Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Feminism and Politics: A Rising Tide

BY: Ellie Grabowski, Senior at The Bryn Mawr School

           "I am an ambitious feminist." Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s words rang out in the auditorium. A split second later, the room filled with cheers and applause. Her words had electrified the audience of teenage girls, and I was caught up in the tide of confidence, inspiration, and awe. For a brief moment, despite all I knew about this unbelievably unjust world in which we live, I was invincible, sitting on the crest of this wave of idealism and determination.
             I attend The Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, Maryland, an all-girls college preparatory school known for its philosophy of women's empowerment. This past November, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York visited and gave a talk followed by a question-and-answer session. She discussed how she entered politics, the struggles she faced and overcame along the way, and her views on issues like sexual assault in the military and paid maternity leave. She was confident. She was intelligent. She was immensely inspiring to the hundreds of teenage girls in her audience. But what struck me the most about her visit was her bold, unapologetic, determined declaration: “I am an ambitious feminist."  Me too.
     There aren’t many self-declared feminists in American culture, let alone American politics. 2014 saw a relative deluge of feminism in mainstream pop culture — ask anyone, and they’ll name BeyoncĂ©, Taylor Swift, Emma Watson, and Lena Dunham — but that doesn’t mean that mainstream pop culture is suddenly feminist. This, after all, is the culture that allowed domestic abuser Ray Rice to be reinstated to the NFL, the culture that tells high school girls that their bodies are distracting to their male classmates, and the culture that was documented by the ten hours’ worth of street harassment a woman recorded while simply walking down the streets of New York City. This is the culture that resulted in Time picking “feminist” as an option for its poll of words of 2014 to ban on November 12th this year. This is the culture in which that option received the most votes.
      And yet, time and time again, I’ve seen and heard people protesting that feminism is unnecessary. I’ve heard people decry the way it’s supposedly been shoved in their faces. I’ve heard people insist that women’s issues really aren’t as big a deal as they’re made out to be, and that those who pick up the label “feminist” only do so because it’s trendy. On the contrary, the very fact that those who call themselves feminists are accused of being shallow is proof that feminism is necessary. How can feminism be only a fashion statement if it is obvious that those who embrace it are relentlessly criticized? One need only look at the shocking amount of hatred and harassment thrown at Emma Watson after her (relatively mild) speech at the UN to see that we need feminism now more than ever.
         There are even fewer feminist politicians today than there are pop stars. Hillary Clinton is one; Senator Gillibrand, clearly, is another; and some people might be able to name Wendy Davis, but it’s hard to think of any more off the top of your head. This persistent absence of women who represent feminism and the realities of women’s lives from the political sphere is the reason why my classmates and I were so inspired by Senator Gillibrand when she visited our school. She is someone rare and necessary. We need more politicians and people like her, people who are not afraid of the word “feminist.”
            For me, it wasn’t hard to call myself either ambitious or feminist. It seemed obvious to me. I have big dreams, so I am ambitious; I believe in equal rights and opportunities for women, so I am a feminist. Senator Gillibrand, it is clear to me, feels the same way. As a politician, by definition, she works with people with whom she does not see eye-to-eye, but she has not let anyone else’s refusal to accept her opinions prevent her from working together with those people to come up with real solutions to real problems.
            According to the National Women’s Political Caucus, women currently make up less than 20% of Congress and less than 25% of state legislatorsThere are two women in President Obama’s Cabinet and three women on the U.S. Supreme Court. And yet, according to the United States Census Bureau, women make up 50.8% of America as of 2013. These numbers do not match. They do not make any sense.
       We need women in politics. That much is blatantly obvious, but it’s not where it ends. We need, more than anything, ambitious, feminist women in politics. We need them now. We cannot solve any problem, be it sexual assault or global warming, paid maternity leave or world hunger, if women are not represented in the government that makes decisions about our lives. We cannot solve any problem if half of the country cannot contribute to the solution.
         I am a teenager; I am a young woman; I am a student. I have a voice in this world, and I am determined to use it. The sense of invincibility that I felt during Senator Gillibrand’s visit in November does not have to fade away; the crest of that wave is not necessarily fated to come crashing down back to reality. We have the power to use our momentum to keep pushing higher and higher.
        I am not an aspiring politician, but Senator Gillibrand’s visit inspired me, as it did many of my classmates, to take a stand once again for issues that are important to me. I am an ambitious feminist. You can be, too.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Looking to the Future: Political Parity in Florida

By: Rijaab Mansoor, NWPC Communications Intern
November 4th was a sad day for women in Florida. With the reelection of anti-choice incumbent Governor Rick Scott, as well as the victories of several other anti-women candidates, significant ground has been lost in the fight for equal rights and access to reproductive health services. It was no surprise to see the overwhelming swing towards the right this election cycle. However, post-election day, it is clear that there needs to be progress made in the role of women in politics in Florida.

