I appeared on PBS’ To The Contrary, and discussed sexual harassment and its impact on the upcoming elections, Boy Scouts welcoming girls to their ranks, and how social movements effect change:
I appeared on PBS’ To The Contrary, and discussed sexual harassment and its impact on the upcoming elections, Boy Scouts welcoming girls to their ranks, and how social movements effect change:
Earlier this year, several national Democratic Party leaders appeared to collectively lose their minds by suggesting – with no supporting data – that the path to reclaiming power depended on welcoming anti-abortion candidates into the fold.
Helpfully, Virginia voters have stepped forward to provide the data they were missing. Voters are enthusiastic and motivated to elect candidates who act like Democrats, and that means candidates who stand up clearly and affirmatively for abortion rights just like the party platform does.
This spring, as Bernie Sanders stood on a stage with anti-abortion mayoral candidate Heath Mello in Omaha and Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez prepared to meet with the paper tiger advocacy group that calls itself “Democrats for Life,” national press focused on the philosophical cat fight. They largely overlooked the real ground zero of this debate: the Virginia elections.
One of the key differentiators in the primary between Ralph Northam and his challenger Tom Perriello was abortion. As a state senator, Northam had successfully led the fight to relax Virginia’s transvaginal ultrasound law and during the primary gave an unequivocal “no” to a reporter from Rewire who, no doubt referencing the debate taking place among national party officials, asked if there was a place in the Democratic Party for politicians who don’t support abortion.
Perriello had voted for the Stupak-Pitts abortion restriction to the Affordable Care Act during his term in Congress and he apologized for that vote in during the primary. Though he had been personally involved in advancing an anti-abortion agenda, unlike the national Democrats fomenting controversy by suggesting a “big tent” on abortion for candidates in order to win elections in the Trump era, Perriello was able to connect dots that out-of-touch national Democratic leaders have still failed to – buddying up with the right wing and working in opposition to abortion rights won’t fly with the Democratic voters of today, even in swing states.
Ultimately Northam won the primary with a 12-point lead – and that election had the highest turnout of any Democratic primary in Virginia in a non-presidential year. In the general election, he doubled down on his commitment to abortion rights, saturating the Northern Virginia airwaves with commercials spotlighting Republican Ed Gillespie’s contention that he would like to see abortion be banned (disclosure: my daughter and I starred in that ad). That Northam ran a mild-mannered, genteel Southern gentleman’s campaign made his unflinching commitment to reproductive rights ever more notable.
Again, Northam won, this time with a nine-point lead – and winning more votes than any previous Virginia governor. But perhaps the biggest story of the night was the Virginia House of Delegates, where, pending recounts, Democrats picked up at least 15 seats previously occupied by Republican legislators. Women swept the overwhelming majority of those seats, including the poetic justice of Danica Roem, a transgender woman, sending the notoriously anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion Del. Bob Marshall to lick his wounds somewhere in the bowels of bigotry and shameful footnotes. Anti-abortion Democratic candidates were not a presence in the Virginia statehouse election, and all of the incoming new Democratic legislators are pro-choice.
It turns out that the path to Democratic victory in the age of Trump is not paved with anti-abortion candidates. Bernie Sanders, Tom Perez, and other leaders on the left in national spaces should lay off the conservative movement’s anti-abortion talking points and take a cue from Virginia voters who are getting resistance to Donald Trump done in the most spectacular and unanticipated ways. We take our cues from the millions of women who marched around the world the day after Trump’s inauguration. Those women were not confused about their bodies or their rights, and the Democratic men in the national spotlight who are should stop insulting us.
There is no such thing as a progressive opposed to abortion rights. The anti-abortion movement employs fake science, terrorist violence, and works in opposition to public health, equality, and justice. In fact, they have been fanning the flames of the big tent divide they dreamed for in hopes of having no functional opposition in policy arenas and lower Democratic voter turnout due to infighting they started. Virginia voters have proven that the answer is, no thanks.
Republicans don’t need Democrats to join them in voting to ban abortion and criminalize the women who have them, as is evidenced by the felony charges currently facing a woman named Michelle Roberts who allegedly gave herself an abortion in Virginia. Republicans are able to hang to dry with Donald Trump, and themselves.
