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Rebirth in Virginia: The ERA in the 21st Century

ERA

Image credit: ERA Action, We Are Women Coalition and Progressive Democrats of America

This week, activists in Virginia are working to convince their legislators to do something that has not been done in the 21st century: ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Hard as it may seem to believe, the Equal Rights Amendment, the 90 year-old brain child of suffragist Alice Paul and bastion of 60s and 70s era feminism, is still not part of the U.S. Constitution. As a result, we face the reality that in 2014, the right to equal protection, regardless of gender, is not the law of the land.

To change this, ERA activists face two daunting challenges. First, the ERA did not become law in the 1970s because it fell three states short of the 38 state (three-fourths of 50) ratification threshold set forth by the Constitution. Indiana, the 35th state, ratified the ERA in 1977. No other states have ratified it since. Secondly, when the ERA was proposed to Congress in 1972, it included a ratification deadline, a deadline that passed way back in 1982. So ERA proponents including activists from the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) have a two-pronged battle plan: 1) get Congress to approve removal of the ratification deadline (there are resolutions in the House and the Senate to do just that ) and 2) get at least three more states to ratify the ERA.

And that brings us to this week’s activity in Virginia. Virginia’s Senate already passed the most recent ERA bill but approval in the House is proving to be a tougher nut to crack. Delegate Mark Cole, Chair of the House Privileges and Elections Committee, questions the legality of the bill and has said he will not bring it out of committee to the floor for vote. Proponents of the bill hope to change that. On Wednesday, February 19, PDA will stage a call-in day in which Virginia voters can call, tweet, or email their delegates, House Speaker William Howell and/or Delegate Cole to ask them to bring the bill to the floor. in addition, there is an online petition asking Delegate Cole to bring the bill for a vote. According to PDA’s National Deputy Field Director, Andrea Miller, the petition will be delivered to the House Privileges and Elections Committee on Friday morning.

Also on Friday, activists plan to line the hallways outside the Committee room in a “silent sentinel” to send a message that Virginia citizens, particularly women, are watching what the delegates do. Friday may be the last day for the bill to be placed on the docket for this House session so Miller is hopeful that they can get several hundred voters to Richmond on Friday for the demonstration. If the bill fails to pass the Virginia House in this session, Miller says PDA will not give up in Virginia, or on their other targeted states: Arizona, Florida, Arkansas, Nevada, Louisiana and Missouri, among others.

Even though, it’s been almost forty years since a state last ratified the ERA, Miller and the other proponents are confident and determined. She calls passage of the ERA the “unfinished business” of the last century and of the civil rights movement. Though laws like the Lilly Ledbetter Act have helped give women legal options in the workplace to combat discrimination, it doesn’t go as far as an amendment could. Miller stresses that finally passing the ERA will give judicial standing to such laws and to gender discrimination cases that come before the nation’s high courts. “If we are going to lift women and families out of poverty in this country, we need pay equity. The ERA will help us get there. Finally.”

Finally indeed.

Learn more about the ERA and the three-state strategy here: www.equalrightsamendment.org


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Why Identity Politics Works (Except When It Doesn’t)

Guest Blogger Dave Thomer explains how he picked a candidate to support in the PA Gubernatorial race.  (Hint: It's NOT this guy, current Governor Tom Corbett)

Guest Blogger Dave Thomer explains how he picked a candidate to support in the PA Gubernatorial race.
(Hint: It’s NOT this guy, current Governor Tom Corbett)

I’m a Philadelphia resident who teaches in the Philadelphia public schools and has been married to WRUN Admin Pattie for the last 14 years. So you are probably not surprised to hear that I am rather eager to see Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett defeated in 2014. I am optimistic that the Democratic nominee will be able to defeat Corbett, but first there is the significant issue of choosing said Democratic nominee. I spent a large chunk of today trying to decide if I would donate to any of the candidates before the July 31st filing deadline, and wrote about that process at my site, This Is Not News. I thought it might be worthwhile to discuss how gender factored into my decision. All things being equal, I would like to support a female candidate for the nomination. But at this stage of the campaign, I found myself unable to do so.

