Gloria Steinem, in her recent editorial in the Los Angeles Times, came out strongly against Governor Palin claiming the only thing women have in common with Palin is an X chromosome. I respectfully disagree. Governor Palin knows what it is like to be a woman, a mother, a daughter, a sister – things the two men on the Democratic ticket can never fully understand. She knows what it is like to grow up invisible in an incredibly sexist society, to be stared at, groped, and sexually harassed. She knows what it is like to be smaller in stature than men and physically vulnerable. She knows what it’s like to worry that you are pregnant when you don’t want to be or that you are not pregnant when you want to be. Sarah Palin knows what it is to experience the joys and sorrows of motherhood, to nurse a baby while holding down a job, to leave for work in the morning with a toddler tugging at your pant leg, or to have your children calling you at work to diffuse squabbles or ask for help with homework. She knows that once you get to work you have to speak twice as loud and twice as often to be heard and work twice a hard to go half as far. She knows what it is to be a member of the second sex.
Gender is the most fundamental human characteristic. The first comment made when a child is born is either, “It’s a girl” or “It’s a boy.” From that second on, boys and girls live in parallel universes in the same culture. From the nursery room to the board room, boys and girls are given different messages about their respective roles in the world. At the hospital they are given different types of names and wrapped in different color blankets. Once home, baby girls and boys wear fundamentally different clothes and play with different toys. This differentiation extends through school where girls are given less attention, picked less frequently to answer questions and placed less often in advanced science and math classes. Once in the workforce, women are steered into lower-paying careers, paid less for the same work, and forced to juggle the responsibilities of work and home. You can’t learn what it is to be a woman, unless you are one. You can’t have a government essentially devoid of women that knows what’s best for women. You can’t legislate for women, without women.
After the last Democratic Primary was over and it was clear Senator Clinton was not going to get the Democratic nomination, myself, and a small group of Clinton supporters met with Senator McCain and Carly Fiorina. I personally explained to Senator McCain that women comprise well over half of the population, yet are underrepresented in every branch of government. I asked him loudly and clearly to choose a woman for the VP slot and to increase the number of women in the cabinet and on the Supreme Court. Senator McCain listened respectfully to my request. Representatives of The New Agenda also met with Carly Fiorina and as well as representatives from the Obama campaign to make similar requests.
After the Democratic Primary, I was also in contact with a member of Obama’s Finance Committee. He left several messages on my office phone, “urging” me to support Senator Obama. We had numerous contentious conversations and I finally told him I would be happy to vote for Senator Obama and rally other Hillary supporters to vote for Senator Obama but in return I wanted Obama to pledge gender parity in the cabinet. I foolishly thought equal representation in government was a reasonable request. “What if there aren’t qualified women you still expect us to appoint half women to the cabinet?” he replied. I was confused. “There are 300 million people in this country; you’re telling me you can’t find ten qualified women?” His responded, “You can’t have that.” We had no further conversations. There was nothing more to say.
Weeks later I approached a training session for DNC canvassers at a park in my neighborhood. Eager to practice their new skills, they all ran up to me, “Do you support Senator Obama? Do you want to donate money to the DNC?” After explaining that I was a Hillary supporter, I again made my request. I will support Senator Obama if he will pick a woman as his running mate and promise gender parity in the cabinet. The men in the group openly laughed at me and found my request ridiculous. I looked at the horrified faces of the newly minted female canvassers. “They’re laughing at you too,” I muttered.
Not one to give up, I contacted a daughter of a friend of mine who is a policy advisor for Obama. She assured me Obama was a good guy, so I posed my request to her. She generously responded, “I’ll ask him.” When I did not hear back from her in a few days, I shot her another email. She told me how disappointed she was in me for making such a stupid request. Obama was on the “right” side of the issues. Why did it matter whether men or women legislated those issues? I guess the answer from Obama was No. What saddened me was her mother was one of this nation’s greatest champions of title nine, educational equity and gender parity. Her mother and I counted the number of pictures of boys and girls in text books, male and female cartoon characters, and documented the underrepresentation of girls in math classes in our nation’s schools.
Yes, policy is important but who decides and delivers that policy is even more important. As Marshall McLuhan profoundly noted, “The medium is the message.” Children incorporate many of their perceptions about gender by five years old. Little girls won’t understand if Sarah Palin is pro-life or pro-choice, believes in gun control or is a member of the NRA, but they will know the Vice-President of the United States of America is a girl and that alone will alter their perceptions of themselves.
I have given my loyalty to the Democratic Party for decades. My party, which is comprised primary of women, has not put a woman on a presidential ticket for 24 years. My party refused to nominate my candidate, Hillary Clinton, for president or vice president, even though she received more votes than any other candidate in history. My party stood silently by as Hillary Clinton was eviscerated by the mainstream media. My party was mute while MSM repeatedly called Clinton a bitch and symbolically called me and every other woman in this country a bitch. My party was disturbingly silent when the MSM commented on Hillary’s body or the shrillness of her voice, reminding me and every other woman the fundamental disrespect we endure on a daily basis. My party’s candidate was mute when Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Father Pfleger openly mocked Senator Clinton from the pulpit of Trinity United Church of Christ. My party’s candidate was silent when the rapper Ludicrous released a new song calling Hillary a bitch. My party and it’s candidate gave their tacit approval for the attacks on Senator Hillary Clinton and consequently women in general.
I have a choice. I can vote for my party and it’s candidates which have demonstrated a blatant disrespect for women and a fundamental lack of integrity or I can vote for the Republican ticket which has heard our concerns and put a woman on the ticket but with whom I fundamentally don’t agree on most issues. If Democratic women wait for the perfect woman to come along, we will never elect a woman. We have to seize opportunity where it presents itself. Besides, the Democratic Party is no longer my home. I have no home, but this election I will make my bed somewhere else.
I respect Gloria Steinem’s right to support the presidential ticket of her choice but she is openly trying to derail Sarah Palin’s historic candidacy. As Madeleine Albright said, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” I will vote for McCain-Palin. I urge other women to do the same. I might not personally agree with Palin on every issue and I promise to be the first person knocking on her door, if Roe v. Wade, or any other legislation that goes against the rights of women is threatened. But in Governor Palin I find a woman of integrity, who not only talks the talk but walks the walk. I can work with that. I will work with that.
When I walk down the street, I don’t have democrat printed on my forehead, but my gender is obvious to everyone and impacts every interaction in my life. Since my country is far from gender neutral, right now for me gender trumps everything else. I urge other women to join me in this fight for equality. Sometimes opportunities occur where you least expect them.