My 5 Fave Parts of Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Address

The yoga class I took just before last night’s State of the Union (SOTU) address wiped me out. I fell asleep immediately afterward. Which is good because I had a chance to think overnight about the parts that resonated most with me.

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I’ve been tough on the president in the past, disappointed with his timidity and unwillingness to set a big bold agenda.

The other good thing about writing the day after is that others have fact checked. And the de rigeur liberal critique  as well as Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) really awful other-party rebuttal have been duly hashed and rehashed.

With the benefit of reflection, here are my three favorite parts of the speech.

1.    SOTU and women: On the domestic front, the president mentioned two hot button pieces of legislation poised to pass if Speaker Boehner (R-BadLoser) ever brings them up for votes:

We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, and free from the fear of domestic violence.  Today, the Senate passed the Violence Against Women Act that Joe Biden originally wrote almost 20 years ago.  I urge the House to do the same.  And I ask this Congress to declare that women should earn a living equal to their efforts, and finally pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this year.

(This drew a “Huge Yes!” from Pamela Scharf when I posted it on Facebook.)

And on the global front, but equally true at home:

We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our world enriches us all.  In many places, people live on little more than a dollar a day.  So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades: by connecting more people to the global economy and empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve and helping communities to feed, power, and educate themselves; by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation.

2.    SOTU and gun violence: This drew the biggest cheers as Obama did his rhetorical best: build to a revival preacher’s crescendo. And the backdrop of Gabby Giffords  and parents of slain children brought everyone but John Boehner (go figure, for once he showed no emotion) to tears.

It has been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is different. Overwhelming majorities of Americans – Americans who believe in the 2nd Amendment – have come together around commonsense reform – like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun. Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals. Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned.

Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.

One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton. She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.

Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote.

Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.

The families of Newtown deserve a vote.

The families of Aurora deserve a vote.

3.    SOTU and minimum wage:  Did the proposed $9 minimum wage surprise you? It did me.

We know our economy is stronger when we reward an honest day’s work with honest wages. But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong. That’s why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, nineteen states have chosen to bump theirs even higher.

Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour. This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families. It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets. In fact, working folks shouldn’t have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher. So here’s an idea that Governor Romney and I actually agreed on last year: let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.

4.    SOTU and early childhood education:  This warmed my former Head Start-teacher heart.

Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own. So let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance

5. The part of SOTU I liked best.  Karl Rove (who reminds me of the Riddler because he keeps popping up with his evil grin, every time you think a superhero has finally vanquished him), used a twitter hashtag #notserious to telegraph the Tea Party message of the day. A typical corrosive Rove tweet:

Karl Rove@KarlRove

Is it me or is this not one of POTUS’s better efforts? Lackluster response from even Dem’s side. #SOTU

Since you asked, I’ll answer, Karl. It’s you. The president’s speech was not just #serious. It hit a political home run. Now the real test–let’s see what action Congress takes, and how hard Obama fights for his agenda.

What do you predict? Tell me.

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 Young Politica: Why the Paycheck Fairness Act Will Narrow the Wage Gap

Last week, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would allow employees to discuss their salary information without the fear of companies pursuing legal action against them.mikulkski

The bill is on its third try. In a 2010 senate vote, the bill failed to get any Republican support, even by the female Republican Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), who all voted for the Lilly Ledbetter Act.

According to Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), the Fair Pay Act will:

• Amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to prohibit discrimination in the payment of wages on the basis of sex, race or national origin;

• Require employers to give equal pay for jobs that are comparable in skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions;

• Prohibit companies from reducing other employees’ wages to achieve pay equity;

• Require public disclosure of employer job categories and pay scales, without requiring specific information on individual employees; and

• Allow payment of different wages under a seniority system, merit system, or system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production.

The bill makes perfect sense—give all female workers a chance to see what their equal male counterparts are earning, and see if it matches up without getting sued by employers. In an economy where women earn some 33% less than males, why wouldn’t politicians see this as a good measure for ensuring equal rights?

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Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA)  summed it up best back in June 2012:

“Where are these women supposed to go? What are they supposed to do? Have an appointment with their congressman? Show the congressman their paycheck?”