Florida doesn’t have the best reputation of being friendly to women voters (remember the Say Yes to the Dress ad debacle?), but that hasn’t deterred some from running for office. In this election cycle, there were many races that represented women’s issues, as well as several districts where both candidates were women! For the Florida State Senate, there were a total of 5 women running between 10 contested districts. There were also 9 women running in 8 districts for a seat in the US House of Representatives. Although these numbers show an uptick in female participation in politics, the results of these elections were not as hopeful. 5 of the 9 women running for a seat in the US House of Representatives were victorious. In the Florida State Senate race, only two of the five were able to secure a seat.

Fast-forward to today, and the picture of political parity in Florida is as grim as ever. Of our Congressional delegation, only 6 of the 29 Representatives are women, which is just 20%. There are only 12 female Senators in our State Senate of 40, or about 30%. The Florida House of Representatives has 21 female Representatives in the total House of 120, which is again just 20%. With numbers this bleak, it is hard to imagine a future where women will have equal power in government in Florida. And yet, we will not lose hope! Women in Florida must continue to fight for equality on all fronts, including equal pay and reproductive rights. The best way to ensure this is through continued participation in the political process. We cannot stop trying to break through the glass ceiling which continues to hold us down. With the support of groups such as the National Women’s PoliticalCaucus and its state branch, the National Women’s Political Caucus of Florida, women in Florida will surely reach the goal of political parity and equal rights for all!

All data taken from Florida Election Watch:

Friday, November 14, 2014

An Inspiring Afternoon with an Inspiring Woman

By: Alexis McCruter, NWPC Political Planning and Action Intern

Through my internship at the National Women’s Political Caucus, I was given the opportunity to go to a Leadership Seminar  at Georgetown Law that ended up serving as both an awakening and pivotal experience.  The Leadership Seminar was hosted by Liberty and Access for All, in conjunction with the Black Law Student Association of Georgetown Law School. Liberty and Access for All is a new nonprofit organization committed to raising bipartisan leadership amongst minorities and underrepresented groups in America. When I got there, I immediately started to shake hands and introduce myself to people.  I had no idea what to expect, but I knew that I was in for a treat when the invited speaker walked into the room.

The invited speaker was former Federal Prosecutor Sharon Eubanks. Scurrying to a front row seat, I took out pencil and paper so that I was ready to soak in all the wisdom she was going to give to us. She spoke so transparently about her climb to the top. It’s always refreshing to listen to a professional speaker who has not forgotten the exact place where her audience comes from. She came down to a level at which we all could closely identify with. Her story was not only interesting, but it reignited a flame inside me which had been burning out. Even though the room was full of people, it felt as if she was directly speaking to me.
Ms. Eubanks has led and continues to lead a very successful career. She has proven that as both a woman and a minority, she is a force to be reckoned with. She spoke very openly about the prejudice she faced being a woman of color in her field. There was one point in her presentation where she said something that I, as an African American woman, could closely relate to. She said, “As a black woman, I couldn’t skip any of the ladder steps. My white male counterparts were constantly getting promoted over me and they weren’t half as qualified as I was…. I had to work twice as hard to be just as good.”  I knew all too well the struggle of walking into a room and having to prove and help others see that I actually was qualified to do what I’d come to do.
The second talking point she made that resonated with me was about career moves. Her career in Law was so extensive. She said, “I took what I could get until I could get what I wanted. Most times that will actually lead you to exactly where you need to be.” The idea was so simple but so profound. That was the story of my life seemingly for the last 8 months or so. It was so funny, because even though in some instances I was taking what I could get, it always landed me where I needed to be and even further than my original plan would have gotten me.
I stuck around and waited patiently for her to speak with all those who’d lined up to shake her hand. When the room was near empty I walked up to her and said, “Can I speak with you?” She said, “Sure!” I took a deep breath and asked for her contact information and without hesitation she jotted it all down for me. I was amazed by her willingness to help me. This was by far one of the best experiences my internship has given me. Ms. Eubanks helped me in a multitude of ways.

