The Young Politica: Dissecting The Susan Rice Conundrum

Before the November elections, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had already forthrightly assumed responsibility for the Benghazi debacle that resulted in the death of four Americans including much-admired Ambassador Chris Stephens’

But neither her statements nor subsequent departures of State Department officials has quieted the echo chamber of blame.  The buck stops at the top, and an independent panel report  found plenty of buck to lay on Clinton’s desk. She must own and start to fix the problems of inadequate security at US embassies before she departs.

Still, it’s hard to see the trashing of Susan Rice and the subsequent GOP drumbeat about Hillary Clinton as anything other than blatantly intended to discredit her stellar performance on the world stage this past four years and to mortally wound her candidacy (previously declared unbeatable by Newt Gingrich should she make a second presidential run in 2016.

As Meagan Vazquez points out in her “Young Politica” column below about Susan Rice, the facts are never just the facts but rather come laden with political and cultural meaning.

And by the way, I’m thrilled to tell you that Maegan is going to continue her column into the new year! So if you are one of the many followers of this smart column from a student’s point of view, we’ll return to publishing it on Mondays in 2013. See you then!

After the initial boredom post-election, the political media immediately focused on the eminence of the fiscal cliff. Since those talks are still going nowhere, media sought a new subject to sink their teeth into: Susan Rice and the secretary of state bid. Rice, who was being vetted to take over Hilary Clinton’s role as Secretary of State, has been the subject of scrutiny by some for being the ill-informed messenger to national media after the Benghazi terrorist attacks.

Rice went on five political talk shows saying that the newest information linked the Benghazi attacks to an anti-Islam video protest in Cairo. Rice was relaying the message from that day’s intelligence brief, which was the same information given to Obama that morning. By the time she was on air, however, the link had been debunked. The attacks were not linked to the events in Cairo, but rather, they were premeditated events linked to al-Qaeda.

Soon after Rice relayed the information provided to her, Senator John McCain slammed her at the Washington Ideas Forum for claims she later learned were not correct.

Complications arose after McCain said that he would join the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which  must first pass on nominations for secretary of state.

Even after Rice spoke to McCain and Linsey Graham, and admitted that her talk show statements were “partially incorrect,” Graham and McCain continued in their stance—they would not support Rice’s nomination.

In an effort to avoid any more complications, Rice withdrew her name from nomination. In a letter for the President, obtained by NBC News, Rice said:

“I didn’t want to see a confirmation process that was very prolonged, very politicized, very distracting and very disruptive because there are so many things we need to get done as a country and the first several months of a second term president’s agenda is really the opportunity to get the crucial things done.”

It seems odd that these two senators in particular would choose to attack Rice, especially since both of them have made blatantly false statements in front of a political forum. Perhaps we should remember also some of the statements by Colin Powell and Condeleeza Rice, too. The magnitude of their statements is infinitesimally greater than the slip up Susan Rice soon admitted was a mistake. Yet, their careers remain unblemished.

Maybe it was her race, maybe her gender, or maybe it was just bad timing. However, as pundit Keli Goff writes for The Root, there is some irony in seeing validity in “the man who presented Sarah Palin as presidential material labeled…a Ph.D., Rhodes scholar and former assistant secretary of state—unqualified.”

The Young Politica: The Wage Gap Starts Soon After You Receive Your Diploma

For many college-aged readers, loans are the reason we get the opportunity to get to college. We spend thousands of dollars in virtual money to get an education in the hopes that it will begin to pay off as soon as we get a job. Yet, despite the fact that we advance in our career fields, it seems like women’s investments aren’t paying off as quickly as our male counterparts.

A recent report released by the American Association of University Women, Graduating to Pay a Gap, found that the pay gap persists and even begins soon after graduation

—“women one year out of college who were working full-time earned, on average, just 82 percent of what their male peers earned.”

It is important to note that even after variances like college majors, number of hours worked, and career industries were accounted for, women still earned less than men. One third of the gap cannot be explained by differences in education or unemployment, according to AAUW.

AAUW says gender discrimination is part of the reason for this wage gap. The organization also points to the decisions women make in their careers.

