Why Flex Time Is the #2 Most Important Employee Benefit

A big barrier to women’s leadership parity was overlooked in the recent brouhaha about Facebook and Apple covering employees’ insurance for egg freezing.

These companies are not, as headlines screamed “paying women to freeze eggs.” And I see nothing wrong with covering fertility treatments that though still far from fully effective, can give women childbearing options men naturally have, and often exercise with trophy wives.

But next to quality child care, flex time–much more than high tech fertility–is the most effective benefit companies could give women, and increasingly, men as well, to enhance opportunities to advance their careers while garnering better retention rates and job satisfaction without compromising productivity.

October 21, has been declared National Flex Day by workingmother.com for good reason. National_FlexDay_Badge

As negotiation expert Victoria Pynchon put it in her Linked In Pulse post, “You deserve a family-friendly workplace, not an egg-farm.”

Much has changed for the better

When I entered the paid employment world after my three children entered elementary school, neither egg freezing technology nor flex time were options.

One day during my first full year of work teaching Head Start kindergarten, my seven-year-old son, home from first grade with the flu, called to say he’d caught the toaster on fire and I’d better come home right away.

I raced home wild with fear that I would find him injured, that the house would burn down before I arrived, that most of all I was a BAD MOTHER.

This was before cell phones. So I couldn’t find out more till I arrived home. Acrid burnt toast odor met me the door. My eyes watered as much from relief as from the fumes, upon finding that my son was in need of hugs, but sustained no injuries, and there were no irreparable property damages.

His dad was due home from working his night shift shortly. I had taken a chance that I could safely leave my son for an hour while I rushed across town to fulfill my work obligation. I loved my job and the income was important to our family’s ability to pay our basic bills.flexday

These are the kinds of choices workers still face every day. True, some jobs are more amenable to flextime than others. In my case, twenty children arriving at school that morning had to be greeted by an adult. And certainly the children in my class were from homes where their parents were even less likely to have flexible jobs. So they needed a teacher to arrive on time as much as I needed to be able to go home to take care of my child.

Given that teachers are predominantly female, and women still are the predominant caregivers in most families, it would have made sense for my school to buck the budget pressures and hire a floating teacher or substitutes for such situations. Because they’re bound to happen to all human beings at some time or another.

Too much is still frozen in time

Things have not changed sufficiently, despite important progress and examples of creative flex time policies reported by the Wall Street Journal.

According to MomsRising.com “Mom’s Manifesto”,

From the highly paid to those making minimum wage, far too few women in America have flexible work options—almost three-fourths of working adults state they don’t control their work schedules…The lack of flexible work options often leads women to quit needed jobs.

This is a problem because most families need two working parents to support their family, many women want and need to continue their careers, and when women take time out of the workforce they face huge wage hits, or pay cuts, when they later return (as 74 percent do within two years). These wage hits take a life-long toll: On average, women take an 18 percent cut in their pay, a significant wage hit, for an average of 2.2 years out of the labor force—with women in business sectors taking an increased hit of 28 percent. For those women who stay out of the labor force for three or more years, the news is even bleaker: A 37 percent loss of earning power.

Designating a day to promote flextime is a step forward. But let’s not rely on Karma to make the real deal happen, as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella advised women regarding their pay raises. No, it’s time to campaign hard for policies that allow flex time, where the work delivered is more important than time spent behind a desk.


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.

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.

Romney Skewered by Candidate He Endorsed?

Indiana GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock told debate viewers last night that he opposes abortion even in the case of rape, because pregnancy from rape is “something that God intended to happen.” This occurred just as Mourdock’s campaign unveiled a new on-camera endorsement from Mitt Romney.

To his credit, Mourdock’s opponent, Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly, later said that Mourdock’s comments didn’t reflect what “my God or any God” would intend to happen. And it’s no secret that most Americans, including Romney by own official campaign statements, reject such extremist views.

But Mourdock’s comments can’t help but damage Mitt Romney by association. Such a wild-eyed position by a candidate he has endorsed drives one more nail into Romney’s campaign coffin by revealing the stark truth about the extreme anti-woman positions the Romney campaign has been forced to take by the extreme right-wing of his party.

Just as Todd Akin did with his misogynistic attempt to parse what kind of rape is “legitimate” and what is not, Mourdock cruelly dismissed women’s moral autonomy and even their right to defend their own bodies against the assaults of their attackers. He even invokes God’s name to justify his position.

This is just one more illustration that the right-wing war on women’s fundamental human right to reproductive self-determination remains in full battle array. This conflict has nothing to do with abortion or babies or what God wants; it is a full-out culture war and its objective is to take away the economic, social, and political gains women have made over the last 50 years. It’s the ultimate way to keep women powerless—locked physically in those binders Mitt talked about.

Sadly, the formerly moderate Mitt Romney has proactively chosen to align himself with retrograde thinkers like Mourdock, and he is likely to pay the price.

