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Posts Tagged ‘President Obama’

It’s easy to be appalled by things that happen elsewhere: the brutal, horrifying rape of the 23 year-old Indian student, so violent that she died of her injuries. Malala Yousufzai, the 15 year-old Pakistani schoolgirl/activist who was shot in the head by the Taliban. It’s easy to feel a sort of removed pity in the face of such tragedies. But what we should feel is urgency, and responsibility.

And not just because gender violence happens here, too. In Steubenville, Ohio, an equally despicable incident happened last August, when an unconscious 16 year-old girl was carried from party to party, and raped over and over again.

It would be hard to carry out such acts on someone you saw as human, equal and valuable. It would be hard to carry out such acts if such acts were (loudly) understood to be completely unacceptable.

Reading Sunday’s New York Times, I was struck by two pieces: Nicholas D. Kristof’s excellent “Is Delhi So Different From Steubenville?,” and Maureen Dowd’s article about the lack of women appointed to top spots by President Obama so far. When it comes to policy and representation, is the U.S. doing as well as it could? Hardly.

As Kristof writes,

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has done a superb job trying to put these issues on the global agenda, and I hope President Obama and Senator John Kerry will continue her efforts. But Congress has been pathetic. Not only did it fail to renew the Violence Against Women Act, but it has also stalled on the global version, the International Violence Against Women Act, which would name and shame foreign countries that tolerate gender violence.

Congress even failed to renew the landmark legislation against human trafficking, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The obstacles were different in each case, but involved political polarization and paralysis. Can members of Congress not muster a stand on modern slavery?

(Hmm. I now understand better the results of a new survey from Public Policy Polling showing that Congress, with 9 percent approval, is less popular than cockroaches, traffic jams, lice or Genghis Khan.)

We can’t let Congress off the hook when it comes to these policies. According to Politifact, “On Dec. 11, 2012, U.S. Representative Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) and 119 other members of Congress signed a letter calling on House leaders to hold a vote on re-authorizing the Violence Against Women Act.” That vote never happened.

But there’s more than policy to consider. As Dowd writes, citing New York Magazine, apparently Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has a better record of appointing top women than Obama. Here’s a bit more from her:

‘We don’t have to order up some binders to find qualified, talented, driven young women’ to excel in all fields, the president said on the trail, vowing to unfurl the future for ‘our daughters.’

It may be because the president knows what a matriarchal world he himself lives in that he assumes we understand that the most trusted people in his life have been female–his wife, his daughters, his mother, his grandmother, his mother-in-law, his closest aide, Valerie.

But this isn’t about how he feels, or what his comfort zone is, or who’s in his line of sight. It’s about what he projects to the world–not to mention to his own daughters.

What’s the connection, though, between getting women into top spots, and gender violence throughout the world?

It’s not just that women in such positions are more likely to give voice to the global issues often sidelined as “women’s issues.” It’s not just the inherent value in diversity, in having a broad range of voices and perspectives involved in the decision-making process. It not just “the optics”–the fact that seeing women standing next to the President might inspire a young girl to aim high, or subtly nudge the consciousness of those who see her there in the direction of expecting to see women in top spots. It’s all of it, and more. Consider this, from Kristof’s piece:

Skeptics fret that sexual violence is ingrained into us, making the problem hopeless. But just look at modern American history, for the rising status of women has led to substantial drops in rates of reported rape and domestic violence. Few people realize it, but Justice Department statistics suggest that the incidence of rape has fallen by three-quarters over the last four decades.

Likewise, the rate at which American women are assaulted by their domestic partners has fallen by more than half in the last two decades. That reflects a revolution in attitudes. Steven Pinker, in his book ‘The Better Angels of our Nature,’ notes that only half of Americans polled in 1987 said that it was always wrong for a man to beat his wife with a belt or a stick; a decade later, 86 percent said it was always wrong.

Will having more women in high-level positions eliminate all gender violence? No. But the correlation between the “rising status of women” and drops in rates of rape and domestic violence is not coincidence. There’s a link to seeing women in power–and empowered–and seeing them as equals. And when we see others as equals, we tend to treat them that way. Will policies like the Violence Against Women Act and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act eliminate all gender violence? No. But it will make crimes more easily prosecutable. All of it matters; every bit counts. It’s tragic that here, and all over the world, there are those who see women as targets. We should be doing all we can to change that.