As NPR reports, men are four times more likely to ask for a raise. The study also reported that many women are perceived as more aggressive than men when asking for the same raise. Perhaps it’s due to the general perception of women in the workplace. Perhaps it’s women’s general lack of negotiation skills. Or perhaps, as this UC Berkley study suggests, women should revert to antiquated gender norms and flirt their way to the top.

The latter study, I hope, should become a thing of the past, if we follow a few of AAUW’s recommendations. The report has quite a few suggestions to help close the wage gap. Some significant recommendations for high school and college students include considering future earnings when choosing a major and educating yourself about loans before getting them.

For recent college graduates, the report suggests considering future earnings when choosing a job to pursue, consider joining a union, and knowing what your skills are worth in the job market. Lastly, the report calls policy makers to action—asking for the protection of Pell grants and for Congress to increase the standards of federal equal pay laws.

All of these recommendations are steps in the right direction. They are infrastructural building blocks aimed at providing solutions. It makes more sense than anything we have tried to use to close the wage gap. Now, it seems, we have a grasp on change’s functionality. However, AAUW cannot force the change. Readers and policymakers must embrace it.

Whether you’re a first generation college student or you’re part of a legacy set to go to an Ivy, be aware the wage gap follows you straight after graduation.  As AAUW’s study found, even just a year after college—when both men and women are equally educated and have the same amount of work experience—the wage gap impedes on women’s efforts towards equality.

This pay difference is not blatantly clear, nor does it apply equally to every woman. However, as this study shows, it affects you sooner than you think.

Educate yourselves, Young Politicas!

Faith-based Support for Abortion Rights

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We meet courageous clergy from many faiths:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

Will Equal Pay Make You Submissive in Bed?

I raise this question because today I experienced the disorienting juxtaposition of Equal Pay Day with the retro notion that women’s growing economic power makes us want to be dominated during sex.

Equal Pay Day marks the day in April when women wear red to signify we’re in the red, earning (by 2011 calculations) but 77.4 cents to men’s $1. And for African-American and Hispanic women the differential is significantly more extreme.

This marker of financial non-power came just after Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker disappeared the state’s equal pay law. It also coincided with author and journalism professor Katie Roiphe’s implausible analysis of the S and M-loving novel Fifty Shades of Gray.

A paradox in her own mind, Roiphe opines:

“It is intriguing that huge numbers of women are eagerly consuming myriad and disparate fantasies of submission at a moment when women are ascendant in the workplace…when—in hard economic terms—women are less dependent or subjugated than before.

It is probably no coincidence that, as more books like The Richer Sex by Liza Mundy and Hanna Rosin’s forthcoming The End of Men appear, there is a renewed popular interest in the stylized theater of female powerlessness…We may then be especially drawn to this particular romanticized, erotically charged, semi-pornographic idea of female submission at a moment in history when male dominance is shakier than it has ever been.”

Really? And whose preferred narrative do we think this zero-sum “power-over” social model is?

Even if we bought the logical framework, assertions of female dollar dominion are greatly overstated. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 28.9% of wives in dual income families out earn their husbands. If my elementary school math holds up, that means more than 70% of men still out earn their wives.

And because women don’t negotiate as aggressively as men and don’t toot their own horns as flagrantly, each woman who works for pay outside the home (note the language here, Hilary Rosen) gets ever-farther behind in the paycheck race, amassing a half-million dollar average deficit by retirement age.

Here’s a dandy little chart created by Catalyst that lays it out starkly.

Men Hold the Vast Majority of Positions of Power (and Remuneration) in the United States.

Table: Percentage of Women and Men in Positions of Power in the United States, 2011

Women Men
% of CEOs in the Fortune 500 3.4% 96.6%
% of Top Earners in the Fortune 500 7.5% 92.5%
% of Executive Officers in the Fortune 500 14.1 % 85.9%
% of Board Seats in the Fortune 500 16.1% 83.9%
% Working in Congress 16.8% 83.2%
% Working in Senate 17.0% 83.0%

Sex and the Power of the Paycheck

For men, the “mine is bigger than his” ideal, whether we’re talking paycheck, possessions, or penis, isn’t mitigated by any cultural narrative of a presumed desire for powerlessness. So why should a desire for powerlessness be inherently true for women?

Which doesn’t mean women don’t experience real power ambivalence issues, as I found in my research for No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power.

