and ever faithful to protect all women’s lives ….”

Rev Bev’s open inclusivity connects this tour to my first film Radiance,  about the Light of Spirit in us all and in every faith.

The Unitarian Universalist Association recently re-affirmed the rights of all people and communities to sexual and reproductive autonomy and wholeness. In 1963, they became the first religion to make a public statement in affirmation of a woman’s right to choose contraception and abortion. In 2012, they expanded their advocacy on these issues with the election of reproductive justice as a major commitment, becoming the first religion to affirm reproductive justice (distinct from reproductive ‘choice’).

At the launch event, Rev Bev underscored the importance of taking a stand:

“We vow to reduce the risk for women by standing firm in our support and clear in our resolve that in our State and in our nation all women, regardless of income, status, race, ethnicity or age, will have their reproductive choices for their lives honored, protected, and supported.”

All the media on this tour is available online at www/CHOICEatRISK.org, free to download or embed. To learn more about pro-faith, pro-choice groups, visit The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and the Religious Institute.

Dorothy Fadiman has been producing award-winning documentary media with an emphasis on human rights and social justice since 1976. Honors include an Oscar nomination and an Emmy. Subjects range widely from threats to fair elections to progressive approaches in education to a woman’s remarkable healing from a spinal cord injury.

She is the author of PRODUCING with PASSION: Making Films that Heal the World. Films related to women’s reproductive rights include:

  • CHOICE: Then and Now: From the Back-Alleys to the Supreme Court & Beyond;
  • WOMAN by WOMAN: New Hope for the Villages of India and
  • FROM RISK to ACTION: Women and HIV/AIDS In Ethiopia.

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.

Politics and Court Picks: Who Should Be Most Concerned?

Conservative pundit Marc A. Thiessen writes in the Washington Post that Chief Justice John Roberts’ health care ruling is just the latest surprise from Supreme Court justices nominated by Republican presidents. Thiessen, a former George W. Bush speechwriter, cites various “liberal” rulings by Roberts, Justice Anthony Kennedy and former Justices David Souter and Sandra Day O’Connor: “Democrats have been virtually flawless in appointing reliable liberals to the court. Yet Republicans, more often than not, appoint justices who vote with the other side on critical decisions.”

Excuse me. Can he spell S-c-a-l-i-a?

Thiessen is saying exactly what one would expect a conservative columnist to say about the judiciary, especially when a decision has gone against them. The right wing has long been on a mission to discredit and destroy the role of the courts as the check and balance the Constitution intends them to be.

At the same time, they often hypocritically propose that the solution is to make the courts even more political by electing judges rather than appointing them.

Sen. Jeff Sessions summed up this point of view, “This ‘Washington-knows-best’ mentality is evident in all branches of government, but is especially troublesome in the judiciary, where unelected judges have twisted the words of our Constitution to advance their own political, economic, and social agendas.”

That conservative drumbeat has convinced many voters that the Court has become increasingly political. Recent polls show that 2/3 of Americans think politics played too great a role in the Supreme Court’s health care ruling.

And indeed politics probably did play a role, as they always have. The Court didn’t expand civil rights to African Americans until it was clear that the American people were becoming more open to it. And at the time (1954) the Court decided Brown v Board of Education declaring that school segregation unconstitutional, conservatives made the same case against the judiciary–saying it was too “political.” They even tried to impeach Chief Justice Earl Warren.

The fact is those “liberal” justices are actually the most “conservative” in the sense of applying the Constitution’s basic premise that liberty and justice applies to everyone, regardless of where we live, or what color or gender we might be.

And Theissen and his conservative buddies ought to be rejoicing that they held four votes against the Affordable Care Act while their usual fifth, Chief Justice Roberts, laid the groundwork to roll back the Constitution’s Commerce Clause and further lean toward states rights in their jurisprudence.

So which side should be more concerned about the Court’s direction after all?

An excerpt of this article ran in the Politico Arena. Here is a link to my response to the Arena question.


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.

Victory for America as Supreme Court Upholds Affordable HealthCare Act

Today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act  is a big victory for Obama and a HUGE victory for the American people.