The split seems to stem from complications that might affect employers. Crisitina Hoff Sommers, author of “Who Stole Feminism?: How Women Have Betrayed Women,” cites market forces as the difference in pay for similar jobs—like a business school professor (a male-dominated field) vs. a social work professor (a female-dominated field). Sommers argues that the gender theory behind the bill sees the higher wages as part of society’s sexist attitudes. “Under the bill, it’s not enough for an employer to guard against intentional discrimination,” Sommers said. “It also has to police potentially discriminatory assumptions behind market-driven wage disparities that have nothing to do with sexism. ”

Political opponents of the bill said that it could bring excessive litigation of the small business community. However, this excess litigation seems like a poor excuse on behalf of the Republican party.

Even if it were true, it seems like litigation is a small price to pay for a large boost in the economy and large boost for most middle-class Americans. Sommers’ argument presents me with a question: how do we value work today and is that how we should be valuing work when fighting for equal rights among both genders? Is it any surprise that we monetarily value a maid, a female-dominated work position, less than we value a janitor, a male-dominated work position, despite the fact that they both have similar jobs?

This bill is not radical legislation. It should not even be a topic of controversy among opposing parties. It helps facilitate equal rights among Americans. Who could possibly be against that?



Maegan Vazquez, a Texas born sophomore at New York University, brings her young woman’s lens on all things political to Heartfeldt Blog every Monday. Send news tips to

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.

Goldilocks SOTU: Not Too Big, Not Too Small, Just Right

“I am feeling so disempowered,” the woman prefaced her question to me at a “Passion to Action” conference in Grass Vally, CA, sponsored by the See Jane Do organization. But her face telegraphed very powerful emotions: anger, frustration, fear. It was a look we’ve seen on the faces of teabaggers as they shouted wild allegations and disrupted town halls across the nation.

This woman was no teabagger. She was a progressive Democratic woman, a key member of Obama’s base. The impassioned ones who swept him into office on a frothy wave of belief in the change he promised; the ones now feeling somewhere between skeptical and cynical.

“I want real health reform. What happened to that and what can I do about it?” The questioner lobbed this at me after my speech encouraging women to use our power as activists. If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, then it would be very important to listen to what women like her had to say about Obama’s State of the Union address.

So I went to the discussion boards, the White House Facebook page, Twitter, and posted a query on my own Facebook page to see what my friends were saying about his speech.  The focus on jobs and the economy was clearly the top priority for most people and rightly so. Capping government spending, being transparent about who’s getting the pork, becoming a global leader in solar energy, and a tax break for small businesses all got shout outs for being ideas that people appreciated. He apologized elegantly without showing weakness. He said bipartisan twice, enough to keep the centrists and pundits singing his praises, but he also challenged the Republicans to go beyond “no” and help him govern. These were not new initiatives, but we needed to hear them again to know he has not lost his way through the forest of governing.

It was remarkable how, in the absence of bold new goals, even small steps were glommed onto as being big enough. This tells me Obama continues to hold onto a reservoir of goodwill from Americans who truly want their president to be successful.

The folks over at RHRealityCheck were holding a liveblog that included a virtual drinking party. You were supposed to have a drink when certain predictable words or words they wanted to hear were mentioned. Amanda Marcotte said that if abortion were mentioned, she’d guzzle. No worries about Amanda overimbibing tonight.

One woman noted via e-mail that he had used the female gendered pronoun when talking about the need to stimulate small businesses and increase job creation and she appreciated that. I’d noticed it too but it was too small a gesture for me to celebrate.

Another woman posted in response to my Facebook question that his commitment to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was big to her, and it is—but didn’t he promise the same thing last year? And still there isn’t a concrete plan or timetable.

In the missed opportunity column, Obama might have seconded the initiative of Senator Chris Dodd (D-Ct) earlier in the day that he will soon schedule a hearing on the Paycheck Fairness Act, a top priority for many women’s groups such as the American Association of University Women.

In fact, Obama mentioned equal pay only in a rhetorical flourish, saying, “We are going to crack down on violations of equal pay laws—so that women get equal pay for an equal day’s work.” His other mention of women’s rights was a pledge to support women who march in the streets in Iran and girls trying to go to school in Afghanistan. No concrete promise, such as the U.S. joining the 180 other nations that have ratified CEDAW, and he seems to have completely forgotten his campaign pledge to place the Freedom of Choice Act to codify reproductive rights for women high on his agenda.

Like Goldilocks, he’s not interested in things too big or too small, but perhaps that’s just right for most of the country right now.

