Take The Lead Presented and Connected in 2014—and Wants Your Suggestions for 2015

IMG_6939-X3Understanding the Role Confidence Plays

Would workplaces become more balanced and society more equitable if women exhibited more confidence? Katty Kay and Claire Shipman created a stir with their book The Confidence Code and their article, “The Confidence Gap” in The Atlantic. To continue this important conversation, we were honored to have Shipman speak to the Take The Lead community in July about how personal confidence relates to women advancing in the workplace and in society. Yes, women face very real barriers, no matter how confident we are, but leading with confidence expands our possibilities in ways that change our lives and the lives of other women. (Like this quote? Tweet it!) Did you attend this event with Shipman? What did you learn? This confidence question will surely be an ongoing conversation, so we’d love to hear your thoughts!

TakeTheLead-80-X3The Solution to Feeling Stuck: Get a Coach!

At Take The Lead we teach women to define their lives and careers on their own terms. But history has also told us how crucial it is to seek help when we need it. That’s why we were so excited to gather some of the best coaches we know for an event in NYC sponsored by the fabulous ALEX AND ANI. Alisa Cohn, Robyn Hatcher, Bonnie Marcus, Dana Balicki, Audrey S. Lee, Maggie Castro Stevens, and Leslie Grossman joined us to share their wisdom and generously donate hours of coaching time to attendees. See photos from the event and learn more here.

15777710358_506c524d16_o-X3Circling Up!

One way we achieve leadership parity at Take The Lead is by working with women across all backgrounds, generations, and professional fields. And we’re proud to collaborate with a larger resurgent women’s movement. One way we create connections among women is through our online Take The Lead Community. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do so to network and get honest, actionable advice from other accomplished women having valuable conversations. Soon we’ll be adding a mentoring component you won’t want to miss.

Gearing Up for 2015

Stay in touch with Take The Lead by signing up for our newsletter, and following us Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Thanks again to everyone who joined us this year and stay tuned for exciting developments in 2015!

Remember! Please take a moment in the comments section to tell us what’s bugging you, highlight learning topics you want to see in our webcasts, courses, or blog, and suggest experts you admire. You can also tweet us at @takeleadwomen using the hashtag #takeleadwomen2015.

If you’re moved by the work Take The Lead does to give women and men true parity across all sectors, it’s not too late to donate to enable us to Teach, Connect, and Present to more people next year. Read more about our strategy for change, Take The Lead’s 4 keys to leadership parity, here.

Jill Abramson and Gender Bilingual Communication

Jill AbramsonWith hindsight, this 2013 article all but predicted Jill Abramson’s unceremonious fall. Though according to the New Yorker  rendition, her demise was precipitated when Abramson, the New York Times’ first female executive editor, confronted her boss, publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., after learning her pay was significantly less than her predecessor, I point the finger of firing fate much toward implicit cultural biases that influence behavior much more than any of us want to believe.

Daily Beast columnist Keli Goff asked me whether I think Abramson’s firing will deter women from seeking top jobs. I have in the past made the naïve assumption that once doors are open, women will inherently want to walk through them.

But I’ve come to realize that women have been stuck at under 18% of top leadership positions across all sectors because we too often resist the hard knuckle fray or don’t even apply for positions for which we’re technically qualified because we lack the confidence to do so. We literally speak a different language from the men who make up the majority of the prevailing corporate culture and have learned that when we ask, we are less likely than men to get, and thus it’s safer not to ask.

Even though we’re all speaking English, there is cultural and linguistic gender bilingualism. Women typically use more words than men, for example, more adjectives, more body movements, less directness. And while men might (and often do) complain about that language pattern, the truth is that when women violate the familiar norms, they are treated even worse. Wise insights about this reality in journalism are offered by Newsweek’s first female Senior Editor Lynn Povich.