But the most meaningful victory is for the integrity of these United States.

In this ruling (National Federation of Independent Businesses v Sebelius), the Court affirmed our ability as a nation to create policies important to all Americans, policies that make e pluribus truly unum.

While much remains to be sorted out, it is crystal clear that even the very conservative Chief Justice Roberts realized the country could split apart, threatening Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, and every other Federal initiative essential to the economy and Constitutional justice if the individual mandate had been thrown out.

Every Supreme Court ruling murks up some legal waters as it clarifies others. The New York Times summarized the rulings key points as follows:

The decision did significantly restrict one major portion of the law: the expansion of Medicaid, the government health-insurance program for low-income and sick people. The ruling gives states some flexibility not to expand their Medicaid programs, without paying the same financial penalties that the law called for.

The debate over health care remains far from over, with Republicans vowing to carry on their fight against the law, which they see as an unaffordable infringement on the rights of individuals. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, has promised to undo it if elected.

But the court ruling is a crucial victory for the law that will allow its introduction to continue in the coming years

The center must hold and today it has. Now the president must do what he failed to do  during the health care debate in Congress: educate, inspire, and persuade the American public about the value of universal health care coverage to their lives and to the economy.

There will be much more to discuss about the ruling after a full study of its various elements. But topline meaning is: Obama wins big and so does America.

And P.S. If you think it doesn’t matter whether women hold high level positions, take a look at this photo of who voted for and against your access to health care, and think again.


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.

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.


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.

And Then They Came for Birth Control

As the Senate took up the Blunt amendment that would allow any employer to refuse to provide birth control coverage  to employees based on an undefined “religious or moral” objection, women and men are asking me every day what in the heck is going on—are we back in the dark ages? Why do we have to keep fighting these battles?

I recently had the chance to give my answer to that question when I talked with with  iVillage  host Kelly Wallace and 2012 Election Editor and Correspondent Joanne Bamberger (aka Punditmom) about the many attacks on birth control and abortion. On her own blog, Joanne wrote:

“I feel like I’m living in the time of Hester Prynne and her Scarlet Letter in light of the ongoing and escalating attacks on women’s health, especially when it comes to anything concerning our ‘lady parts.’  Some women on the right say birth control has nothing to do with our health.  I say, “What?” ...are we headed back to 1850 or is this just a blip on the political radar?”

There are unfortunately some people who never made it out of the 1850’s or at least the 1950’s.

Including those who are trying to impose their religious or moral point of view on women whose moral and religious points of view are diametrically different. People like the attorney who challenged the Washington state law requiring pharmacists to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception. Listen as we sparred on WNYC’s The Takeaway. Host John Hockenberry, who did a great job of probing the issue, nevertheless framed it as “religious freedom versus access to services.” Access to services is very important, because rights without access are meaningless. Nevertheless, I challenged that description. I think it’s high time that we claim the moral high ground and insist that  our religious and moral views be respected.

And I was pleased to see NCJW CEO Nancy Kaufman articulate a similar point of view eloquently, saying that the woman’s conscience should come first and be respected. Let’s keep advancing this argument–I think it’s much stronger even than the right to health care access.

By the way, in the “barefoot” part of the “barefoot and pregnant” equation much beloved by the right wing retrogrades like Rick Santorum, please check out my new blogpost on ForbesWoman.com,

“What’s the Next Great Leap for Women?”

How about progressive women spend a little less time fighting about reproductive rights and address more energy to taking over the world through the power of wealth creation and acquisition?


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.

Will the GOP win the birth control fight?

My response to the question above. What’s yours?

If President Obama caves to the Catholic Bishops on contraceptive coverage, especially on the heels of his recent caving on Plan B emergency contraception, he is toast with the wide spectrum of progressive and middle-of-the-road women who elected him.