Let me tackle both parts of that process. Why did I go into the process hoping that I could find a woman to support? Part of the answer is pure political calculation. There is usually a significant gender gap in support of the Democratic and Republican parties, and I believe that a qualified female candidate could widen that gap in the Democrats’ favor. In the specific case of Corbett, his position on reproductive choice and his comments about women closing their eyes during trans-vaginal ultrasounds might not be the primary reasons for his low approval ratings. But they are certainly not helping, and a strong female candidate should be able to vividly demonstrate how absurd and out of touch Corbett’s positions are. As I mentioned, I really want to see Corbett defeated. So if a woman gives the Democratic Party a better chance to do that, I would like to pick that woman.

The larger reason, however, is that when we vote for someone we are not selecting a policy automaton who will make political decisions based on some set of formal algorithms. We are electing a person who is going to make judgment calls, and sometimes that judgment is going to be based on the personal experiences that make each one of us different. I have written before about how important empathy is for a functioning democracy. It is important for each of us to try to look at the world from another person’s point of view, and understand how our choices will affect them. It is important that every citizen believe that the people in their government are trying to understand the consequences of the policies they they propose.

In order for empathy to really work, we have to be exposed to as many different perspectives as we can. With all the good will in the world, I can not imagine the perspectives and experiences of others who come from different backgrounds. I need to listen to them when they speak. I need to read them when they write. I need to spend time with them in order to know them as people so that my imagination has something to work with when I try to be empathetic. It is a lot easier to hear and learn about different experiences when there are leaders who have had those experiences. It is a lot harder to avoid hearing and learning about them as well. I would point to President Obama’s comments about Trayvon Martin as an example.

On the flip side, empathy only goes so far. There are things that I understand at a deeper level because I experienced them. So when you have a job like the governor, which can only be held by one person at a time, it is inevitable that there will be some issues and concerns that the governor understands at a personal level and some that he or she does not. As long as the governor is trying to reach beyond his or her own experiences, that is fine. But what can be harmful is if one governor after another has the same basic background and perspective. The government will wind up institutionalizing that one perspective, and others will be lost. There have only been a total of 36 female governors in the entire history of the United States. There are currently only five in office. Pennsylvania has never had one. So in the abstract, before I look at individual candidates, I can see a strong reason to want a governor who can bring a personal experience of the issues facing women to the office.

Some people might question me generalizing that women and men have different experiences, such that I would assume that a woman has understanding of something that I assume a man is lacking. Don’t those assumptions work against the idea of equality? Wouldn’t it be better if I just took a bunch of resumes, biographies, and policy statements, then stripped them of all reference to gender, and picked the best one? Well, besides the fact that such a process is practically impossible, I believe that equality requires recognizing and affirming differences. From a pure biological standpoint, women and men will have to deal with health issues that are not identical. I think that’s a relevant difference when you think of the impact that a governor can have on health care policy.

Beyond that, as much as I would like to say that we live in a world that is free of gender stereotyping (as well as stereotyping based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and so on), the truth is that we do not live in that world yet. Lots of people treat men and women differently. That means that men and women will experience the world in different ways.

Here’s a personal example. When our daughter was born, I was in graduate school working on my dissertation. Pattie had a full time job that provided the bulk of our income, not to mention our health insurance. So Pattie went back to work and I stayed home to watch our daughter while I did my research and writing. At work, many of Pattie’s female coworkers assumed that she was going to quit her job as soon as possible in order to be a stay at home parent. Meanwhile, I took our daughter with me to take care of some paperwork at the university, and a couple of people made comments like, “Oh look, Daddy’s taking care of you for the day!” We each fought against the expectations people had based on our gender, and I’d say that Pattie had the more aggravating fight to deal with.

If you want a more substantial example in the policy world, look at what people are saying about Janet Yellin and whether she has what it takes to be the chairperson of the Federal Reserve. Men can and should be empathetic to that kind of stereotyping. But we should also have leaders who have faced and overcome it personally, to help create a new culture where the next generation of leaders will not have to face the same obstacles.