The president needed to achieve two things with this speech. First to reclaim his leadership mantle with the general public of voters.  The polls show he did that at least for the short term, with 83 percent of those questioned saying they approved of the speech. Seventy percent said after the speech they have the same priorities as the president compared to 57 percent before it. Second, while broadening his message sufficiently for independents, he needed to offer at least one big idea to elevate the spirits of the many people in his base who feel “disempowered” now.  That could have come with his focus on jobs. But it didn’t rise to Papa Bear size, not because it isn’t critically important but because details of the initiative were so sketchy.

Obama is still that same inscrutable man for all seasons, a blank tablet upon which many of us see our own stories written. He said he still wants a health care bill to be passed, and if anyone can tell him a good idea about how to solve the nation’s health care crisis, he wants to hear it.  This answer was significantly better than abandoning the issue—a real concern by many going into the speech—but I don’t think it’s going to assuage my activist questioner, and others like her.

Obama would have better served his own agenda by staking out at least one clear line in the sand. But overall, his pitch was just right to allow his presidency to live to fight another day and the porridge of hope continues to nourish the American dream.

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.

Goodyear, You Can Spare $360K for Lilly Ledbetter?

You know how I like to ask “so what are you going to do about it?” Well, here’s a great example, courtesy of blogger Joanne Cronrath Bamberger, aka PunditMom. She has graciously allowed me to crosspost her commentary from Huffington Post. For those of us who feel justice requires that Lilly Ledbetter receive compensation for her heroic efforts on behalf of all women’s paycheck equality, Joanne provides an easy way to communicate to Lilly’s former employer, Goodyear Rubber and Tire, and urge them to make good on the pay they in effect robbed her of over the years. Here you go, and don’t forget to drop your note to Goodyear:

As so many women have been basking in the glow of the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the news reports reminded us that even though Lilly has become a standard bearer for the fight for fair pay for women, Lilly herself will never see a nickel of the money that she sued Goodyear Rubber and Tire for.

The Ledbetter law overturned the Supreme Court decision denying Lilly the $360,000+ of back pay and benefits that the trial court had ruled she was entitled to, but the newly signed law isn’t retroactive; it only applies to cases going forward. So the 70-year-old, recently widowed Ledbetter, who worked in a tire factory for almost 20 years to support her family, only gets the psychic benefit of knowing she was able to help other women. Hopefully.

But here’s the thing — the appeals court rulings that denied Lilly her back pay were based on a now invalid argument. So, technically, the factual finding by the trial court that Goodyear discriminated against Ledbetter would stand today. Goodyear is steadfast that it didn’t do anything wrong, according to a statement Goodyear released following the Ledbetter signing ceremony, making the corporation sound like the victim, not Lilly.

While Goodyear likes to focus on the Supreme Court’s decision that it didn’t have to pay anything because Lilly didn’t file her case under a tortured reading of the existing statute of limitations, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg summed up what was really going on in her dissent. Ginsburg, as the lone woman on the court, reminded us of “the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.”

“The Court … overlooks common characteristics of pay discrimination. Pay disparities often occur, as they did in Ledbetter’s case, in small increments; cause to suspect that discrimination is at work develops only over time. Comparative pay information, moreover, is often hidden from the employee’s view. Employers may keep under wraps the pay differentials maintained among supervisors, no less the reasons for those differentials. Small initial discrepancies may not be seen as meet for a federal case, particularly when the employee, trying to succeed in a nontraditional environment, is averse to making waves.”

It’s really been bothering me that a corporation like Goodyear that reported profits of $602 million in 2007 (its most current annual SEC filing) most likely spent much more on attorneys’ fees than the $360K it could have paid Lilly, trying to convince us it didn’t practice gender discrimination. According to its 2007 annual report, Goodyear did, however, pay millions to settle other types of lawsuits. So I thought, wouldn’t it be refreshing if Goodyear would do the right thing and pay Lilly Ledbetter the back wages it should have paid her in the first place?
If we really want to honor Lilly and what she did for us and for our daughters (and our sons — they’ll benefit from this, as well), I say we should all call on Goodyear to pay Lilly what it should have paid her to begin with. You don’t even need an envelope or stamp. Here’s a link to the Goodyear site with the names and online form to contact Goodyear’s Global and Corporate Communications honchos.