If he, on the other hand, engages this controversy wisely, he can recast the debate over contraception properly into one about women’s moral and human right to make their own childbearing decisions, as well as one essential to the health of women and children. In so doing, he will be a hero to the 99% of American women, including 98% of Catholics, who use birth control at some time during their lives to responsibly plan and space their children. And well over 75% believe that contraceptive coverage should be mandated in insurance coverage, as it currently is in 28 states and the Federal employees health plan, in addition to being the standard of care in health insurance in general.

The right is trying inaccurately (deviously?) to create a religious freedom issue with a dash of the dreaded abortion debate thrown in for good measure. Let’s get this straight: no one is trying to force religious institutions that primarily serve their own flock to do anything against their consciences. Those institutions are free to do whatever their faith dictates.

Catholic schools serving primarily Catholic students with primarily Catholic staff using private money are different from large public institutions such as hospitals that are run by Catholics but serve a broad range of the taxpaying public with a broad religious spectrum of staff and use billions of federal dollars to do so (think, Medicare, Medicaid, Federal program and research grants, etc.). Those institutions should no way be exempt from providing contraceptive coverage because they are essentially secular institutions despite being stewarded by religious orders.

But look further behind the curtain, the Bishops and anti-women’s rights members of congress are trying to roll back the clock FOR ALL THE REST OF US on existing laws that rightly require health plans to cover contraception if they cover other prescription drugs.

We women are the 99% on this one, and we’d better speak up or we are in great danger of losing all the hard fought gains that were made during the last two decades to include basic contraceptive care in health plans. It’s only fair, and it’s the standard of good health care to boot.

Read the original post on Politico Arena here.


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.

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.

 


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.

Will Tonight’s State of the Union Address 2012 Soar?

I’ve been critical of the President’s leadership in the past, and wrote this about a previous State of the Union address. But I’m rooting for him to be at his rhetorical and persuasive best tonight, not so much for his re- election prospects as for the good of the country.

Candidate Obama had a large vision during his campaign and it called us to our higher selves. In part his decisive 2008 victory was due to America’s exhaustion with George W. Bush. But a big factor was Obama’s vision and his promises to lead a progressive agenda once elected.

Instead, once elected, he focused on small vision projects and on doing deals rather than articulating the ideals that had propelled him into office. Tonight’s speech gives him a new opportunity– the last such chance he’ll have during this term–to give people that bigger vision and not just to say things that are safe. To come out swinging at the Republicans who have stopped every initiative he proposed without offering alternatives to do anything other than feather the nests of the wealthiest among us. To offer bold initiatives that address our biggest problems.

John F. Kennedy inspired a nation worried about our technological competitiveness when he said in defense of space exploration,“We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

Obama needs to call us to do things that are hard if they are also for the good of the country. He’s got a chance to bring some sanity to the conversation, in contrast to the Republican greed and gridlock, and to set the agenda for public debate.

Regarding economic initiatives, which should certainly be front and center of his speech, it should be remembered that the economy overall is a women’s issue. When policies favor brick and mortar projects, a smaller percentage of women benefit because they are less likely to hold jobs in those fields. To be more competitive with China and other nations, we need to build up our intellectual infrastructure (60 percent of today’s college grads are women). More money should be invested in schools, libraries and social services where women will be working, and it will pay off in a workforce better prepared for the economy of the future. And of course, I hope the president will prioritize passing the Paycheck Fairness Act.

There’s much more of course. But then State of the Union addresses typically sound like verbal Christmas trees, loaded with gifts for various important constituencies. I’ll just touch on one more topic. I suggest that Obama should proactively take the credit for getting contraception almost universally covered in the health care plan because 95 percent of Americans use it and because it’s the right thing to do. The dollop of whipped cream with a cherry on top would be for him to place the Freedom of Choice Act back on the agenda. I’m not holding my breath but I can hold out hope.

And instead of letting the Republicans tar him with “Obamacare” as a negative label, he should embrace the controversy (No Excuses power tool #4!) as a badge of pride. A generation hence, most Americans will regard Obamacare as important to their lives as Medicare is to seniors today.

What are you hoping to hear from the president tonight?

Will he soar or fly under the radar?

Can he take the attention from the right wing Republicans battling it out for their nomination? Post your thoughts.


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.

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

 


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.