It’s hard to change a culture while you’re living in it, and there’s a big risk in upending any power structure. You lose the comfort of familiar misery. People say bad things about you. You have to actually think. To make choices and take responsibility for what you choose.

Co-option becomes rampant on all sides of this equation. The rewards of living within the patriarchal narrative are so high and the benefits of bucking it so low. Why else would Tina Brown publish Roiphe’s logically torqued submission theory?

But think about the alternative to embracing the power of the paycheck:

Think of all those freezing days in January, when the dark comes early. Those miserable gray mornings in February, when the ground is covered in slush and the car refuses to start. Those blustery days in March when spring seems like it’s refusing to ever come. Think of working all those days for nothing, zilch, nada. That’s what pay disparity looks like.

The late Nobel-winning economist Paul Samuelson quipped that “women are just men with less money.” That’s not funny if you’re a woman struggling to raise a family on your own, and it’s not right or just regardless of one’s financial position.

So it’s incumbent upon women to do as PBS “One-on-One” host Maria Hinojosa said as she wrapped up a New York Women’s Agenda panel on equal pay with an exhortation to action, “You have to learn to eat your fear, to turn the tables on the power relationships.”

Pay Disparity = Power Disparity

For as long as women are paid less than men for the same work, women will have less power in politics, in the workplace, and in personal relationships.

Economic inequality narrows the possibilities to define our lives at work, in politics and civic life, and in our relationships. True economic equality, on the other hand, would allow us to redefine the meaning of consent, sexual and otherwise, and create healthier relationships that are mutually rewarding in all spheres of life.

This kind of power to, not the domination-submission framework of power over, is what our country needs to assure that the intelligence and capabilities of all our citizens are used most effectively. Even those—male or female, high earners or not—who like to be spanked now and again during sex.

I hate to throw water on Katie Roiphe’s latest feminist-disparaging theory, but I feel a lot sexier after I’ve earned a nice book advance or a fair speaking fee than during an economic dry spell. And after I’ve deposited my money, I’ve never once had a fantasy of being submissive. Not even when I’ve out-earned my spouse.

Personally, I find paycheck power—mine, that is—quite an effective aphrodisiac, with no concomitant need to be subjugated or humiliated. But I do get off on verbally spanking legislators who don’t support equal pay policies.

Here’s a link where you can use your power to tell your members of Congress to vote for the Paycheck Fairness Act. Maybe our collective voices will whip them into submission.

Do it right now. I promise you’ll get a thrill.

And then, walk through the doors of power that have been opened for you; join me on Thursday, April 19, 2012, in a teleconference event, Sister Courage: How Movement Building can Break Glass Ceilings and Change the World. This Ten Buck Talk is sponsored by The Daily Thrive, a She Negotiates project.

Can Rick Santorum Ban Porn?

Get power-to without leaving home!

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


Politico Arena asks:

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum has promised to wage war on pornography, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

If elected, he would order his attorney general to “vigorously enforce” existing laws that “prohibit distribution of hardcore (obscene) pornography on the Internet, on cable/satellite TV, on hotel/motel TV, in retail shops and through the mail or by common carrier.”

Could Santorum turn this topic into a successful campaign strategy?  Or does the idea step on First Amendment rights?

My Response: Rick Santorum has just laid bare (so to speak) one more layer of a debate about the nature and purpose of human sexuality that he is sure to lose. Not because porn is a good thing—and of course existing laws should be enforced, duh—but because when push comes to shove, the American people don’t want government telling them what to read or watch or do in their private sex lives. What they do want is jobs and an economy that works again. And voters are very likely to connect Santorum’s focus on pornography with his overall sex police-like attacks on contraception and women’s rights.

America has a difficult and bifurcated relationship with sex. Our culture uses it to sell almost everything from cars to toothpaste; magazine covers sizzle with promises of sexual prowess; and popular culture lyrics and story lines revolve around it. At the same time, Utah bans teaching sex education that includes honest information about the subject, Texas and Virginia pass laws requiring women whose sexual activities resulted in pregnancies to be assaulted with 10-inch ultrasound “shaming wands” (to quote Doonesbury), and Rush Limbaugh joins Senate Republicans in attacking women who want contraception covered by their health insurance plans.