Not adhering to that stereotype, not being willing to play the nice girl, was Abramson’s real Achilles heel. I seriously doubt that Sulzberger even knows what he doesn’t know about his own biases. His privilege runs so deep that he has never needed to understand them.

Tech journalist Kara Swisher describes a deep-seated problem for the Times if these gendered biases are not openly addressed, however.

Let me see if I can say it more simply than Sulzberger: She was a real pain in my ass and so she had to go.

I can relate, to say the least. As one of the few top editors in tech journalism who is a woman and, even from my many years of reporting before that, I cannot tell you the number of times that I have been called a pain in the ass for my aggressive manner. Silly me, but that kind of tonality is exactly what makes for a successful journalist — you know, afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted — and what is more often than not needed in the sometimes rough-and-tumble world of media.

Take The Lead blogger, Susan Gross nailed the grey lady to the wall with this relevant bit of research:

Abe Rosenberg was the top editor of The New York Times for 17 years. The Times own obituary of Rosenberg described him as an “abrasive man of dark moods and mercurial temperament,” who had a “combative and imperious style” and was known for “driving his staffs relentlessly.”  Yet there was never any move to force him out. Instead, when he retired Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, then the publisher of The Times, declared that Rosenberg’s “record of performance as executive editor of The Times will last as a monument to one of the titans of American journalism.” The abrasive Rosenberg got plaudits. The abrasive Abramson got the sack (emphasis mine).

So what’s a woman to do? To speak the language of leadership, women still have to navigate the double-edged sword. The plain truth is that the group with less power always has to learn to speak the language of the group with greater power. You have to know the rules of the game before you can change them. While it is exhausting to be relentlessly pleasant as women are often advised to do, we always benefit more by respecting others’ communications patterns and “languages” than not.

But we won’t succeed by trying to “go the way of the man” as a colleague recently described those women who adopt male characteristics to be heard and promoted. To the contrary.

We must remain aware that all those little mincing steps we learn as women–the suppression, silence, overcompensation that are so deeply ingrained–are cultural ways of controlling women and keeping us in a subordinate space. And we must not let anything stop our full expression of who we are and what we want. Authenticity in the end draws people to you and allows you to demonstrate your unique value. The solution is to be smart and strategic and unleash our authentic selves while speaking in tongues others can understand.

Write on, Jill, and speak on. I believe the media firestorm this episode wrought has created an inflection point, and that if women keep speaking up now, we’ll keep on moving up, thanks in part to your willingness to self-advocate. My guess is that though you might think being executive editor of the New York Times was the pinnacle of your career, you’ll soon find a higher peak, right around the next switchback.

Women’s Leadership Stars on Broadway

I recently had my Broadway debut. No, seriously, check out this video of Feminomics  interviewing me and Susan Arnot Heaney at the Women Leadership Summit,  just after we had both spoken on a panel smack in the middle of Times Square.

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Here’s a longer version of my part of the interview, if you have time:

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Enjoy and let me know what you would have said.

The Young Politica: Guns on Campus

If you, like me, have come to look forward to Maegan Vazquez’s “Young Politica” columns on Heartfeldt, you are going to miss her interesting take on the world through the students’ lens. During the past two semesters that she has interned for me, it has been my pleasure to see her grow and her writing develop.

Enjoy her last column here.  I told her I predict we’ll be reading her in the Washington Post in a few years.

Today, airsoft rifles closely resembling AK-47s were found in the dorm room of a New York University student, according to the New York Post. The psychology student, Bernard Goal, 20, allegedly assembled and sold them for up to $500 each. collegecrime

The story may not have been at the top of my radar (nor on the radar of the New York Post a few weeks ago, but in a post-Boston Marathon and post-MIT shootout world, I have become hyperaware of all things ammunition on campus—especially when that campus is my own.

As a member of the media, it would be naive of me to cite this as a reason for stricter gun laws on campus. Even I know that when in search for stories, a journalist often writes about what is most concerning to their audience at that moment in time. Right now, almost anything guns is a-go.