So that’s why, all things being equal, I would like to support a woman to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor. (Feel free to bookmark this post, come back in 18 months, and do a search-and-replace to change to “governor” to “president.”) And yet, at the end of the day, I’ve chosen to support John Hanger. How can I do that in light of everything I have just written?

Well, that’s where the “all things being equal” comes in. Background and biography are important, but they are not a blank check. I have to have the sense that the candidate will use that background to try to implement policies that I support. Hanger has just done so much more than the other candidates to define his positions that the other candidates look much poorer in comparison. I absolutely love former environmental protection secretary Katie McGinty’s resume and biography. But she barely mentions education at all on her campaign website, and even her environmental policies are vague. I want her to step up her game. If by January, she’s laid out proposals that are even close to Hanger’s on the critical education and economic issues facing the state, I will happily change my support.

In the end, I think that this shows where “identity politics” factors into my thinking. It’s important to evaluate candidates based on their qualifications and proposals. But when deciding between candidates who have cleared that bar, establishing greater diversity in government is a virtue that can legitimately push one qualified candidate ahead of another.

Dave Thomer is a teacher, adjunct professor and blogger from Philadelphia. He blogs at www.notnews.org


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In Stunning Last-Minute Move, Congress Does the Right Thing For Once

by Admin Jen

Well, the House finally found a way to vote on, and pass, the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act.  It was the most convoluted, face-saving way possible, but they did it.  And as it turns out, most of our representatives don’t like domestic violence.  Pop the champagne, people.  The House has managed to sit down together and get enough of its members to agree that wife-beating is bad that they could pass something about it.  I realize this is a low bar, but we have to start somewhere and if we are really going to entertain fantasies of bi-partisanship or progress in this relentlessly, depressingly divided country, it’s a satisfying enough place to begin.

I’m not kidding.  The significance of VAWA’s passage can’t be underplayed.  It gives a glimmer of hope that we might see a more reasonable Republican party in the future.  As I’ve said elsewhere on this page, I would love to be having a spirited conversation with my conservative brethren and sistren about the role and size of government, the best way to spur economic growth, foreign policy, just about anything else than whether domestic violence should be treated as the serious crime that it is.  This really is a big damn deal.

Why do I say this?  Well, if you recall, the bill that originally sailed past the Senate last year contained expanded protections for underserved, hard-to-reach groups; namely Native Americans on reservations, illegal immigrants, and LGBT victims.  And the bills that were coming out of the House committees were conspicuously missing these expansions.  Multiple Republican House members said the expansions in the Senate bill made it “impossible” for them to vote for it, because of gay immigrant cooties or something.  America had the distinct impression that the House Republicans felt that immigrants, gays, and tribal women weren’t really women.  That they didn’t deserve the same protections as “regular” women.  By resoundingly passing the Senate’s bill, it gives the lie to all of that.  It codifies a simple recognition of the humanity of these groups.  A significant number of Republicans, in voting for this act, voted in favor of the notion that these groups are people too, and that their shared humanity matters.  It’s an encouraging thought.

Now, virtually all of the “no” votes were still Republicans… But there were lots who voted “yes”, including my own Pennsylvania congressman, Mike Fitzpatrick, a mushy moderate in a purple district who is nonetheless a Tea Party darling.  The partisan in me sometimes sits back and laughs when the rhetoric from that side of the aisle grows too sick, too sad, too hateful and misogynistic, because it clearly hurts them with women voters and, you know… decent people.  The evil voice in my head (who sounds suspiciously like Kathy Bates in “Primary Colors”) says,  “Go ahead, guys, keep giving yourself that rope, you saw how well it worked out for Richard Mourdock.”  But the truth is, I don’t want to live in that world.  I want to live in a world where the opposition is sane.  Where we really do share the same desire for the same ends, and the wrangling comes in trying to achieve them.  Where we can agree that all people are worthy of love and respect, deserving to live in a world that is as sane and safe as our loony species can manage.  (Again, a low bar, perhaps, but we can still try to raise it.)  I count a few conservatives among my friends, and they’re good people.  I promise you, they don’t sit around on their rooftops wearing hoods and taking potshots at their gay neighbors with a .22.  They aren’t Minute Men.  They really don’t deserve to be stuck with the reputation made by the louder, angrier, more reactionary cousins in their extended partisan family.  This vote brings the country one step closer to internalizing that truth.