Strident women move mountains. Strident, like most words that mean abrasive, is rarely applied against men. The strident woman has an opinion. It does not matter what the strident woman’s voice actually sounds like — it might be fast, deliberate, high-pitched, bellowing, or marked by vocal fry — the problem with the strident woman’s voice is that she uses it.
Strident is one of many insults deployed against a woman who seems to have forgotten her role.
Lest you think you can win this, if you’re not strident, you’re usually thrown somewhere on a continuum between ditsy and basic bitch. And still the strident woman roams through the air, her shrill little voice scratching ears like nails on a chalkboard.
Strident is a sexist term. It, like other terms that more or less mean shrill, is applied disproportionately against women in the workplace or positions of authority. There is all kinds of data to back this up, but I’m not going to dive into that now because I want to thank all of these strident women who have achieved amazing things:
Hillary Rodham Clinton • Sojourner Truth • Alice Paul • Gloria Steinem • Angela Davis • Dolores Huerta • Carol Moseley Braun • Emma Sulkowicz • Betty Friedan • Wilma Mankiller • Heather Booth • Sylvia Rivera • Linda Sarsour • Mary Wollstonecraft • Emma Goldman • Donna Edwards • Ellie Smeal • Simone de Beauvoir • Alva Belmont • Marlene Dietrich • bell hooks • Coretta Scott King • Elizabeth Warren • Yoko Ono • Ruth Bader Ginsburg • Sonia Sotomayor • Eleanor Roosevelt • Beyonce • The Leader With The Pigtails On The Playground • The High School Girl Wearing A Feminist Shirt • The Smart Woman At Work Who Isn’t Getting Promoted Even Though It Has Been Her Turn For Awhile
You? Could you be a strident woman reading this post? I want to tell you that you’re doing nothing wrong. I want to tell you to keep it up. When someone doesn’t have the guts or the data to attack your ideas directly, what they will often go for is your personality. Strident is a sexist term meant to silence you by suggesting that the very act of listening to you is intolerable.
I want you to keep pushing because the business of feminism is so deeply unfinished.
This post is dedicated to my lovely colleagues at NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia*, who yesterday in a post on Blue Virginia were accused of “strident” opposition to a candidate who, as I have written about at length, has a disappointing record on abortion at the same time that we have a candidate with a wonderful record. Sounds like garden-variety advocacy to me, but I guess we’re girls (can we be women? can we be fully human? all the time? under the law? am I getting greedy?) and therein lies the rub.
Look, women are allowed to advocate for women. Indeed, nothing will get better for women unless and until we speak up. We must speak up. In that spirit, I invite you to comment on this post with some of your favorite strident women, and then go forth and be strident. Thank you.
*Note: I sit on the NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Foundation Board of Directors, which plays no role in NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s electoral efforts, and I do not speak for the organization. This is me speaking for me, stridently.
There is no such thing as a pro-life progressive. There is no such thing as economic justice without reproductive justice — the right to parent, the right not to parent, and the right to support our families in safe and healthy communities. And yet, my friends, it seems that as of late a number of our friends within the Democratic Party and the broader progressive movement are confused.
We must chase pro-life voters, they say. We must be less rigid about women’s basic human rights.
I can’t tell you how ridiculous it is that some leaders of the Democratic Party have forced this unnecessary, immoral, and losing debate in the middle of a constitutional crisis. Instead of organizing to address what Donald Trump is doing with Russia, some leaders are focused on crapping on their base (us).
Rather than venting, let’s get productive, shall we? Here’s my 10-point plan for beating back this garbage:
1. Be proud to stick up for abortion rights. First and foremost, state your views like a winner. No need to whisper, no need to apologize. You believe in the right to abortion and you’re not buying excuses about why there is something wrong about that.
2. Get people out of their feelings: The approach of policymakers is about policy. People with a variety of feelings about abortion vote to advance, respect, and uphold abortion rights. In the political realm, we are talking about putting people in positions of power to make decisions that impact other people’s lives. The only voting options are yes and no. There are no Blue Books about feelings voting on abortion bans, ultrasound requirements, and unconstitutional laws that force abortion clinics to close.