Up until recent events, campus gun laws were not an issue I was concerned with; mainly because my college doesn’t have a real campus. Rather, students take classes in buildings scattered across lower-Manhattan. What I associated with mass school shootings was a closed-off, centralized area where students typically congregate. And that’s just not an element of campus life NYU can really facilitate. But when I realized that a student from my school could potentially be selling guns within student housing for months without faculty noticing, I became concerned for my safety.

I, along with 91% of Americans, agree that it is time to instate universal background checks for new gun owners. Universal background checks may not have prevented NYU’s snafu, nor would they have the power to prevent current gun owners from having their weapons taken away. But in the long run, universal background checks would have the potential to save lives being taken by those who should not have weapons in their hands.

Unlike those who want to take the second amendment in its purest form, I would be willing to make the sacrifice of a single universal background check if it meant that innocent lives were saved.

Last week, a bill to support universal background checks failed by six votes. The bill finally made the floor four months after the Sandy Hook shooting, and nine months after the Aurora movie theater and Wisconsin Sikh temple shootings. When lawmakers take this long to fail a bill that would only have the power to benefit the American public, there’s no doubt of the power that rich lobbyists, like the NRA, have over Washington.

I never imagined that gun laws on campus would be an issue in a place like NYU, in Bloomberg’s New York City, where even moderates are castigated for their supposed lack of tolerance or unfeasible economic beliefs.

When a student at a residence hall just down my street is illegally making and selling guns from his dorm room, I had to ask if no-tolerance rules were the only rules that mattered in when it came to the safety of students. Strict gun rules on college campuses are prevalent across the country, but students would reap the benefit of safety if universal background checks were put into place.

Thank you so much for following me on my journey towards political self-discovery. I’ve loved your feedback and I am so grateful to have had this unique opportunity. Many thanks to my mentor, Gloria Feldt, for assisting me with the column and for championing my growth as a writer, feminist, and activist.

If you’d like to know what I’m up to, you can find me on Twitter (@maeganvaz) or you can find me studying and working in Washington D.C., where I’ll (finally!) be “walking the walk” this fall.

You Never Really Hear About Mitt Romney’s Ankles

OK, I admit it: when I wrote about the sitcom Veep, I fretted over the less than buttoned up wardrobe that the first female vice president character, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, wears.

I’m looking forward to seeing the USA Network new series on  Political Animals to see how they portray the Hillary-esque main character played by Sigourney Weaver.  So much pop culture, so little time, and meanwhile a serious election is going on!

Recently when I talked with Americas Radio News network about how the media treats women candidates, I had a chance to say more about this fraught topic.

And the Women’s Media Center blog posted this review of my America’s Radio News podcast.

In the wake of hints from the Romney presidential campaign that it may be considering a woman for the vice-presidential slot on the ticket, Women’s Media Center board member Gloria Feldt was on America’s Radio News Network to talk about media treatment given to female political candidates, and what kind of effect it may have on other women considering a run.

Says Gloria, “Women’s physical appearance and their sexuality is so often the first thing that you hear about, before you hear about what they believe about issues, or how they’ve voted on important legislation… We heard about Hillary’s ankles, her turquoise pantsuit, we heard about her hair, we heard about her cleavage, but how much did we hear about what she really thought about the issues. That’s the thing.”

ARNN co-host Molly Paige responds, “That’s true, you really never hear about Mitt Romney’s ankles.”

 The review of the America’s Radio News podcast was written by Michelle Kinsey Bruns and was published on the WMC blog.

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.

Sexist Screed Gone Too Far-Now Rush Must Go

It’s Women’s History Month. Let’s make Rush Limbaugh history. Here’s one action you can take. Scroll down to the bottom for more actions, and updates as they come in. His sponsors are bailing fast, thanks to you!