Now, it’s not clear whether this seemingly sudden turnaround was politically motivated, motivated out of simple human decency, or some combination of the two.  It’s possible that the support for the Senate version had been there all along and the gamesmanship revolved around something else entirely.  Be assured, we’ll be researching the matter more, if only to satisfy our own curiosity as to what changed and when, and we’ll share everything we learn.  But there are two reasons to feel a glimmer of hope for the future.  One, because, after months of our own campaigning and encouraging you all to call and write your representatives, we finally have a Violence Against Women Act that reaches that many more women.

And two, because it might, just maybe, represent a tiny step in the direction of sanity for us as a people.

A girl can dream for just a minute.  Now give me the damn champers.


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Entrenched Gender Role Warfare on Two Fronts

Originally posted
7 May 2012

We support gay marriage. In case it hasn’t been clear where the admins of Women: Rise Up Now stand on the issue of same-sex marriage, there it is. We believe marriage is a human right, not a hetero-sexual privilege. We hold strong feelings on a number of issues that aren’t always front and center on this page simply because our aim was to build an online community dedicated to legislative action for women’s rights. As editors, we try to stay focused on our mission.

Right now, though, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to separate our work on our core issues from everything else going on in the political realm. One of the main reasons is that the common arguments against same sex marriage and rationalizations about institutional sexism seem to be coming from the same place: deeply entrenched gender roles in American society.

On women’s rights side the entrenchment is most clear in gender pay gap, brought into national conversation by the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Act and Wisconsin Governor Scott’s repeal of the state’s equal pay law. Though Walker said he signed the repeal to protect the state’s legal system from “frivolous” lawsuits, that the repeal was influenced by gender role assumptions was made public by Wisconsin lawmaker Glenn Grothman’s defense of his vote. Grothman blamed the pay gap, not on discrimination, but on the fact (as he sees it) that “money is more important for men.” Grothman’s logic seems more suited as a line of dialogue from the show “Mad Men” than a speech from a U.S. lawmaker in 2012.

The full quote from Grothman is even more revealing:

“You could argue that money is more important for men. I think a guy in their first job, maybe because they expect to be a breadwinner someday, may be a little more money-conscious. To attribute everything to a so-called bias in the workplace is just not true.”

Only men expect to be the breadwinner? Despite our obsession with all things “Mad Men,” it is not 1965 and women are the primary or co-breadwinners in two thirds of American families.

Yet there is still a belief among some that women “should” earn less because they drop out of careers to care for children, work fewer hours, take less demanding jobs, etc. Republican strategist Alex Castellanos argued as much on CNN in a discussion with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. But Maddow countered with facts that CNN later backed up with research: even when you remove variables such as job level, number of hours worked, etc, men still earn more than women for doing the same jobs. Even when men take jobs traditionally filled by women such as nursing and teaching, they earn more than their female counterparts.

Castellanos’ statement that women work fewer hours is not borne out in facts. It’s an assumption, based on traditional beliefs about gender roles. Women work fewer hours because they’re home with kids, because that’s what they’ve always done, right? Not necessarily. What about the women who don’t have children by choice, work the same hours, in jobs traditionally staffed by men? Statistics show that they will still earn, on average, 77% of what men earn. Even female CEOs, those who have risen to the highest levels in their fields, earn 69 cents for every dollar male CEOs earn.

In the 1990s, fathers began dropping out of the workforce in larger numbers to offset child care costs while their female partners worked. It’s too early to tell how their incomes will suffer for these career interruptions but this shift certainly has not had an impact on the wage gap data yet. That shift also did not seem to have an impact on gender role expectations. Stay-at-home fathers report being being asked repeatedly by strangers if they were “baby-sitting for the day” rather than being their children’s primary care givers. In politics and the workplace, child care is still perceived as a “women’s issue.” As late as 2001, you were hard-pressed to find men’s rooms with baby changing tables in public buildings. Did we really have to wait for the 21st century for the innovation of the family restroom? Apparently it took that long for our gender role assumptions to catch up with parenting behavior, at least when it came to diaper changes.