“Equality is not a concept. It's not something we should be striving for. It's a necessity. Equality is like gravity. We need it to stand on this earth as men and women, and the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance, and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who's confronted with it. We need equality. Kinda now.”   Joss Whedon

Monday, November 10, 2014

Carol Shea-Porter and the Fall of America's Only All-Female Delegation

By: Shannon MacLeod, NWPC Political Planning Intern 
and former Intern for Rep. Shea-Porter

The people of New Hampshire have a lot to be proud of. They were the first state to declare their independence from Great Britain (#trendsetters), incredibly popular fictional President Josiah Bartlett lived there (so did incredibly unpopular real president Franklin Pierce, but we don’t have to talk about that), and they were the only state to ever have elected an all-female Congressional delegation.

As Democrats everywhere said a somber goodbye to their Senate Majority, they also said goodbye to two-time (yes, that’s time, not term) Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter. Shea-Porter lost a heated battle with one-time congressman Frank Guinta. The two have been dueling for the opportunity to represent the 1st district since 2010 when Guinta unseated Shea-Porter in the first Republican Wave. New Hampshire voters then changed their minds when they re-elected Shea-Porter in 2012, but apparently changed their minds yet again in 2014. These fickle New Hampshirans (New Hampshireites?) seem to have found the solution to the problem of congressional races: Taking turns.

I, like 48.2% of voters in the New Hampshire 1st, am sad to see Carol Shea-Porter go. She has been a staunch supporter of women’s issues, co-sponsoring bills like the Supporting Working Moms Act and the Women's Health Protection Act. She has steadfastly voted against anti-choice legislation that would limit access to abortion, such as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. Frank Guinta’s record is far more troubling, having voted for the No Tax Payer Funding for Abortion Act and stating that he supports Crisis Pregnancy Centers. Thankfully, we have probably not have seen the last of Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter. She has run in every congressional race since 2006, regardless of incumbency, and her dedication to the citizens of New Hampshire never seems to falter. New Hampshire might not have an all female delegation anymore, but that doesn’t mean they won’t again soon.

So What’s Next? A Liberal Take on the Midterm Elections and the Future of the Democratic Party

By: Alexis McCruter, NWPC Political Planning Intern

In the recent midterm elections, the Democratic Party took a bit of a fall. On November 4th, the Republicans gained control of the Senate in what is now being called a “Republican Wave.” The GOP dominated, now controlling 52 of the 100 senate seats. There has a lot of speculation as to what these numbers mean for Americans and women in particular. Notable Democratic losses include Senate seats in both Iowa and Colorado as well as governor races in Florida and Wisconsin, and the losses don’t stop there! The Democratic Party also lost competitive governor races in Illinois, Maryland, Maine and Massachusetts. Thankfully, the night was not all bad. Marijuana became legal in Washington, D.C. and Oregon, and the minimum wage was raised in Arkansas, Illinois and Nebraska.

The Republican Party is not generally seen as the party of women and minorities, but this election was just as much about women’s rights as it was about the country’s deficit. Both sides of the aisle made a conscious effort to include women’s issues in the conversation in the hopes of garnering support from a group that makes up more than 50% of the electorate.

While many Democrats ran on the platform of continuing to fight for a women’s right to choose, Republicans were busy creating a new meaning to the phrase “War on Women.” That being said, the Republicans still seemed to do a great job of regaining the trust of American women. This couldn’t have been the easiest task considering the recent attacks on women’s reproductive rights, including cuts to funding delegated to Planned Parenthood, ultimately leading to limiting access to abortions in America.

So what does this mean for Hilary in 2016? Assuming that she is running, will she be viewed as a capable heroine, able to stand up against the Republican Party, or will Americans see her as just another candidate trying to defeat Republicans for the sake of it?
This onslaught of Republican representatives might not mean that we can expect a Republican president. Midterm elections hardly ever favor the party of the President, and if the even larger Republican wave of 2010 didn’t predict the winner of the 2012 election, we cannot expect 2014 to do so for 2016. It is far too early to count out either party, and the Presidential elections should be an exciting race to watch.

Now is as good of time as any to come together as women regardless of political party, and set the stage for the battle for the White House in 2016. Let’s make the next election about women’s issues and really force the candidates from both parties to answer to female voters. This could be the fight to maintain your voice and reproductive freedoms.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Representative Vern Buchanan “De-friends” American Women

Guest Blogger: Caitlin Highland, NWPC Political Planning Intern

Representative Vern Buchanan (R-FL) has “de-friended” American women.