Here’s a short letter you can feel free to use:

Dear Goodyear:

Now that President Obama has reversed the Supreme Court decision that denied Lilly Ledbetter her $360,000 in back pay, we call on you to do the right thing and pay Lilly what she should have been paid over the course of 20 years. While the new Ledbetter Law is not retroactive, think about all the public goodwill Goodyear would receive in these tough economic times if it stepped up and did the right thing by Lilly.

Sincerely yours,

I know it’s a long shot, but sometimes a little shame can go a long way. And given what Lilly did for us, I figured it’s the least we can try to do for her.

Joanne Bamberger is a professional writer, political analyst and social media consultant in Washington, D.C. She is the founder of the political blog, PunditMom, and is a Contributing Editor for News and Politics at BlogHer.

Best of Weeks, Not So Best of Weeks

The best: the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was the first bill signed into law by President Barack Obama. This photo says, better than a thousand words, the joy of this step forward for gender equality in compensation. That’s Lilly, the blonde in the middle (I won’t identify by her red jacket because it seems Senators Barbara Mikulski and Olympia Snowe and Rep.Eleanor Holmes Norton also got the memo).

Am I alone in noting the contrast between this photo, with its diverse group of people and the photo of old white men surrounding George Bush when he signed the abortion ban bill? Quite a sea change. Breathe out now. Guess which one of the signings I was invited to, and which one not.

But on to the not so best, for some happenings this past week were more like Washington as usual:

*The beached whale alarms bellowed by the Republican Right, shocked (!) that the Medicaid expansion provision of Obama’s stimulus package includes bureaucratic relief so states can, if they choose, extend preventive family planning health care to women who are above the poverty line but low income and uninsured. Well, apparently, the Democrats–the men at least–aren’t any more comfortable with the topic.

*The Democratic president’s lightening-swift and utterly gratuitous capitulation to those politically beached bloviators. As if they hadn’t known when they put the family planning extension into the stimulus package that it would be a red flag. Did they perhaps intend it as bait to draw the sting away from other vulnerable provisions? But if so, why pray tell did they have to choose the one aspect of the plan that had “woman” written on it?

*The media pundits making jokes when they had to say the words “stimulus” and “contraception”, because, well, isn’t sex always amusing? As in, not a serious issue for legislators to consider? Suddenly shy of controversy, Chris Matthews posited that family planning is a private matter, not for the government to consider. Where was his dismay these last eight years when the anti-choice right was plunging straight into Americans’ “private” reproductive decisions?

*Disputes within the women’s movement and family planning faithful. “Maybe this really doesn’t belong in the stimulus plan even though it is important.” “Maybe we don’t want to put forth the argument that family planning saves $4 for every $1 spent on health and welfare funding alone; it sounds too elitist.” Or, “Maybe we need to duck, withdraw the provision and quietly fight this battle behind the scenes so it doesn’t make news and stir up the opposition. As if the opposition wouldn’t notice. Meanwhile, Beltway veterans will say, we need Obama for so many other things. He’s removed the Global Gag Rule already. He issued an eloquent tribute to Roe v Wade. And he supports the Prevention First Act. What else do you want, they ask.

Maybe the best of next week will be the Prevention First Act, with (my fantasy) the addition of the Medicaid waiver provision that got cut out of the stumulus package. After all, Obama says family planning funding is a high priority for him, and TPM reports sources indicated to them that a bill could start moving very soon.

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.

Trading in “Barefoot and Pregnant” for Economic and Reproductive Justice

As Congress works through the economic stimulus package, representatives need to keep in mind the connection between a woman’s need to determine her reproductive life and her ability to benefit from and contribute to economic recovery and growth. (This is an exclusive commentary I wrote for the Women’s Media Center.)

Arkansas State Senator Paul Van Dalsem got a roaring laugh in 1963 at the then all-male Optimist Club when he railed at women lobbying to improve educational opportunities for African Americans. He said his home county’s solution would be to get an uppity woman an extra milk cow. “And if that’s not enough, we get her pregnant and keep her barefoot.”

Fast forward to January 2009. The relevance of barefoot and pregnant remains central to an inclusive and just America. Economic parity and reproductive justice are still intertwined, not only in the lives of individual women; they are indivisibly connected to our economic recovery as well.

While the 111th Congress awaits President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration for action on his proposed $775-billion stimulus plan, it’s considering two important pieces of legislation not included in the recovery package. Each is treated in isolation as “women’s issues.” Yet both are integral to the success of Obama’s economic stimulus.