It’s not as easy to pinpoint a year or even an era where views opposing gay marriage are stuck in, as there are always been gay people in this country and it’s fair to say they have always faced levels of discrimination and been treated as “less than” their fellow citizens. What is clear is that there has been a rapid evolution in the demand for equal recognition of gay relationships over the last 20 to 30 years, culminating in the current national movement for gay marriage. In my lifetime, we’ve gone from the words “longtime companion” being said in hushed tones on television to legalized gay marriage in eight states.

But spend anytime listening to the anti-gay marriage rhetoric and you have to wonder just what they are trying to preserve: the institution of marriage or their ideals of masculinity and femininity? Setting aside the religious anti-gay marriage rhetoric in favor of the more applicable social arguments, the most common assails against gay marriage sound like this:

“Same sex marriages confuse children.”
“Marriage should be between a man and a women for the purpose of pro-creation.”
“Children need both male and female role models in their homes.”
“Same sex marriage will undermine society.”

Now, try to separate even one of these from an underlying assumption about gender roles. You can’t do it. All four are deeply rooted in the idea that there are masculine and feminine roles and the must be reinforced to preserve…what? Order? A power structure? Separate standards of behavior? What exactly, beyond the roles themselves?

Far from contributing to the downfall of marriage, early studies of homosexual couples joined in the first legally recognized American gay marriages are giving psychologists insights to how all marriages can function better, once freed from gender stereotypes. One such study is detailed in a 2008 article in the New York Times:

“One of the most common stereotypes in heterosexual marriages is the ‘demand-withdraw’ interaction, in which the woman tends to be unhappy and to make demands for change, while the man reacts by withdrawing from the conflict. But …new research shows that same-sex couples also exhibit the pattern, contradicting the notion that the behavior is rooted in gender, according to an abstract presented at the 2006 meeting of the Association for Psychological Science by Sarah R. Holley, a psychology researcher at Berkeley.”

Of course, appreciating that these insights might be valuable to heterosexual marriages assumes the ability to see marriage as something that unites human beings, not simply sorts them into their predetermined roles.

Roles assigned to racial, ethnic, and gender group have not been static through the history of human civilizations and there’s no reason to believe they need to stay static in ours. In every era, though various authorities said that these roles needed to remain static because they were as “nature/the gods/the universe/society” intended. These so-called authorities were often proven wrong. But even when proven wrong, they didn’t given up their power and assumptions without a fight. Now we are again in a battle, on at least two fronts. And once again, we know that winning this battle will not be easy.

