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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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Appearances are Everything: Nagasu, Wagner, and Cluelessness

By Maureen Boyd and Pattie Gillett

Over the last few days, the selection of Ashley Wagner over Mirai Nagasu has occupied casual and avid skating fans alike with charges of racism tainting the US Figure Skating Association’s Women’s Olympic Figure Skating team selection.

If you only watched last week’s competition, you saw two-time champion Ashley Wagner fall twice and finish her long program tentatively following her mediocre short program. She did not receive a standing ovation and the crowd seemed to clap out of sympathy, more than anything else.

Fans then saw 2008 champion and 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu skate with few, if any, visible mistakes and receive a standing ovation from the crowd.

The evening ended with Gracie Gold taking the gold medal, Polina Edmunds the silver, Nagasu the bronze, and Wagner the pewter (a fourth place medal that is only issued at US Nationals).

At a press conference shortly after noon on the following day, Pat St. Peter, the head of USFSA, announced that Gold, Edmunds, and Ashley Wagner would be competing in the Sochi Olympics. Mirai Nagasu, despite her superior performance, would not be representing Women’s Figure Skating at Sochi.

Fans in the Twitterverse exploded with the hashtag #MiraiEarnedIt. WSJ writer Jeff Yang wrote a scathing commentary that seemed to capture the widespread and quite understandable perception that “with Wagner, silver winner Polina Edmunds and gold medalist Gracie Gold (talk about central casting fantasies!), the U.S.A. will be taking to the ice with a porcelain-skinned, blond-tressed triple-threat, any of whom will unleash a geyser of sponsorship money.”

While USFSA has almost always picked the top skaters at Nationals to make up the US Olympic team they are not required to do so. USFSA bylaws state that the skater’s “body of work” – including performance in events in the previous year – will also be factors in determining selection to the team. Defenders of USFSA’s decision point out that Wagner’s performance in all of these previous competitions surpassed Nagasu’s.

Yet, even this argument seems specious: as one fan pointed out, if one applies the body of work criteria to the entirety of the team, Polina Edmunds should have been bumped by Nagasu, whose body of work was superior to hers.

The decision and circumstances were also unprecedented in the entire history of US Olympic skating. Only four other times have the top finishers at Nationals not been named to the Olympic team: Todd Eldredge in 1992, Nancy Kerrigan in 1994, pairs Jenni Meno and Todd Sand in 1998 and Michelle Kwan in 2006. All failed to perform in Nationals because of various injuries, yet were awarded spots on the Olympic teams.

And the leadership of the USFSA, Pat St. Peter and her advisors, clearly anticipated how fans might respond to their radical break with tradition. St. Peter was armed with defensive, tone-deaf talking points that appeared in an even more tone-deaf press release posing as an article on the Team USA website: “We have selection guidelines in place, that are vetted through the athlete’s committee and vetted through the USOC,… This competition is not the only event U.S. Figure Skating considers in selecting the team” and “If you look over the course of the last year plus at Ashley Wagner’s credentials, she has the top credentials of any of our female [single skater] athletes…That is why we made the decision we did, and our guidelines are posted on the USOC site.” St. Peter’s last line, “our guidelines are posted on the USOC site,” reeks of a disdain for public perception that gets to the heart of the matter:

It doesn’t matter what the bylaws say, if Nagasu’s performance was superior to Wagner’s, or if Wagner’s body of work was superior to Nagasu’s. What matters is that it did not even occur to USFSA officials to consider the obvious appearance of racism that would result from their decision to pass over a woman of color for a blonde haired, blue eyed woman. Or, if it did occur to them, they simply didn’t care. In either case, USFSA leadership displayed an astounding level of cluelessness that looks a lot like white privilege.

It’s hard to know what Pat St. Peter’s experience with people of color is, or whether or not she knows what white privilege is. People who unconsciously possess white privilege operate with a blithe certainty in and about the world: they do not experience being passed over for promotion because of the color of their skin, and thus do not concern themselves with what being passed over on the basis of skin color might look, feel or sound like. Because racism is not a daily lived reality for the person of unconscious white privilege (PUWP), the PUWP doesn’t factor in even the possibility of racism into her decision-making process, or if she does, she dismisses it, at some level, as a trivial concern.

Pat St. Peter’s dismissive comments, NBC Winter Olympics television ads already featuring Ashley Wagner prior to the decision, and the USFSA’s ongoing silence about the specter of racism* all suggest that a whole lotta PUWPs are making the decisions at the USFSA. And while the intentions of the USFSA officials may actually be purely based on a calculus of who will win the most medals at Sochi, the effect has been to create a perception, and thus a climate, that can only be perceived as racist by any person of color. When any set of decision-makers acts from a place of unconscious white privilege they necessarily re-create the climate of white privilege they hail from. That’s a climate that will be constitutionally defined by ignorance of, and insensitivity to, the concerns of people of color—concerns intertwined with experiences of racist bias. Perhaps this is why even devoted fans of US figure skating would be hard pressed to name more than two or three African American and Latino skaters to make it into the sport’s top ranks over the past thirty years.

And how does this climate of white privilege in U.S. women’s figure skating impact the women’s community that skaters, their devoted fans, the judges and other women in the sport have come to embody?

In the male dominated sports media the discourse around figure-skating and it’s spangled, make-up wearing athletes is that they and their “crazy” (read: female and feminine) sport have never been legit. This year is the 20th anniversary of the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan fiasco, a“crazy” women’s figure-skating conflict that occurred between two white women of very different class positions. Some media outlets are gleefully representing the Nagasu/Wagner controversy as another example of Harding/Kerrigan-style antics that epitomizes the “hysterics” of the sport.

