Posts Tagged ‘Gail Collins’

When 30 year-old Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke tried to testify in favor of health insurance-covered contraception at a Congressional hearing (and, after being blocked by Rep. Darrell Issa R-CA, then had to issue her extremely articulate testimony via YouTube), Rush Limbaugh had this to say in return:

[She] goes before a Congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex, what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps. The johns.

Maureen Dowd – herself a past target of Limbaugh’s name-calling — took him down in the New York Times Sunday Review, point by point, starting with the fact that he implies that birth control is a “welfare entitlement,” when, of course, it’s not: employers and insurance companies would cover contraception, not tax dollars. And

Mother Jones pointed out that Rush, a Viagra fan, might be confusing the little blue pill and birth control, since “when and how much sex you have is unrelated to the amount of birth control you need.”

But let’s assume he wasn’t confusing the two little pills. Let’s assume he was well aware that his “welfare entitlement” remark was factually inaccurate. Let’s assume he knew exactly how wrong he was. No, wait! Let’s assume he really believed he was right – and still, rather than laying out a rational argument — he instead took the desperate-for-attention, cowardly bully’s way out. Slut! Neener neener.

Pretty much every single time we write about feminism on the HuffingtonPost, at least one or two commenters will appear, calling us ugly. Fat. Man-hating. Feminazis. Yet rarely do these haters bother to address the issue at hand, whatever we happened to be writing about on that particular day. That’s because it’s not about the issues. Tossing Pee-Wee Herman-caliber barbs is easy. Ridiculous as they may be, taking them is a little harder. I mean, I don’t think I’m ugly (calling all haters, here’s your chance to disagree!), but that doesn’t really matter. It still stings. And Limbaugh and Internet commenters and schoolyard bullies and others like them count on that: if a woman knows that standing up for, say insurance-covered birth control will have her publicly labeled a slut, she’s probably that much more likely to keep mum (and to continue shelling out for it, out of her own pocket).

It all reminds me of something I wrote about a while back, about a conversation I’d come across between journalists Joan Walsh and Gail Collins, ahead of the release of Collins’ book “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women From 1960 to the Present.”

I was struck by some of what Collins said in the final clip, when Walsh asked her about Billy Jean King, who Collins frames in the book as a real-life feminist hero. Talking about the much-hyped “Battle of the Sexes,” in which King wiped the court with a not-at-the-top-of-his-game Bobby Riggs (who, even when he was at the top of his game, wasn’t all that threatening), Collins said the following:

The importance of it to me was that women who fought for women’s rights in the 60s and 70s did not get hosed down, or attacked by snarling dogs, or thrown in jail; they got laughed at. And humiliation and embarrassment was the great huge club that people used to keep women in line.

How much has really changed?

Some of Rush’s advertisers have dropped off, and President Obama himself gave Fluke a call, telling her that her parents should be proud. The Senate (barely) voted down a bill that would allow insurers and employers to deny contraception coverage based on any “religious or moral” objection. Rush “apologized.” So, that’s progress.

There are those who say Limbaugh’s whole schtick is to be outrageous. It’s about ratings, they argue. So I guess real progress will happen when grown-ups no longer choose to listen to grown men behaving like children, or defend grown men behaving like children on the grounds that it’s “entertaining.”

It’s not entertaining. It’s pathetic. And to those who may disagree, I’d love to hear it. And to those who may disagree but will instead insult me, I say: I know you are, but what am I?

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Did you hear the one about funny feminists?

Check the repartee between New York Times columnist Gail Collins and writer Stacy Schiff, author of the forthcoming “Cleopatra: A Life”, in Wednesday’s Opinionator column.  They wax feminist about everything from Mama Grizzlies to Manolos, and give us a chuckle or two along the way.   Funny, stand-up style, in a true story kinda way.   Here’s a taste:

Gail Collins: I can’t resist the temptation to talk about women in politics even though I know we should be counterintuitive and debate the use of drones in antiterrorism operations.

Stacy Schiff: We can do that next time. Besides, I’m not sure topics divide neatly along gender lines when the individual tackling missile defense systems, nuclear nonproliferation and the Middle East is someone who once made national news with a chocolate chip cookie recipe.

True, that.   (Google Hillary and cookies and you get 668,000 hits)  Now, onto Grizzlies:

Gail Collins: One thing I’ve been surprised by during the current election season is the ongoing argument over whether Sarah Palin or her Mama Grizzly candidates could be regarded as feminists. Can I tell you how amazing it is to hear anybody fighting for the title?

Stacy Schiff: It is a word that can clear a room, isn’t it? Maybe only “bedbugs” does so faster.