by – Pattie


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We Are People

Originally posted
4 May 2012

While feminists are repeatedly accused of being man-haters, one-issue voters, and the wagers of false wars, we continue to support legislation that proves the exact opposite. Our support of the LGBT-protection provisions in the Violence Against Women Act is proof that we stand with our brothers AND with our sisters. We all have a right to equal protection under the law. Gender and sexual orientation are, in this case, absolutely irrelevant. We. Are. People.
Michelle Garcia at Advocate.com, citing Sharon Stapel of the Anti-Violence Project, states that “25%-35% of same-sex relationships are marred by domestic violence and abuse, which is about the same rate as other relationships.” I guess rage is an equal-opportunity emotion.
Garcia continues citing Stapel, stating that “LGBT domestic violence victims have few support services, and they often face discrimination when seeking help.” Not only do they face discrimination, they face authority figures (medical professionals, police officers) who are glad that they were victimized, who think they deserve what they got, who sometimes want to make the trauma even worse.
Does anyone remember the pathetic, broken young man in the film Boys Don’t Cry, who was forced by police to admit that his sometime-roommates raped him in his vagina? Does anyone remember that Boys Don’t Cry was based on a true story, and that after being gang-raped, the young man really WAS forced to admit to having a vagina, and to being vaginally raped by his supposed friends? Apparently, the police didn’t find rape to be enough punishment for a life of struggling with gender identity; apparently, the police needed to further humiliate this young person. Oh, and let’s don’t forget that the rapists tracked him down and murdered him not long after. It’s not just a movie….
RIP.
And does anyone remember the child – naked, drugged, injured, and terrified – who ran from Jeffery Dahmer, begged for help, and was RETURNED to Dahmer by laughing police officers? Golly, they figured it was just a gay-boy sex game gone wrong. That was the last time that child ever ran – to a cop or to anyone else.
RIP.
Those two examples received national and international attention. What of the examples that take place every minute of every day, in our neighborhoods, in the homes of our co-workers and even our friends?
This one is a paraphrase of what a lesbian told me over the phone: “I thought he was my best friend. When I came out to him, he freaked. He held me down. Yeah, he raped me. Don’t tell anyone it was me that happened to, OK?”  [No worries. I won’t.]
This is a paraphrase of what a transgendered teen said while sobbing in my living room: “Why do they do this to me? They push me against a wall and stick their hands up my shirt and start feeling me and laughing. I want to DIE, right now, I want to DIE.” [This child left home and started a new life nearly 2000 miles away after high school graduation.]
This one haunted my family for years, no paraphrase, just what happened: One of my daughter’s handful of close friends came out to us the night before his 16th birthday and said he was coming out to his parents the next day. He asked if he could move in with us if the coming-out at home didn‘t go well. We said yes. The next day, he disappeared. His parents told us never to phone their house again. His guidance counselor had no idea where he was. And the police didn‘t care. Years later, this young man found us and told us what had happened to him – his father had beaten him, taken him to Los Angeles, and left him on a beach near the Santa Monica Pier.
Domestic violence takes place between spouses, roommates, lovers, friends, and family members. It includes – but is not limited to – hitting, kicking, pushing, punching, raping, and the sort of emotional abuse that causes a victim to be hyper-vigilant, to live in constant fear. It leaves victims with PTSD. Those victims are young, old, male, female, homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual; some of them aren’t sure what the hell they believe about their own gender and/or sexuality. And they all deserve equal protection under the law.
Again, I say: We. Are. People. Support the LGBT provisions in the Violence Against Women Act.
~by Erin


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Milk and Cookies for Trolls, or What I Think About Men’s Rights

(originally posted Saturday, 21 April 2012)

We got hit with a wave of trolls today.  All male.  All apparently really, really angry.  And nearly all seemed to be most enraged by the photo of the man holding up a sign proclaiming his support for women’s rights.  It’s my favorite part of the afternoon, really:  a pedi, a fro-yo and a dose of being called a murderous whore or being told to shut my filthy mouth (is it just me or is there something a little creepily porn-ish about that demand?).  The best comment was informing us that “real war is about blood and sacrifice, which women can’t possibly understand.”  OK.  Let that one sink in for a minute.  We don’t know anything about blood.  Or sacrifice.

Internalized that?  OK, let’s move on.

In spite of such stupidity, I don’t hate men.  I really don’t.  I’m married to one terrific one.  I’m raising two more.  Incredibly, I even encounter men in my daily life outside the home.  Surprising, I know.   Here’s the truth: if anyone had an excuse to hate men, I certainly do.  I’m a survivor of sexual abuse by a stepfather who also hit my mother and once beat my sister so badly we had to take her to the ER after having him dragged away by the cops.  I have been up close and personal in the sex industry and gotten to know prostitutes and strippers, and have seen the nastiest, sleaziest sides of themselves that men have to offer.  But I still don’t hate men as a monolithic group.  So, to a few self-important trolls who think they’re going to … what?  Enlighten me?  Shut me up?  I’m not impressed.  You don’t represent “men” … you just represent assholes.