What we really need is to foster a healthier relationship with sex that acknowledges the existence of human sexuality as part of life, educates young people to know how to be safe and healthy when they eventually have sex, and helps adults as well to enjoy sex responsibly in healthy relationships.

How about that in place of an anti-porn campaign, Mr. Santorum?

Wear The Shirt And Make Women’s History

“Well behaved women rarely make history” ~ Laurel Thatcher UlrichWear the Shirt and Make Women's History Photo, Gloria in TShirt

I often wear a t-shirt bearing historian Ulrich’s advice because people react with a chuckle and it starts conversations. Conversations we need because women’s history is rarely given its due.

March is Women’s History Month, so designated because history has largely been framed through the male lens, recorded by male pens, and thus not surprisingly showcases men as the protagonists and the leaders; women, if noticed at all, play supporting roles (unless of course they take “male” personas, such as generals).

Yet women were everywhere, giving birth to everyone, among many other accomplishments. I’ve often wondered whether, if women had been documenting history for the last millennium, keeping peace and making things rather than making war and destroying things would be the central organizing narrative.

Then, once history is made, it seems so normal that it can easily be taken for granted. When I asked my grandson if he would vote for a woman for president, he responded “Yeaaah” in that drawn out way that made it sound as though I had three heads to ask such a dumb question.

And Sunday’s New York Times front page boasted a photo of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde—with little comment about what a power shift those two symbolize. Yet, as Lagarde said at the recent Women in the World conference, the global financial meltdown might not have occurred if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters—or at least Lehman Brothers and Sisters. History has consequences for the future.

Women’s History: A Revolutionary Shift

Until the 1970’s, the topic of women’s history was virtually nonexistent in public consciousness. It wasn’t until 1978 that the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women first initiated a “Women’s History Week”. They chose the week of March 8 to make International Women’s Day—established in 1909 to highlight the need for a strong working women’s agenda—part of it.

The response was so overwhelming that by 1987, the entire month of March was designated as Women’s History Month by a bi-partisan Congressional resolution.

The inception of Women’s History Month marked a revolutionary shift in thinking about whose actions are worth recording. Yet most history curricula still under-report women’s history and history made by women.

When I show students in my Women, Power, and Leadership class, most of whom are Women and Gender Studies majors or minors, photos of two dozen of the most influential women in American history, few recognize anyone other than perhaps Gloria Steinem in her aviator glasses. They all recognize pop culture icons such as race car driver Danica Patrick. But few if any know about Ada Lovelace who created the underlying concepts that enabled Steve Jobs to envision Apple. She’s been called the first computer programmer.

Ever hear of her? Not likely.

History Sheds Light On Today’s Struggles

That’s why during our annual attention to Women’s History Month it’s as important to learn and to teach history as to celebrate it.

With recent legislation on the state and federal levels seeking to force women to endure jamming unnecessary ultrasound probes into their vaginas, allow employers to deny women health services, while the Paycheck Fairness Act languishes without a hearing in Congress and the motherhood penalty for female employees remains rampant, it’s urgent that women’s historic and contemporary struggles for our most fundamental rights are studied and understood.

By “wearing the shirt” (No Excuses Power Tool #6), we begin to appreciate our own history. And when we know our history (No Excuses Power Tool #1), we can create the future of our choice.

Eleanor Roosevelt realized this and that’s why she became more or less the first blogger. She wrote “My Day”, a 500-word syndicated newspaper column six days a week from 1935 until her death in 1962 in order to influence policy through a medium accessible to a woman. “Without equality,” she said, “there can be no democracy.” She was more noted for her work to advance racial equality, but she clearly included women in that declaration: “The battle for the individual rights of women is one of long standing and none of us should countenance anything which undermines it.”

The gravel-voiced former congresswoman, Bella Abzug, once said, “Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein get appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman schlemiel to get as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel.”

We’ll know we have social and political gender parity when women’s visibility in the making of history, and in the telling of it, will be, well, just normal.

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

How Far Women Have Come and Where They’re Going

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hillary Clinton, Beijing 1995

It was, you might say, an ovular moment.

Where are women today? How far have we come?

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

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

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

  18 female elected heads of state

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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