3. If people insist on wallowing in their feelings as an excuse to torpedo abortion rights, call them out. Why is a woman’s private life open for public debate, when other matters of public policy are not? Do they really believe there is not something a teensy-weensy bit sexist about that? Don’t get scared when someone claps back with “religion” — there are large constituencies who believe in reproductive health, rights, and justice because of faith, not in spite of or in absence of faith. “Religion” has been used as an excuse in many civil rights arenas — notably, as a means to stop advances toward racial justice and LGBTQ equality. At some point you just have to clap back. Sometime after that point, you win.
4. Correct the lie that chasing pro-life voters is going to magically produce the numbers Democrats need to win. Voters who are highly motivated by opposition to abortion are going to vote Republican. Putting in a Democratic candidate who agrees with the Republican is going to drive away more voters than it gains. If people are concerned about Democrats getting more votes, maybe they should tackle voter suppression because that would make a big, actual difference and actually reach toward advancing progressive values.
5. Point out who stands to benefit from this whole mess: Pro-life conservatives. Gee, it must be a coincidence that the people with the most full-throated defense of this crap are pro-life conservatives who want no functional opposition. They don’t want Vice President Mike Pence to have to bother to cast tie-breaking votes. They want Democrats who will vote with them for 20-week bans, refusal clauses, and Trumpcare. Nope.
6. Hold the paper-tiger “pro-life Democrat” groups accountable for their sole agenda item: restricting abortion. Are these folks talking about saving maternity coverage, reducing maternal and infant mortality, expanding Medicaid, defeating Trumpcare, or basically anything else? Negative. These folks are posers with a teeny base and an outsized profile on The New York Times editorial pages, and they rarely act like Democrats in other senses of the term. They should leave Democrats alone and set up shop in Ivanka Trump’s office in the West Wing, where they belong. They’re made for each other.
7. Get Tom Perez to pull a Tim Kaine. DNC Chair Tom Perez has taken a number of bad actions, and he’s kind of all over the place. It’s a mess. At this point his best choice is to pull a Tim Kaine in the vice presidential debate — to turn the tables on the opposition. Stop talking about feelings and big tents, Tom, and ask the Republican Party why they don’t trust women, and why they are banning abortion and sending women to jail!
8. Demand accountability from Democratic politicians who are screwing up. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin met with David Daleiden last week, whose fraudulent videos against Planned Parenthood led to 15 felony charges and whose rallying cry was used by a terrorist who killed three people and injured nine others in Colorado Springs. Bernie Sanders, you are an independent vying for control of the Democratic Party and we see you and your ‘super progressive’ endorsements, too. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi could give better interviews about this flap. Let them know you’re mad.
9. Don’t agonize, organize (part one)! Defeat “pro-life progressives” in your local elections. Think global, act local. Are one of these guys or gals (but let’s be real, it’s mainly guys) running in your area? Volunteer for other campaigns, recruit better candidates if there aren’t any, think about stepping up yourself to run. Talk to other voters. Be indefatigable. Keep persisting, it works.
10. Don’t agonize, organize (part two)! Let the Democratic Party know how you feel. Those national mailers from the DNC with postage-paid envelopes? Return them with messages, not checks. If you’re not already involved in your state and local party, start showing up. The world is run by people who show up.
But also, these are my preliminary ideas. I’d love to hear yours — please share them in the comments! This moment is serious. ALL HANDS ON DECK.
Donald Trump is a monster.
He does not deserve a chance.
YOU deserve a chance.
YOU deserve to live without fear.
Love yourself, and stand up for others.
This is not a drill.
It’s time for an indefinite moratorium on Hillary’s supporters saying she is “not perfect.”
It’s quite obvious nobody is perfect. And yet there seems to be a bizarre — dare we say gendered — compulsion for many of her supporters to disavow her when they’re otherwise affirming her.
Why do we expect perfection of women? Why are we so insistent that women in the public eye do everything just so? When do we say that our political leaders who happen to be men are “not perfect”?