Politico Arena asks:
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh has been heavily criticized by the Georgetown University law student who he called a “slut” after she testified on Capitol Hill about women’s access to contraception.

“I’m not the first woman to be treated this way by numerous conservative media outlets, and hopefully I’ll be the last,” Sandra Fluke said on MSNBC’s “The Ed Show.” “This is really inappropriate. This is outside the bounds of civil discourse.”

Although Limbaugh infuriated Democrats by calling Fluke both a “prostitute” and a “slut,” he has shown no signs that he’ll issue an apology.

Should Limbaugh issue an apology? Or will the media firestorm blow over?

My Response: No apology is good enough. Rush must go. Period.

Women have had to put up with his “feminazi” epithets for far too long, but now, his labeling an upstanding young college student a “slut” and a “prostitute” for claiming her moral and human right to the very contraceptive coverage that allows millions of women to be sexually responsible should get him bounced from his host seat forever.

This woman-bashing is at its core about fear of women, especially women with power to determine the course of their own lives. Limbaugh has revealed the ugly sexism that underlies the warped logic of proponents of the Blunt amendment, the recent VA forced ultrasound bill, insurance coverage of contraception, and opposition to just about anything that might allow women to function as equal citizens.

If Don Imus lost his job over his “nappy headed ho” comment, then surely, as Rachel Larris at the Women’s Media Center put it, Rush Limbaugh’s latest insults to women are “Finally Too Much to  Bear.” Limbaugh’s vicious, misogynist screed is profane beyond the bounds of decency.

March is Women’s History Month. Time for women to make Rush Limbaugh history.

Here’s the link to my original post on Politico

Update and more action information 3/3/12:

Your voice makes a difference. Carbonite just peeled off:
For people who have asked about how to influence Limbaugh’s sponsors to dump him, here is heartening news-go thank them:

Carbonite Online Backup
A Statement from David Friend, CEO of Carbonite: A Statement from David Friend, CEO of Carbonite: “No one with daughters the age of Sandra Fluke, and I have two, could possibly abide the insult and abuse heaped upon this courageous and well-intentioned young lady. Mr. Limbaugh, with his highly personal attacks on Miss Fluke, overstepped any reasonable bounds of decency. Even though Mr. Limbaugh has now issued an apology, we have nonetheless decided to withdraw our advertising from his show. We hope that our action, along with the other advertisers who have already withdrawn their ads, will ultimately contribute to a more civilized public discourse.”

Other sponsors that have dropped Rush thus far are Quicken Loan, Sleep Mattress, and Sleep Mode.

Sign the petition to urge ProFlowers to dump Rush if you haven’t already done so, as they are holding out.

Find a more complete list of sponsors and advertisers that you can boycott or/and write to to urge them to stop sponsoring him.

Update 3/4/12: You all rock!

Here’s today’s Limbaugh update from @jljacobson at RH RealityCheck: ProFlowers has suspended their advertising on Limbaugh’s show, which is no small feat because … ProFlowers is owned by Liberty media and according to Forbes there are strong and direct ties between Liberty and Koch Brothers, as well apparently, with Bain Capital…. what a web!.

Here is a piece that lists all the sponsors who’ve dropped Limbaugh.

And here is a piece at Forbes.com that puts together the links between various actors.

This is great news, but don’t stop yet. Compliment the advertisers that dropped Rush, keep the pressure on those that are still recalcitrantly supporting his sexism, and remain vigilant about all sexism in the media.

Onward!

Good Move, MSNBC: Buchanan’s Out, Harris Perry’s In

Was MSNBC wrong to move Pat Buchanan out? I think that’s good news, but the better news is that Melissa Harris Perry is moving in.  I had the pleasure of doing  a practice run with her recently and look forward to the launch of her show this weekend. Vigilant media advocacy for fair treatment by groups like the Women’s Media Center (where I’m on the board) does pay off eventually.