The Prevention First Act, sponsored by Representative Louise Slaughter and others to expand access to family planning and reproductive health care, was introduced January 13 to virtually no fanfare and little media coverage. Two gender pay equity bills—the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act—passed the House of Representatives with a bit more hoopla a few days earlier. Here’s how they work together and with the economic recovery.

If a woman is to control anything in her life, she must first be able to control her own fertility—to decide whether, with whom, and when she will have sex, become pregnant, and bear a child. A Catholic priest first made the connection for me between economic and reproductive justice in three short sentences I’ll never forget: “The people in my parish are poor,” he said. “Who am I to tell them they should have a baby every year? I can’t feed or clothe their children for them.”

It was 1969, just a few years after Senator Van Dalsem uttered his famous phrase; I was teaching kindergartners in the Head Start program housed at the priest’s church. Since I wasn’t Catholic, I didn’t know how radical it was for a priest to advocate for birth control. I did know that when I got the birth control pill, I had been able to start college, decide that the three children I had were wonderful but enough already, and consider career possibilities. My job with Head Start didn’t pay much but it moved my family a step beyond paycheck-to-paycheck.

If a woman can’t decide when to have a child, she can’t reliably enter the workforce to earn income for her family’s support, and she can’t contribute her skills to economic growth. That simple equation remains today, exacerbated by our economy’s slide into deep recession.

Conversely, economic power inherently gives women greater power within the family and in society. Virginia Woolf wrote that when her Aunt Mary bequeathed her 500 pounds a year, she found financial independence of more value than even the right to vote. She felt freed from slavery, because she “need not flatter any man” in order to have food, clothing, and shelter.

A woman needs economic equality to freely and successfully make her own choices about sex, pregnancy, and childbearing. As recent news stories of women selling their eggs and use of their wombs have poignantly illustrated, a tough economy can prevent people from having children they desperately want, or push them to use their reproductive capacities for economic necessity. In a New York Times Magazine story, for example, a woman who served as a surrogate was doing so to help pay for her daughter’s college tuition. The daughter in turn was contributing to her college costs by selling her eggs.

Fairness and gender equity benefit everyone. As Linda Hirshman argues in a recent op-ed, while Obama compares his infrastructure plan to the Eisenhower era construction of the interstate highway system,

It brings back the Eisenhower era in a less appealing way as well: there are almost no women on this road to recovery. … Fortunately, jobs for women can be created by concentrating on professions that build the most important infrastructure—human capital. In 2007, women were 83 percent of social workers, 94 percent of child care workers, 74 percent of education, training and library workers (including 98 percent of preschool and kindergarten teachers and 92 percent of teachers’ assistants).

It’s simplistic to think that giving a woman access to preventive family planning services means she’ll find a great job in or out of the stimulus package. And families that plan and space their children don’t automatically become wealthy or happy.

Nevertheless, the fundamentals remain. For a thriving 21st century economy, America can’t afford to lose half its population’s contributions. The intersection between reproductive and economic justice must become as seamless today as “barefoot and pregnant” was in our history.

As a woman who used Title X funded birth control services—those to be expanded by the Prevention First Act—summed it up, “Times are hard and children are expensive.”

The Women’s Media Center (WMC) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-partisan organization making women visible and powerful in the media. Through our website, media training programs, and advocacy work, the WMC ensures that women are represented as they are: powerful newsmakers, informed experts, and sought-after media professionals. For more information, please visit I serve on the WMC board.

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.

Lilly Ledbetter’s Courageous Acts Pump Up Your Pocketbook

Hey, Women: Want to earn a cool half million?

That’s about what the average woman loses over a career lifetime due to gender inequities in pay for the same jobs as men.

So click here to Speak Up and demand the Senate pass two crucial pieces of legislation so that Barack Obama can sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act, as he has said he would do. In a historic vote, the House of Representatives on Friday passed both bills by substantial margins, largely along party lines. A Senate vote could come as early as this week.

No, these bills aren’t another financial bailout for ailing industries that don’t deserve them. They’re not a get-rich-quick scheme from late night television infomercial-land. Nor are they part of the badly needed but very expensive stimulus package—but they should be. Here’s why:

* Women may lose $434,000 in income, on average, due to the career wage gap.

* Women at all education levels lose significant amounts of income due to the career wage gap, but women with a college degree or higher lose $713,000 over a 40-year period versus a $270,000 loss for women who did not finish high school.