Let’s hit shoes:

Gail Collins: Every time I go on a speaking tour I get questions from sad middle-aged women who want to know why their daughters all insist they aren’t feminists. They might be planning to devote their lives to healing fistula victims in Somalia, but they won’t let anyone call them feminists because they think it means being anti-man, or wearing unattractive shoes.

Stacy Schiff: Partly the word has been deliberately sullied, like “liberal” and “progressive.” It spells man-hating, militant, and, especially, no Manolos.

If it makes you feel better, I just texted my 17-year-old to ask if she considered herself a feminist. “If by feminism, you mean equality,” she answers, “then yes.” It’s not a word that appeals, because her generation thinks the work has been done. They’ve been reading articles about the End of Men. Somehow the news that men who work full-time make on average 23 percent more than women do seems to have escaped them.

And back to the Grizzlies:

Gail Collins: Do you think the Mama Grizzlies really can be feminists? I don’t think you can throw a woman out of the club because she voted against the stimulus bill. But if feminism simply means supporting equal rights and equal opportunities for women, I don’t see how a feminist can be opposed to government programs that provide poor working mothers with quality child care.

Stacy Schiff: Exactly. The issue is no longer first-rate intellect, or first-rate temperament, but first-rate opportunity. Which is where the Mama Grizzly business really falls down.

An actual grizzly mom is a single mom. She lends a whole new definition to full-time homemaker. If Dad shows up it’s probably to eat the kids. What Mama Grizzly wouldn’t believe in school lunches, health insurance and quality childcare? Who’s going to look after the kids while she’s off hunting? It’s really, really clever to put this powerful vocabulary — pit bulls and grizzlies — in the service of disempowering people. Kind of like death panels in reverse.

Strangely enough, politics may just be the one realm in which having kids imposes no penalty on women. Kids are practically a necessity. For scientists, or Supreme Court justices, or chief executives, or the woman who wants to learn to fly F-l8s off an aircraft carrier, it works differently.

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Yesterday afternoon, with Barbara’s post simmering in my mind, I came across a piece that struck a chord: part written synopsis, part video Q&A (yay, Internet!) between Salon.com’s Joan Walsh and Gail Collins, author of the new book “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women From 1960 to the Present,” which Barbara wrote about a while back, it’s a must read (and watch).

And, given the gist of yesterday’s post–about the impossibility of shucking your seventh grade skin, and the eternal tyranny of the mean girls–I was struck by some of what Collins said in the final clip, when Walsh asked her about Billy Jean King, who Collins frames in the book as a real-life feminist hero. Talking about the much-hyped “Battle of the Sexes,” in which King wiped the court with a not-at-the-top-of-his-game Bobby Riggs (who, even when he was at the top of his game, wasn’t all that threatening), Collins said the following:

The importance of it to me was that women who fought for women’s rights in the 60s and 70s did not get hosed down, or attacked by snarling dogs, or thrown in jail; they got laughed at. And humiliation and embarrassment was the great huge club that people used to keep women in line.

And, right after that, stars clearly in full alignment, I came across this piece from the Cornell Daily Sun, called “Where’s My Post-Feminist Manifesto?” In it, Julie Block writes:

As an American, fairly privileged girl in this day and age, admitting that you are a feminist and that you believe it’s still necessary to fight for women’s rights even among other fairly privileged girls can sometimes leave you high and dry in the popularity department.

While Block’s talking about coming to own the label “feminist” (which I wrote about some moons ago), the fact remains: That club Collins talks about? It’s pretty powerful. No one wants to be laughed at. We care what other people think, whether we’re talking about being dissed by those who believe that to be a feminist is to be a man-and-razor-hating lesbian, or being snubbed by the mean girls from seventh grade we’ve reconnected with and hope will be impressed enough with the way we’ve chosen to live our life that they’ll want to be our friend this time around, or our real friends, who’ve made different choices–and might or might not be dropping some snark about our own when our backs are turned. Oh sure, we say we don’t care, but Collins has done her research. The woman has chronicled fifty years of womanity. And I daresay, when it comes down to our choices, the fear that, to quote the Jerky Boys, they’re all gonna laugh at you–well, it’s a lot more powerful than we’d care to admit.

But, it’s not all doom and gloom. Far from it. In fact, among the many rays of hope Collins offered, this bit caught my ear:

If you look back in our history, the times that women tended to do best in the sense that they had more opportunity and more room to maneuver are always the kind of chaotic times.

Why would that leave me hopeful? It seems to me, the current world is nothing if not chaotic. (In fact, I wrapped a birthday present today in newspaper and had my choice of headlines: War. Unemployment. Swine flu…. God bless you, Tiger Woods.) So here’s to a chaos loud enough to drown out the laughter, and the strength not to care, to pick up the racket and serve it up anyway–exactly the way we want to–even when we do hear it. And then we’ll see who’s laughing.