This post was originally a response to a question asked in Politico Arena. My answer is 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.

The 2012 Election: Could our reproductive future be even worse than our past?

Double bonus of Sister Courage today! This is a guest post by a woman leader I admire about a woman leader I admire.

Both have made many contributions to women’s reproductive rights, health, and justice. But neither Carole Joffe—author, researcher, and professor at the UCSF Bixby Center—who wrote this piece, nor its subject, filmmaker extraordinaire Dorothy Fadiman, is about to slow down her quest for women’s full equality. It’s my honor to feature them on Heartfeldt.

They raise profound questions voters must consider when they go to the polls. For those who say so-called ‘women’s issues’ are peripheral to the political debate, I say our daughters’ futures hang in the balance. What could be more important?

Watching the haunting images in Dorothy Fadiman’s new compilation, “Choice at Risk,” drawn from her award-winning PBS abortion rights trilogy, is even more unsettling than it was before.

For years, I have shown Fadiman’s films about abortion to students, finding her work the most effective way to communicate to young people both the horrors of the pre-Roe v Wade era—as shown in her Oscar-nominated  film, When Abortion was Illegal—and the continual threats to abortion rights since legalization.  The third film in the trilogy, The Fragile Promise of Choice, offers a searing portrayal of the violence and harassment that abortion providers undergo as they struggle to meet the needs of their patients.

But now, writing these words, I feel that this talented filmmaker, by editing her 2 ½ hour body of work into clips and mini-docs, is showing us in chilling detail, not only our past, but our possible future. A future, moreover, that may be even worse, in some respects, than the pre-Roe era she has so ably documented.

How could anything be worse than the era of the back-alley butchers and women attempting to self-abort in dangerous ways?

Here’s one set of circumstances that could conceivably be worse. Even in the pre-Roe era, the medical community had the authority to approve some abortions, when the life or the health of a pregnant woman was at risk, or when serious anomalies were detected in the fetuses of pregnant women. To be sure, like so much else in American society, class privilege was a factor here as well: middle and upper class women were far more likely to obtain so-called “therapeutic abortions” than poorer women. But at the least, there existed a consensus among physicians, and among most sectors of the general population, that certain situations warranted an abortion, even if the procedure was not generally available.

That consensus, however, is not shared by the contemporary Republican party. The 2012 Party platform calls for an absolute ban on abortion, and contains no language for exceptions in the case of rape, incest, or—astonishingly—threats to the life of the pregnant woman. Recently, the Orwellian-named “Protect Life Act,” (H.R.358 passed in the Republican-controlled Congress by a vote of 251-172, (including 15 Democrats who voted with the majority). This bill, among other things, stipulates that hospitals may “exercise their conscience” and refuse abortions to women in life-threatening conditions. Given the slim majority Democrats now hold in the Senate (which has prevented this bill from being voted on in that body), and given the certainty that President Obama would veto such a bill, so far this legislation has gone nowhere.

But what would happen with this kind of bill if Republicans controlled the Senate? And would a President Romney sign such a bill? In recent days, in light of the media circus that has surrounded the Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin’s remark about “legitimate rape,” Mitt Romney has stated that while he supports the overturning of Roe v Wade, he favors exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the pregnant woman. But that is not very reassuring. Because during the Republican primary season, when asked by Mike Huckabee, a leading power broker in the Religious Right, if he supported “Personhood” amendments, Romney’s answer was an enthusiastic  “absolutely!”

Memo to Mitt Romney: You can’t both be in favor of exceptions to an abortion ban and “absolutely” support Personhood amendments. These amendments make clear that a fertilized egg has the status of a living person—under this logic, aborting a fetus conceived as a result of rape or incest would be the same as murder.

But what about when a pregnant woman’s life is at stake? Whose life would take precedence then, the woman or the fertilized egg inside her? While the overwhelming majority of Americans would say of course the woman’s life should be saved, here is what Paul Weyrich, one of the founders of the Religious Right had to say about such situations:  “I believe that if you have to choose between new life and existing life, you should choose new life. The person who has had an opportunity to live at least has been given that gift by God and should make way for new life on earth.”

So this is the situation American women face as we head into the November 2012 election: the Republican presidential candidate has, in his career, been all over the place with respect to abortion, but currently, at best, would allow abortion only in very limited cases; his vice-presidential running mate, Paul Ryan, doesn’t even approve of those limited exceptions; the current Republican Congress is on record saying its OK to let pregnant women die in hospital corridors and be refused life-saving care.

Fadiman’s “Choice at Risk” project provides a constellation of easily shared short media bites, all of which bring this possible future into focus.

If women, and the men who care about them, don’t want Mitt Romney picking the next Supreme Court Justices, or Paul Ryan being one heartbeat away from the presidency, or a House and Senate controlled by fanatics deciding on public policy, there is only one way to prevent all this: Vote.

 

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.