Arena asks:

POLITICO’s Tim Mak reports that longtime political analyst Pat Buchanan is being dropped by MSNBC as a result of the controversy surrounding his book, “Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?” Buchanan argues he’s a victim of political correctness by critics of the book, which contains chapters titled “The End of White America” and “The Death of Christian America.” http://politi.co/Andwxq

Is this move justified? And why now, when Buchanan has been making substantively the same arguments for decades? Was Pat Buchanan’s Firing Fair?

My response: It’s time for these men, like Pat Buchanan, Foster Friess, and Rick Santorum to climb back under the prehistoric rock from whence they came. Their beliefs are the detritus of millennia of patriarchy, racism, homophobia, and assorted other oppressions. In a way, Pat’s unceremonious exit from MSNBC elicits my sympathy, because he really doesn’t know how much he doesn’t know, or how slavishly he’s holding onto the last vestiges of white male power hegemony over others that no longer works in today’s more expansive society. And MSNBC’s decision to end his contract is evidence that some progress is being made to keep the mainstream media more accountable.

And by the way, welcome to MSNBC, Melissa Harris Perry!

Here’s the link to my 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.

 

Will ‘man on dog’ bite Santorum?

For once I like title Arena gave to today’s question about whether Rick Santorum’s way out of the mainstream views about sex will get noticed after the media swarm in the wake of his IA caucus near-win. Please tell me you’ll help keep this buzz alive. Because in truth I don’t trust the press to keep shining a light on it–and there are devastating implications for women’s rights as well as gay rights if the public doesn’t know Santorum just how zealously would work to take them entirely away.

Rick Santorum (AP Photo/Bradley C Bower)Arena Asks: In a recent CNN interview, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum tried to put space between comments he made that appeared to equate homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality, Political Wire reports.

“In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing,” Santorum told the Associated Press during a 2003 interview. Santorum recently told CNN: “I didn’t connect them. I excluded them.”

Will these comments haunt Santorum on the campaign trail? Or will they be lost in the hubbub of the election cycle?

My Answer: Right now Rick Santorum is the Flavor of the Minute with the press. That’s the best thing that could possibly happen IF reporters keep on finding (which they will if they look) statements like his “man on dog” comparison to homosexuality. Santorum made that comparison, from which he is now trying to distance himself, in a slippery slope litany of what he speculates might happen if social definitions of marriage were to include the possibility of homosexual unions.

But he can’t distance himself from his repeated disdain for gays and lesbians let alone same sex marriage, IF the media keeps on doing its job. For example: “Is anyone saying same-sex couples can’t love each other? I love my children. I love my friends, my brother. Heck, I even love my mother-in-law. Should we call these relationships marriage, too?” (Santorum’s Philadelphia Inquirer column, May 22, 2008)

It will also become increasingly obvious that at the root of his opposition to marriage equality is medieval beliefs about the nature and purpose of human sexuality as anything other than procreative in the patriarchal position.

Santorum’s outrage about the Lawrence v Texas decision that struck down Texas’s anti-gay laws caused him to reveal his opposition to birth control too. Santorum said: “[If] the Supreme Court says you have the right to consensual sex within your home, you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery…It all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesn’t exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution, this right that was created, it was created in Griswold–Griswold was the contraceptive case–and abortion.” (AP interview, April 7, 2003)

He promises to go after contraception head-on if he were to become president: “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country…. Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that’s okay, contraception is okay. It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” (Speaking with CaffeinatedThoughts.com, Oct. 18, 2011)

Peel back those retrograde ideas about sex and “how things are supposed to be” and you inevitably find misogyny deeply rooted in fundamentalist and traditional Catholic theology.

Santorum’s warped and bigoted ideas about sex and social policy will only be lost in the shuffle IF the press fails to do its job and keep reporting them after today’s Santorum media-feast is over. It’s a big “IF” and the future of many fundamental liberties depend on it.

Here’s the link to my original post on Politico