We, the women at WRUN, are lucky enough to be married to some pretty great guys who are supportive of the cause.  And actually, in general, our personal experiences have shown us a majority of the men our age and younger are in favor of equality under the law when it comes to things like fair pay, protection from domestic abuse, and control of our reproductive decisions.   Yet our audience is more than 85% female.  There’s a feeling, I think, even among the men who support these things in concept, that this fight that we are fighting now against the wave of regression (and repression) is sort of a YP.  “Hey, sorry about the whole government-sanctioned rape thing, wish I could help you.”  I’m not talking to you guys that are already supporters of our page and cause, of course.  But the rest of you… you know who you are.  Or you would if you were reading this.  Which you aren’t, because you’re not subscribed to this page, because this whole “government up in my vajayjay” thing is my problem, not yours.

Ooops, another troll.  This is fun.  It’s like whack a mole!

Again, it’s on the picture of the man holding up the sign.  That one really makes them mad.  The idea that we might like for men to support our rights, and the idea that lots of them do… The effrontery!  This troll identified himself as a men’s rights activist, called me a hypocrite, and demanded that we support mens’ rights.

I think what’s making some of these guys mad, really, is that they view rights as a zero-sum kind of game.  Some things in life ARE like that: if you have a box of Thin Mints (and who doesn’t love Thin Mints?) and your husband eats, say, half the box, well… yes.  That’s fewer Thin Mints for you.  But rights aren’t cookies (although it may be that cookies are a right!  Here’s a glass of milk and a tautology!)

We don’t much get into the kind of cultural analysis that you find in a lot of other womens’ rights pages.  If you’re looking for a takedown of that dreadful new men’s rights anthem that makes us want to jam pencils into our ears till they bleed, or that scathing essay that Ashley Judd wrote about sexism in the media, this isn’t the place you’re going to find it.  We keep things here mostly about legislation (and on occasion, the behavior of legislators) partly because this is a labor of love for us as working moms and we don’t want to try to wrestle more than we can handle, but also because we feel equality in the eyes of the law is the first and most important step to changing a lot of the other things that need to happen between men and women in our culture.  Will legislation fix everything?  Probably not, and neither did the civil rights legislation of the 60s.  There’s still racism and inequality.  That’s going to take a long time to fix.  But it was an important start.

Maybe you’ll want to beat my ass for this (which if you were married to me, and we lived in Topeka, would be legal.  Really.) but I do think that there are burdens in our society that men have to deal with that are unfair, and they go beyond the old “if a robber breaks into the house, who’s supposed to go out there with the baseball bat” question.  Men do in fact die younger and have a higher suicide rate than women.  I think maybe this is partly due to men not seeking the care they should, be it medical or psychological.  (I’ll tell the truth, I base this loose theory mostly on anecdotal evidence from women I know whose husbands resist going to the damn doctor.)  Also, I do believe that there are things about family law and divorce law that are tilted against men in a way that might have been appropriate or understandable 30 years ago but not so much now.  There are important conversations that we need to have about equality under the law as society and its norms and gender roles evolve over the years.  We are ready, able and willing to share a load that has been mostly yours for millennia, chaps.  You should try letting go of it.  That’s included on the list of your rights now.

So guys, we don’t hate you.  That’s not what this is about.  We love you.  We want you to be part of the world that is moving inexorably forward and becoming something new and different all the time.  We want you on that trip.  As men and women, like it or not, we’re bound together.  Not just as two halves of a heterosexual marriage or partnership, but as two halves of a whole society, a whole culture.  More rights and freedoms for us don’t take away your rights and freedoms:  on the whole, they increase them.  We are living “with” you, not “against” you.  We are growing and evolving together every day in surprising ways,… now we just need to help the law catch up.

~by Jen


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Why the PR War With Ann Romney Absolutely Matters … And Also Absolutely Doesn’t Matter.

(originally posted Thursday, 12 April 2012)

…And, here we go.