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Given the –well, the shitstorm that’s erupted over the attempt to saddle health care reform with the cynical, sabotaging, decidedly anti-choice Stupak-Pitts amendment, it’s fitting to revisit an issue that simply will not go away. Us versus Them.

But first. There’s some awesome, mandatory reading currently waiting for you over at the New Yorker‘s website, in the form of a piece entitled “Lift and Separate: Why is feminism still so divisive?” written by Ariel Levy. In it, you’ll get a crash course in feminism’s second wave, beginning with the bra burning that never happened at a 1968 protest against the Miss America pageant that did, and continuing clean through last year’s presidential race, Gail Collins‘ recent book “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present,” and Republican political analyst Leslie Sanchez’s new book, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Maybe: Sarah, Michelle, Hillary and the Shaping of the New American Woman.”

The Cliff’s Notes version: Levy is no fan of Sanchez, and her piece frames a compelling argument. She writes:

There are political consequences to remembering things that never happened and forgetting things that did. If what you mainly know about modern feminism is that its proponents immolated their underwear, you might well arrive at the conclusion that feminists are ‘obnoxious,’ as Leslie Sanchez does in her new book… ‘I don’t agree with the feminist agenda,’ Sanchez writes. ‘To me, the word feminist epitomizes the zealots of an earlier and more disruptive time.’ Here’s what Sanchez would prefer: ‘No bra burning. No belting out Helen Reddy. Just calm concern for how women are faring in the world.’

Call me crazy, but it seems to me that the time Sanchez dubs ‘disruptive’ was the time when some serious things got done. Calm, after all, is a close relative of passive.

Levy continues, accusing Sanchez of measuring progress “solely by the percentage of people with government jobs who wear bras.” And what, you might ask, is the problem with measuring our equality by the numbers? Well, in becoming what she calls “identity politics, a version of the old spoils system”–i.e., picking a group to identify with, and joining together to claim your rightful piece of the pie–we have become too focused on getting women into positions of power, but not focused enough on what they should do when they get there. In other words, Sarah Palin.

Consider Sanchez’ dismissal of Gloria Steinem’s criticism of the former Alaska governor, in which she complains that when Steinem wrote in the L.A. Times that “Palin shares nothing but a chromosome with Clinton,” to Sanchez’ mind, she was really saying: “You can run, Sarah Palin, but you won’t get my support because you don’t believe in all the same things I believe in.”

And that’s a problem? So, only men get to vote according to their ideals, and women have to vote according to chromosome? Come on.

Yes, it’s important that we’ve gained representation. But consider, as Levy reminds us:

In 1971, a bipartisan group of senators, led by Walter Mondale, came up with legislation that would have established both early-education programs and after-school care across the country. Tuition would be on a sliding scale based on a family’s income bracket, and the program would be available to everyone but participation was required of no one. Both houses of Congress passed the bill.

Nobody remembers this, because, later that year, President Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Child Development Act, declaring that it ‘would commit the vast moral authority of the National Government to the side of ‘communal approaches to child rearing’ and undermine ‘the family-centered approach.’ He meant ‘the traditional-family-centered approach,’ which requires women to foresake every ambition apart from motherhood.

And so, here we are. The demise of that bill wasn’t due to in-bickering, but it’s nearly 40 years later. The women are there, but is the woman-friendly work getting done?

As Levy says:

So close. And now so far. The amazing journey of American women is easier to take pride in if you banish thoughts about the roads not taken. When you consider all those women struggling to earn a paycheck while rearing their children, and start to imagine what might have been, it’s enough to make you want to burn something.

Insofar as it relates to the current abortion amendment on the Health Care Reform bill, well, I hate to see lawmakers hedging their bets, pussy-footing around, and doing their best to take a critical right away from women who need it now–or might some day. And I loathe those who are telling those who care passionately about the issue to “Simmer down, honey; that’s not the way politics works.” (Check Kate Harding’s post at Broadsheet for a take that’ll make you scream.) Let me be clear: Fuck the Stupak Amendment. Reproductive rights are critical. But health care reform is critical for women in particular, for a ton of reasons: we’re overcharged, underinsured, more likely to be reliant on our spouse for insurance, more likely to go bankrupt due to medical reasons–and we can be denied coverage on the basis of “preexisting conditions” that include pregnancy, C-sections, and domestic violence. So, while I’d like to reiterate–Fuck the Stupak Amendment–at the same time, considering Levy’s words above, I have to wonder: what would women’s lives look like today if that Comprehensive Child Development Act was part of our world? We were so close, it would have seemed absurd in 1971 to say: Guess what? Come 2009, that’ll be so far from reality, it will seem ridiculous. In 40 years, do we want to be stuck with the same dismal health care system we’ve got now, wondering how reform slipped away?