Imagine this scenario: your friend is using your computer to look at the Facebook profile of her new coworker. She forgets that she is on your account, and sends a friend request. Later, you have a notification that the coworker is now your Facebook friend. You do not know her, but you look through her profile to research her. You have little in common, it seems. She likes action movies, and you prefer horror. She may be a little more liberal than you. She seems nice, though. Do you make the effort to defriend her, or do you let your Facebook friendship be? You most likely let it be. To actively defriend her is to go out of your way to demonstrate disassociation.

Representative Buchanan found himself in a similar situation last week, and he chose to take a stance against American women. On June 3, 2013, his name appeared on the list of co-sponsors for H.J. Res. 43, a bill to remove the deadline for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). To supporters and ERA activists, this move signaled some bipartisan support for the bill, as Buchanan was the first Republican co-sponsor.  However, on June 6th, Buchanan withdrew his name from the list. When the National Women’s Political Caucus contacted his office for information on the withdrawal, his legislative aid claimed that Buchanan had been signed on as a mistake, and more information would likely not persuade the Congressman.

His co-sponsorship may have been an accident—almost like an accidental friend request—but support for the ERA should be uncontroversial. It simply promises equality regardless of gender, and allows Congress to enforce gender equality. How does this not align perfectly with the Congressman’s views? To actively oppose the bill by withdrawing his name is offensive to all women. In fact, H.J. Res. 43, the bill in question, only removes the deadline for ratification of the ERA, in order to avoid restarting the ratification process. Currently, thirty-five states have ratified the amendment and only three more are needed, but the ratification deadline has passed.

By “de-friending” this bill, Congressman Buchanan has made it clear that he is no friend of American women. We know that he is aware of this important legislation and that his absence from the co-sponsor list is not out of naivetĂ©. By withdrawing his support, he is actively refusing women the guarantee of equal rights under the Constitution. Buchanan and other lawmakers should co-sponsor this bill, or S.J. Res. 15, the Senate version, to demonstrate their friendship with American women.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The importance of the upcoming November 6th Presidential elections cannot be adequately stressed for women voters as we head to the polls.  Due to some unfortunate, or possibly fortunate, gaffes by both candidates, women’s issues have been placed front and center in the spotlight of their messaging.  Women are being wooed, our votes being courted, but how do we know if their promises are sincere?

While women certainly are not one-issue voters, it seems that even candidates recognize that there are some issues that uniquely resonate. When we make our decisions it may just be these slight differences and assurances that make us feel secure in their hands.  Recent ads from both the Obama and Romney camp have addressed the issue of choice.  Although rarely polling as the most important issue to women voters, it is certainly something that can swing the vote of an undecided woman.

Most jarring to the audience of the recent Presidential debates was how women were included, and not included, in the discussions of our policy.  Although we may be able to point to differences in the policies and positions of the two parties, the similarity we saw in the first debate regarding National policy was that women were not considered an important agenda item.  As 51% of the population and still experiencing discrimination in political, business and personal arenas it was a glaring error and representative of how we must focus on all parties and candidates to include women as talking points.

The Town Hall and final Presidential debate on Foreign Policy were great improvements in regards to the attention women’s issues received.  Likely in response to the overwhelming pressure women’s groups placed on the candidates to include women in the discussions, we saw the issues of paycheck fairness and gender equality brought up in both debates.  Despite being relegated to pages in a binder by one candidate, the attention brought much needed discussion to where women are in the economy and how important it is to improve this status.

The recent Presidential debates are fresh in our minds; however, we need to take an extensive look into what the candidates have been saying for the entirety of their campaign and how it fits into each party agenda.  We are still learning about GOP Candidate Governor Mitt Romney’s exact stance in regards to women’s issues.  President Barack Obama has been fairly consistent in his statements in regards to women’s issues and does not need to go on the attack.  Both candidates do have some areas that could be improved and neither is perfect but we need to take an informed look before we can decide who receives our votes.

The National Women’s Political Caucus feels that this election is pivotal in maintaining and enhancing women’s rights in the United States.  We will be spending the upcoming two weeks trying to help delineate what the candidates are saying and how we can be the presence from the outside that encourages both parties to strive for women’s equality.  Knowledge is power and we plan to make as informed a judgment as possible and want to help others do so as well.

-Bettina Hager, NWPC Programs Director