* Women in all occupations suffer from the career wage gap.

* The gap exceeds $300,000 in 15 states, $400,000 in 22 states, and $500,000 in 11 states.

These shocking findings come from the Center for American Progress study, “Lifetime Losses: The Career Wage Gap”, which analyzed the 40-year impact of the gender wage gap in all 50 states, using 10-year age groups of women and men aged 25-64.

If you’re an unmarried woman, the disparity is even greater. While women overall earn 78 cents to a man’s dollar, unmarried women earn just 56 cents, according to Women’s Voices, Women Vote. No surprise then that unmarried women are more likely to file for bankruptcy, live in poverty along with their children, and be hurt more by our current economic crisis.

Why are two pieces of legislation needed?

Lisa M. Maatz, American Association of University Women’s director of public policy and government relations, explains: “The tandem of both bills is critical, because the Ledbetter bill restores lost ground, while the Paycheck Fairness Act actually gives more teeth to the law and will provide better technical assistance and incentives to employers to follow the law in the first place.”

AAUW has mounted a “Keep the Change” campaign, said Executive Director Linda D. Hallman, because the paltry 1 cent (from 77 to 78 cents on the dollar earned by men) increase from 2006 to 2007 is “chump change, not real change.”

Some Republicans argued that the legislation would be an earmark for trial lawyers. But here’s what the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay bill’s namesake says about why it’s needed, in a letter she wrote to Congress:

Thirty years ago, Goodyear hired me to work as supervisor in their tire plant in Gadsden, AL. I sometimes wondered how my pay compared to my colleagues, but there was no way to know for sure because pay levels were kept strictly confidential.

Thanks to an anonymous tip I received shortly before my retirement, I finally got some hard evidence of real pay discrimination. I filed a complaint without delay, and at the trial, the jury found that Goodyear had discriminated against me in violation of Title VII. The jury awarded me more than $3 million in back pay and punitive damages.

Unfortunately, that good moment didn’t last long. First, because of damages caps in Title VII, the trial judge was forced to reduce that award to $300,000 — a mere ten percent of what the jury had awarded me and hardly more than a slap on the wrist to a company the size of Goodyear.

Then, in 2007, my case reached the U.S. Supreme Court. In a disappointing 5-4 ruling , the justices took away the entire award, including the back pay. The Court said I should have complained every time I got a smaller raise than the men, even if I didn’t know what the men were getting paid and even if I had no way to prove the decision was discriminatory.

Ledbetter still didn’t give up. She says that now she’s fighting for all the other women and girls who deserve equal pay for equal work.

It’s powerfully symbolic that the first two bills passed by the 111th Congress concerned fair pay for women. Women held the key to the 2008 elections, a fact not unnoticed in Washington’s “art of the possible” culture, to quote the late great Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill. The current Speaker, Nancy Pelosi told the New York Times, “This Congress has heard the message of change in the election.”

These bills clearly represent a stiletto boot on George W. Bush’s behind as he exits: he had promised to veto  the legislation had it reached his desk. Lilly Ledbetter and the large coalition of women’s organizations that worked diligently, building the support for paycheck fairness through the difficult Bush years, hope Obama’s first act will be to sign these bills.

In the department of courageous acts, it’s always up to voters to make easy for politicians to do the right thing, and difficult for them not to.

By her courage to act, Ledbetter ignited the movement for paycheck fairness that propelled both bills to victory.

So what are you waiting for, Ladies? Act now. You have a half-million at stake. Send your message to your Senators now.

And be sure to cc President-Elect Obama.

Lilly Ledbetter and Me

Update on Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 01:09PM

Thanks to People for the American Way for this video summary of Lilly Ledbetter’s story.

Update on Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 02:18PM
1/15 Senate successfully votes to vote on the  Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay act. (Senate rules reqire 60 votes to bring legislation to the floor. That’s why it is called a test vote in the press release below. This is good news, as the margin was very comfortable, even without the addition of the probably two additional Democratic senators, Burris and Franken.)

AAUW press release excerpt:

WASHINGTON – AAUW applauds the Senate for today’s positive, bipartisan test vote (72-23) on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (S. 181), the bill named for the Alabama grandmother who has become the national face of pay equity. AAUW urges the Senate to move quickly to final passage of the measure and to act swiftly to pass additional pay equity legislation.