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Just when you’re ready to drop an F-bomb, there’s this: Lesley Stahl’s interview of New York Times columnist Gail Collins, whose new book “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of Women from 1960 to the Present” reminds us of how far we’ve come in the past 50 years. And makes us smile along the route.

Yeah, yeah, we’ve got a ways to go. You’ve read that in this space multiple times: The institutions haven’t changed the way we wanted. There are still some Neanderthals walking among us. Work-life balance, still a pipe dream. Women are still penalized on the job for hopping on and off the career track to care for their kids. And most pressing for the undecided among us, we still can’t get the hang of dealing with all our newfound options. Still, as a reminder of the starting gate, Collins offers these two anecdotes, circa 1960. Better sit down.

Lois Rabinowitz was a secretary in Manhattan and in the summer of 1960 made history, or at least headlines, when she was expelled from traffic court in Manhattan for attempting to pay a parking ticket while wearing slacks. And the judge went nuts. She was defaming the honor of the traffic court. And this was true, and so many women I’ve talked to who remembered back on those days, how awful it was. If you worked in the Post Office you had to wear a skirt. And it was extremely uncomfortable; extremely cold for some women. And just the right to wear sensible clothes was completely withheld.

And then there is the executive express, the plane flight United used to have from New York to Chicago every day, and it was men only; a woman could not buy a seat on the executive express – too bad if you wanted to go to Chicago at that point in time. And they would serve the men these big, huge steaks and cigars and the stewardesses were taught how to lean over and light the cigars and so on. And whenever I tell that story somebody says, “Well wasn’t that illegal?” Nothing was illegal back then. It was perfectly legal to say, “Well we don’t hire women for those jobs,” or as Newsweek used to say, “Women don’t write. They only research.”

They only research? Lesley Stahl had a story of her own:

There was a little incident … in ‘74. I was going to anchor on election night, the first time a woman was going to do that, and I was very nervous. My boss brought me around when they were building the set to show me that it was cozy and wonderful, and he said, “You shouldn’t be nervous because you’ll be in a little circle.” And he said, “Walter will be sitting right there.” And in front of his place it said “Cronkite.” And he said, “Roger will be there,” and it said “Mudd.” And, “Mike will be there.” It said “Wallace.” And he said, “You’ll be there.” And it said “Female.”
And my boss almost had a heart attack, he was so mortified and embarrassed. But my reaction in those days was to laugh, because the truth is – and I think all my friends my age who came in to work, and it’s not just journalism, I would say this anywhere – we were just so thrilled that they let us in the door, and that we were allowed to cover politics, or allowed to do an operation, or allowed to try a case in a courtroom. In those first early days it was just so exciting that they let us in the door …

Puts things in perspective, no? At the top of the interview, Collins said that, as far as the Women’s Movement is concerned, and despite all that’s left to do, we’ve won. Here’s her explanation:

I mean that in 1960 the vision of women’s limitations of the proper role for women in society was not at bottom much different than it was, say, in 1200 or 1600, but there was the same vision of what women were, and what women could do, that existed throughout Western civilization. And it changed in my lifetime and your lifetime, Lesley, in this tiny sliver of time that we live in. And that knocks me out every time I think about it. Women being born today are going to have all kinds of problems, many of them having to do with trying to balance family and career, I will tell you, but that kind of sense of limitations that existed throughout civilization and society just is not there for them. And that’s so huge…

At one point, Stahl asks Collins if one of the reasons she wrote the book was to familiarize younger women, who are loathe to use the F-word, with the roots of feminism.

There’s something about that word “feminism,” I must say, that’s always been a problem. This is not just our generation. Even back in the ’20s women were writing that there was something about the word “feminism” that suggested bad shoes or something. So I’m not totally convinced that just because young women don’t want to be called feminist that that means they’re not sympathetic to female solidarity, or interested in their own history. But it is true that everybody in America’s sense of history is not what it might be. But they have their own stories and the fact that they grow into the world, that they come into the world, thinking that, just as a matter of fact, “Well of course I’m going to go to work, and of course I’m going to do whatever I think I want to do, and of course if I want to be a doctor I’m going to be a doctor, and of course if I want to be an astronaut I’ll be an astronaut.” The fact that they’re so confident that these things will happen, or can happen, for them is not entirely a bad thing…

But back to those bad shoes. Stahl brings up the fact that women have gone from stilettos to sensible shoes — and now back again to spike heels. She say she loves it. Got it, says Collins:

And, you know, we’ll never get around that. There are just some things that became clear to me as I was doing the research, that are walls you are never going to climb over, and separating women from really ridiculous but incredibly sexy shoes is one of those.

I’m with ya, sister.

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