The only way female athletes can successfully combat the sexism that continues to exist in the world of professional sports is through solidarity between white women and women of color. All female figure-skaters– white women and women of color alike– are damaged by the insulting and derisive reduction of this sport to a series of hysterical and dramatic episodes. The clueless decisions of a few PUWPs in the USFSA are perpetuating this stereotype of women’s figure skating and sowing divisiveness in a sport that needs to remember that there are young girls of color out there, dreaming of one day becoming another Nagasu.

*The USFSA has posted a response to Jeff Yang’s story.  While some acknowledgement of fan concerns about racial bias is an improvement, we find the statement defensive in tone. We also think the fact that the Olympics team is 25% Asian American does not negate the fact that the sport as a whole lacks racial diversity.   Jeff Yang posted has also posted a rebuttal.  His rebuttal states that he did not accuse the USFSA of discrimination on the basis of race, but rather made a decision based on marketability that is embedded in racialized ideals of American-ness.


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Five Female Journalists Kicking Ass This Election Season

Love or hate “The Newsroom”, that show and more to the point, its main character, Will McAvoy, have become part of the American consciousness (for as long as its attention span will last).  McAvoy is the tough, super-ethical journalist, challenging the weasels and liars, taking no prisoners and suffering no fools.  The one America seems to be longing for.  I mean, some point to Chris Matthews, and he can be good at times, but he also just likes to yell.  You have this feeling if you went out to dinner with him, ordering would be like:

“I’ll have the duck a l’orange and a white wine please.”

“Excellent.  And for you Mr. Matthews?”

“GIMME THE TORTELLINI FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!!!!  DUCK A L’ORANGE??  DUCK A L’ORANGE??  ARE YOU KIDDING ME??”

Ahem, anyway.  Back on topic.  My husband and I watched the first season of The Newsroom, and found it mostly annoying because there was too much fluff in the storyline about the romantic lives of its young, unmarried characters.  The emotional, smart but lovably flaky female characters that sort of swirled around in a cloud of estrogen around the tough, stoic McAvoy as he brought down the hammer of truth every night.  We assume that this crap was in there to keep it interesting for the female viewers.  The funny thing is, watching the actual news on the actual teevee this election season, it seems that the lady journalists were not really paying attention to that junk because they were too busy watching McAvoy swing said hammer of truth and practicing their downstroke:

1)  Soledad O’Brien:  Yes, I recently learned that Soledad O’Brien comes from my home town.  Graduated from the same high school as me, some years ahead.  This in no way biases me with regard to the ass-whipping she delivered to John Sununu.  You know Sununu?  He’s the lying weasel that Mitt Romney dispatches to talk to the media for him when he’s too busy being a lying liar someplace else.

2) Martha Raddatz:  OK, look.  I love Jim Lehrer.  I’m not gonna rip on Grampa Jim.  And I’m not trying to blame him for Obama’s dreadful performance in the first debate, by any stretch.  But it wasn’t a great night for Grampa Jim.  You all know what people said.  Phrases like “potted plant” got thrown around.  It was awful.

Cue Martha Raddatz.  I wasn’t sure how she’d be, because I’ve seen her in a few contexts and never seen her bust a Soledad on someone, but dang.  She came in and acted like a goddamn journalist.  She was calmly authoritative, she asked follow-up questions … that’s debate moderating, kids.  Alex Wagner, if you have any fantasies about moderating a debate in the future… You’d best watch the tapes from that debate and let Auntie Martha show you how it’s done.

Of course, her candidates were lambs compared the presidential candidates…

3) Candy Crowley:  I might get shit for this one from some people, but I. Do. Not. Care.  Candy had a hard time making Mitt or Barack stick to their time limits, and Mitt had his Imperious CEO on, talking over her constantly and arguing with her over whether his time was up or whether he got to have another turn to respond.  I heard people complain that President Obama got more time than Mitt, but Mitt was constantly ignoring what is, if I’m not mistaken, Rule #1 of debating:  don’t be a dick to the moderator.  He got what he had coming.

There’s a lot of flap over whether it was appropriate for her to fact-check Romney when he backed himself into a rhetorical corner with that puzzling line of attack about whether Obama used the phrase “act of terror” in the Rose Garden or not.  Here’s what I have to say:  Candy’s a journalist.  As someone, somewhere recently said, (and if it’s you, speak up so I can cite you!) if they just wanted someone to stand there with a microphone, looking pretty, they could have gotten Ryan Seacrest. It’s debatable whether she should have inserted herself at that moment, honestly, but she did so in a way that shot down his weird semantic argument while acknowledging Romney’s larger point, attempted to be fair, wrap up that question, and move things along.  But maybe most importantly, she struck a blow for the town hall moderator being more than just what journalist Carole Simpson referred to as “The Lady With the Microphone”.  And for that, we have to take a moment to raise our glasses and say, “Good job, Candy.”

Look at what an impossible job she had:

4) Carol Costello – I have no bias here, never really had feelings one way or the other about Carol Costello.  But I have to give props to her for challenging an anti-gay bigot on the air on CNN, calling him out for what he actually was, and then when he kept on going with his hate speech (and yeah she did call it that), she sent him packing.  And she never once lost her cool with the guy, which is more than I’d be able to do in the same circumstances.  By the time he got to comparing LGBT tolerance with poisoned Halloween candy, I would have probably been cursing him out on the air.  Of course, I would be a bad broadcast journalist, because I fucking curse a lot.

And lastly…

5)  Rachel Maddow – Because, always Rachel Maddow.  Always.