 

Carole Joffe, PhD, is a professor at the UCSF Bixby Center’s Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) Program and a professor of sociology emerita at the University of California, Davis.  Her research focuses on the social dimensions of reproductive health, with a particular interest in abortion provision. In January 2010, Dr. Joffe’s book, Dispatches from the Abortion Wars: The Costs of Fanaticism to Doctors, Patients, and the Rest of Us, was published by Beacon Press. In 2010, Dr. Joffe received the Irwin Cusher Lectureship by the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals.  In 2006, Dr. Joffe was awarded the Public Service Award by the Academic Senate of the University of California, Davis.


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.

Margaret Sanger’s Obscenity?

Happy birthday, Margaret Sanger!

This column is in honor of either the 133rd or the 130th birthday of the founder and best known leader of the American birth control movement. Ever vain, she lopped three years off her age in the family Bible.

But her strengths far outweighed her foibles. Last night, I went to a screening of “Half the Sky”, a documentary film made from Nick Krisof and Sheryl WuDunn’s blockbuster book. While Kristof and WuDunn are lauded for saying women’s rights are the great moral imperative of the 21st century in their new book, Margaret Sanger said the essentially same thing 100 years ago.

Yet the same battles over women’s bodies and lives are still being fought today.

I wrote the column below (originally published in the New York Times in 2006 ) to mark the 90th anniversary of her first birth clinic. It seems a worthy tribute to Margaret Sanger today, regardless of how many candles should be on her cake.

By the way, the Times gave the column its title, and I hated it. I added the question mark today. Let me know what you think, about that and about the rest of the story.

 

When you tour the Lower East Side Tenement Museum’s restoration at 97 Orchard Street, you walk through the experience of the immigrants who arrived in waves at the turn of the 20th century, often to live five or six to a tiny room. According to the 1900 census, the 18 wives in the Orchard Street building had given birth to 111 children altogether, of whom 67 were then alive.

A 40 percent infant and child mortality rate sounds shocking now. Back then it was the norm. Maternal mortality was 99 percent higher than it is today; 40 percent of those deaths were caused by infection, of which half resulted from illegal or self-induced abortion. Birth control was to revolutionize women’s health. But it would take a social revolution to get there.

In 1912, Margaret Sanger was a nurse serving poor Lower East Side women like Sadie Sachs, a mother of three who had been warned that another pregnancy would kill her. When Sadie asked her doctor how to prevent pregnancy, he told her to tell her husband to sleep on the roof. Pregnant again, Sadie self-induced an abortion, contracted an infection and died.

Sanger began to address women’s lack of information about birth control by writing a sex education column called “What Every Girl Should Know” for The Call, a socialist newspaper. But in 1914, a warrant was issued for Sanger’s arrest. She stood accused of violating the Comstock law, which made it a crime to circulate “obscenity” through the mail.

Passed in 1873 in response to pressure from a crusader named Anthony Comstock, the law defined information about contraception or abortion as obscenity. Comstock boasted that he destroyed hundreds of tons of “lewd and lascivious material,” including 60,000 “obscene rubber articles,” otherwise known as condoms.

In place of Sanger’s column, The Call ran an empty box that read: “What Every Girl Should Know — nothing, by order of the United States Post Office!” Never intimidated, Sanger published “The Woman Rebel,” a periodical intended to challenge Comstock laws directly. She then fled to Europe, where she visited a birth control clinic in the Netherlands and began to envision setting up a network of clinics throughout the United States.

By the time she returned to America, public opinion was swinging her way, and she sensed the time was right for action. On Oct. 16, 1916, Sanger opened America’s first birth control clinic in the Brownsville district of Brooklyn. Her sister, Ethel Byrne, was the nurse; it would be some time before they could get a doctor to join the effort. Handbills in English, Yiddish and Italian advertised the clinic throughout the neighborhood.

The police closed that clinic 10 days and 464 patients later. But Sanger, who would go on to establish the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, had founded something much larger than a clinic: she ignited a movement for women’s reproductive freedom.

During the 20th century, this movement won such decisive victories that today many people cannot believe they could ever be reversed: birth control and then abortion were made legal; better contraceptive methods, like the pill, were developed; and the government started financing family planning for low-income women. Today, more than 99 percent of Americans have used birth control.

When Sanger opened her clinic, women wouldn’t get the vote for four more years. And yet the debates of her day over suffrage and contraception sound strikingly familiar to modern ears. Would such policies promote women’s equality or destroy the family? Would they advance justice or spread promiscuity? Where was the line between medical care and pornography? The answers, then as now, depend on your views about women, sex and power.

The current struggle over birth control, abortion and sex education make clear that courageous actions like Sanger’s are as necessary now as they were 90 years ago. For if anyone doubts that women’s reproductive freedom has been crucial to American progress, I recommend a short walk through the lives of the women of 97 Orchard Street.

 

 

 


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.

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.

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.

 


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.