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You know the saying:  the best defense is a good offense?  I’m thinking, instead of expending our energy on the war on women, why don’t we wage a war for women?  Right?

I sometimes wonder if we women – roughly half the population and half the workforce too – have been so busy defending ourselves from recent assaults, that we’ve become too distracted, too exhausted, to regain our forward momentum.

After all, the biggest victories for civil rights in our country have been proactive – think LBJ’s work to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or, for that matter, President Obama’s recent pronouncement of support for gay marriage.  Ours is a civil rights issue every bit as important as the fight for equality in any other realm.  But what’s baffling to me is the fact that so many Americans – many of them married to women, the children of women or the parents of women –  find things like equal pay or family-friendly workplaces a subversive idea.  Huh?

I first got to thinking about this after hearing President Obama’s talk at a Women’s Leadership Forum fundraiser back in April, when he reminded the audience, as he often does, that the first act he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. He also reminded the audience that we, as women, still have work to do.

My second nudge was his commencement speech at Barnard, a woman’s school, where he told the new grads:

After decades of slow, steady, extraordinary progress, you are now poised to make this the century where women shape not only their own destiny but the destiny of this nation and of this world.

But how far your leadership takes this country, how far it takes this world — well, that will be up to you. You’ve got to want it. It will not be handed to you. And as someone who wants that future — that better future — for you, and for Malia and Sasha, as somebody who’s had the good fortune of being the husband and the father and the son of some strong, remarkable women, allow me to offer just a few pieces of advice. That’s obligatory. Bear with me.

My first piece of advice is this: Don’t just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table.

A few minutes later, he added this:

You need to do this not just for yourself but for those who don’t yet enjoy the choices that you’ve had, the choices you will have. And one reason many workplaces still have outdated policies is because women only account for 3 percent of the CEOs at Fortune 500 companies. One reason we’re actually refighting long-settled battles over women’s rights is because women occupy fewer than one in five seats in Congress.

Washington Post writer Dana Milbank calls Obama the first female president.   Like it.

Some folks suggest that when our president comes out in defense of women’s rights, he’s simply trolling for votes.  I could care less.  Because what I see is that, for whatever reason, he is putting women’s rights front and center:  He’s issuing a rallying cry, one we can get behind. With plans, actions, proposals of our own. Which is, after all, where change comes from.

When you think about where we stand when it comes to equal pay (still 77 cents to a man’s buck, thank you.  Even less, as we found when we were doing the reporting for Undecided, for women of color), our representation – or lack of same — in government or the C-suites, or our lack of public policy or workplace structures to accommodate families, well, I think it’s downright silly. No, not just silly.  Insane.  Especially when you consider that women now make up the majority of college graduates, and yet, we’re still lacking in rights and representation.

Let’s take the Equal Rights Amendment, for example.  Have you heard of it?  Probably not.  Because guess what:  it was passed in the Senate and the House back in 1972, but to this day has not been ratified because three states apparently found it too, um, radical.  It was reintroduced in 1982 and every year since.  It still has not been ratified.  But before you judge, let’s look at what it really says:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.                           
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

Back to my war for women.  Can’t you just hear what’s coming next?  We girls are just a bunch of angry feminists.  We’re out to destroy the traditional family.  And the big one:  man haters.

Even in 2012, there are still those who equate advocacy for women with hatred toward men, as if we’re all fighting for the same piece of the pie. I have had a number of female students, in fact, tell me that they are reluctant to come out as feminists for fear of the reaction — but that when they do, they feel compelled to also mention that they indeed have boyfriends. (Just as I feel compelled to tell you now that I have been married to the same man for decades and that we happily raised two daughters.)

Anyway, we could spend our energy defending ourselves — and the hundreds of thousands of other women who are openly or secretly feminist.  But that would take our time away from the work we still have to do.  Which, when you think of it, has been one of the most insidious effects of the Republicans’ so-called war on women.

Instead of keeping us busy in the kitchen, they’ve kept us busy playing defense.

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