Mitt Romney is incapable of giving a straight answer on whether he supports the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.  For those who don’t know what that is, President Obama’s first act as president was to protect equal pay for women, and give them more avenues to sue for back pay in situations where they feel they have been treated unfairly.  So, to try to rebuff concerns that Romney’s lack of ability to give a straight answer means that he doesn’t support fair pay for women, he trots out his wife, Ann, to reassure us and try to deflect the issue.  So, some Democratic party talking heads come out and attack Ann Romney for not supporting fair pay legislation because she’s never worked a day in her life and has had the luxury of “only” raising her children.  So then Fox news trots out the military wives, the working class moms who sacrifice to stay at home with their kids, and Laura Bush, to claim the high ground.  Next thing you know, there’s a narrative that “we” are pitted against “them”.  The Democrats and Republicans are both pointing fingers at each other for being “anti-woman” and for dividing mothers and pitting them against each other to try and peel off votes.

Yes, that’s right.  We are having the SAHM/WOHM argument.  Again.  Or rather, still.  And this time, it’s not just personal, it’s political.

For those unfamiliar with those acronyms, that means Stay at Home Mom and Work Outside the Home Mom, respectively.  Anyone who spends any time at all on the mommy forums has seen, if not been directly involved in, some knock-down drag-out online fight where the SAHMs are calling the WOHMs bad mothers and the WOHMs are calling the SAHMs self-sacrificial doormats.  Usually there’s a few testy posts about breast feeding and some epithets hurled and everyone just winds up angrily reassuring themselves of the superiority of their own choices while grumbling about it to friends at the park or the water cooler.

And now here it is, on the national stage.  On CNN.  On Fox News.  As an actual (or “actual”) factor in our presidential politics.  If I wanted to see this shit, I’d be hanging out on the mommy forums.

I’m a human being and a work in progress and still very much working out what exactly it means to be a feminist.  But it seems to me that one of the very basic things about it is that it is, or ought to be, about choice.  Choice of whether and when to have a family, and whether and what career to pursue, and whether to put it on hold or not if and when you do decide to have a family.  I sincerely hate, and I mean HATE, being put in a position of having to defend Ann Romney.  I don’t especially like her husband, and I think he is pretty much trotting her out as a prop to prove he isn’t as dismissive of women’s rights as we all know he is. But I know a lot of working-class moms who would have made the same choice she did if it had been available to them.  And I know plenty who love their work, and derive some sense of identity from it, who would not.  There are moms who can’t really afford to stay home but they work it out for a few years so that they can do what they feel is the right thing and maybe that means struggling and a little debt.  The point is, it’s nobody’s right to judge anyone else’s decision about this.  Being a mom is work no matter what, and it comes with decisions that someone else going to judge you for, no matter what.

So, let’s not get sucked into this.   If we allow the argument to become about whose mommying choices are the right ones, and how if you’re on whichever side of the mommying debate, you should be voting for the Republican or the Democrat.  It’s judging someone else’s choices, except this time it has public policy consequences.

Now, back to fair pay.  Is Ann Romney the best spokesperson for this?  As someone who has never had a J-O-B (and I’m not saying that being a mother isn’t work, even if you are ridiculously wealthy), probably not.  And probably, neither are the two Republican congresswomen Mitt asked to come out and support his image, being that both of them voted against the Ledbetter Act.  So let me just say this:  You’re a stay at home mom?  Good for you!  You’re a mom with a job?  Good for you!  You finagled a work at home situation?  Congratulations!  You’re all awesome moms.  You all made the right choice, for YOUR family.  I’m not going to lie, I am a registered Democrat and have been since I could vote, but the reason is simple.  They’re the only ones supporting me when it comes to making choices for my family. This isn’t the 1950s anymore; CNN reported recently that women are the primary breadwinners in 40% of American households now.  Like so many things that we who call ourselves feminists are fighting for now, it boils down to choice.  And let me tell you, it’s amazing how much freedom of choice comes with being paid fairly.  And yes, there’s only one party voting against that.  You know it’s not the Democrats.

So you don’t like Obama?  You don’t like the Afghan War, the NDAA, his big ears, whatever?  Fine.  But vote on what matters.  Fairness.  Freedom of choice.  Don’t get suckered into voting in some version of the online forum SAHM/WOHM fistfights writ large.   Or else the next time you find yourself grumbling around the water cooler or to your friends at the park, it might be because you just don’t have any other choice.

~Jen