Last week, with the passage of both the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (H.R. 11) and the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 12), U.S. House of Representatives sent a clear message that pay discrimination will not be tolerated and demonstrated a firm, bipartisan resolve to attack such discrimination on all fronts.

“While we strongly support the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, our members are clearly disappointed that the Senate hasn’t taken action on the Paycheck Fairness Act, too,” said AAUW Executive Director Linda D. Hallman, CAE. “Passing the Ledbetter bill is only a down payment on an election year promise to address pay equity vigorously.”

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.

Lilly Ledbetter, a Real War Hero, Could Help Obama Win

Little did I know a few weeks ago, when Carole Joffe and I wrote “It’s About Time Working Women Get Straight Answers from John McCain”, showing the connective tissue uniting economic and reproductive justice–you know, like the phrase “barefoot and pregnant”– and challenging McCain to clarify his positions on basic questions such as:

Do you believe in equal pay for equal work?

…that I would soon have the opportunity to meet the woman whose name has become synonymous with equal pay, Lilly Ledbetter. She’s a true hero of the ongoing battle for paycheck equality regardless of gender.  I was invited to a press briefing sponsored by AAUW (the American Association of University Women, in case there is anyone in America who doesn’t know the acronym of this large and powerful organization which has championed women’s educational and professional advancement since 1881). 

Lilly Ledbetter and yours truly at AAUW briefing on the status of equal pay legislation in Congress

This article on AAUW’s website explains the two equal pay bills and why they are critically needed to ensure American women are treated fairly and equitably when it comes to compensation:

[O]n May 29, 2007, the now infamous decision in the case of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court. In a contentious split decision, the Court turned 40 years of legal precedent and EEOC practice on its head, and in the process made it virtually impossible for victims of pay discrimination to protect their rights under Title VII. Under this new rule, employers cannot be held accountable for their discrimination after 180 days.

The sheer wrongheadedness of this decision moved Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg to read her dissent, aloud, from the bench, a very unusual event. It also caused a public outcry, and newspapers across the country editorialized against the Court’s action. The decision also galvanized Congress to right the Court’s wrong. AAUW’s report, together with the Ledbetter decision and the courage of Lilly Ledbetter, who continues to campaign tirelessly in the hopes that other women won’t face the same inequities she did, created a perfect storm that cemented the issue of equal pay for equal work on the congressional agenda.

Ledbetter, you know the minute you look at her and hear her speak in that soft Alabama twang, is the real deal. At 60, she was in the first wave of women who sought what used to be known as “nontraditional jobs”, and she was the only woman in her plant holding the supervisory job she had when someone anonymously dropped her a note with the information that would change her life.

In her company, it was against policy for employees to discuss salary with anyone else. This note informed her that she was being paid far less than men holding the same position, with equal or less seniority. She found out that it was true and decided it was an injustice that should be challenged. Though she asked other women in the plant to join her, and they all confirmed the rampant discrimination, none would buck the company for fear of losing their badly needed jobs. The men in management tried to push her out despite glowing performance revews. But Lilly pressed on. She eventually won her case and was awarded over $3,000,000 by lower courts before having the judgment reversed by the Supreme Court on procedural grounds.

Ledbetter and Linda Hallman, Executive Director of AAUW, made sure the audience knew that the $0.77 women earn on average to men’s $1.00 adds up to a whopping $300,000 lifetime loss. And at the rate the wage gap is closing, it’ll be 2057 before we reach parity. Salary level in turn affects pension and other retirement benefits. That plus women’s greater longevity are largely why women are twice as likely to die in poverty as men.

We already know, though much of the public does not, that John McCain opposes legislation that would restore protection for the civil right to equal pay for equal work. And we know, though much of the public does not, that Barack Obama supports it, because Lilly Ledbetter herself has been campaigning with him. But I think this war hero for women’s equal pay could help Obama even more by persuading him to push Congress to pass a bill this fall.

There are battles a leader takes because he or she is confronted by them. But there are also battles a leader should make because they are for a just cause. The battle for equal pay is clearly one of those just causes that should be front and center this election year. Lilly Ledbetter says she continues for the sake of the younger women just entering the workforce, and she speaks all over the country, urging them to be assertive about negotiating for their fair pay from the beginning of their careers.

It’s about time for working women to get Lilly’s message, but way past time for American women to get Congressional action on equal pay.

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.