Don’t distort me here. I remain aggressively committed to doing whatever I need to do to ensure Hillary stands up for, prioritizes, and follows through on meaningful progressive policy change for women’s rights, reproductive justice, racial justice, economic justice, and LGBTQ equality.
I’m not afraid to call for changes in her platform. I have not been afraid to have public conversations about her commitment to reproductive rights, especially after Tim Kaine joined the ticket, even when fellow advocates I respect have winced and tried to shush me up (Note: Judging by her eventual swap of the stigmatizing “safe, legal, and rare” to becoming the first major candidate to call for repealing the Hyde Amendment, and Kaine’s improved performance at the vice presidential debate, pressure seems to work). If she becomes the first woman in the White House, I will be glad to criticize her when her actions call for criticism. But I’m also keenly aware that an orientation toward accountability has nothing to do with expecting perfection of a woman.
As this election cycle drags on in the worst ways, I am starting to believe that rejecting the calls for Hillary to be perfect is an act of self-love for women. None of us need be perfect. We need to do our best, and we need to understand that others may call on us to do our best. But expecting perfection of women is sexist, and toxic.
No woman in the public eye symbolizes the tremendous change in opportunities for women more than Hillary Clinton. It is not in spite of this, but because of this, that she inspires passion and deep ambivalence. People love her, or people hate her. The media reports on and questions her style as if the entire credibility of constitutional democracy might rest on her cleavage, her hair, her pantsuits, her scrunchies, and now, her logo.
On substance, feminists are frequently told to judge her by the sexual mores of the man she married. Someone has yet to credibly explain how judging a woman by the actions of her partner, rather than her own actions, is feminist.
In the 2008 elections, the Democratic Party failed to treat Hillary with the respect she deserved. She was surrounded with calls to get out of the race while she was still ahead in the primary.
As one of my mentors, Olga Vives, argued with passion, even during her final days on a sick bed, the women’s movement failed to recognize the extraordinary transformative power of a woman candidate for president, and failed to stand behind Hillary during a grueling primary.
I was, with Olga, active in the National Organization for Women then. It was a contentious time.
Some women’s organizations bestowed endorsements on Obama early in the race, when their memberships were still divided on whether to support Obama or Hillary; others endorsed her, but didn’t challenge the blatant sexism of the Democratic Party pushing her out too soon.
In this vacuum, some of those women’s advocates left standing for Hillary went to ugly places. Some refused to accept Obama as a legitimate candidate, and one who earnestly continues to champion advancements for women, especially in the areas of pay equity and sexual assault; others embraced the racist strategies to defeat him deployed by the right.
One of the strangest strains was a vocal group that proclaimed Sarah Palin was both a feminist (wow, no) and the right candidate to assume the vice presidency (oh my goodness, considering what might have happened really could give a woman the vapors).
This climate presented a difficult slate of options for those of us who were ready for Hillary the first time. She was treated with horrific, condescending, get-out-of-the-way sexism by her own party, and yet the most vocal response to that was a fantasy-land embrace of Sarah Palin, an emotional reaction that amounted to gender essentialism and overlooked the antifeminist platform of her platform, party, and ticket.
My response was simply to get behind Obama, cry when Hillary spoke at the convention, and lose faith that women’s organizations will do the right thing simply because they are women’s organizations — and that the Democratic Party, its leadership, and the progressive movement should be trusted to handle feminist affairs with the current infrastructure charged with holding them accountable.
Which brings me to today.
The problem is that this time around, the treatment of Hillary from within also bears shades of sexism, albeit in a different way. It’s as if to atone for what happened, now the new rule is that Democrats are not allowed to criticize or question Hillary’s positions. Any of them. Even before the general election. Or you, yes you, are failing feminism and perhaps our one and only chance to see a woman president in our lifetimes.
This is not how politics works. Politics, and particularly primary season, is supposed to involve a robust debate of the issues and honing of positions on matters vital to the community.
There is an inherent sexism in the idea that, this time around, Hillary must be handled with kid gloves. If a woman is running for president with the blessing of the big dogs, why must we sit in the back of the classroom and raise our hands and wait to be called on?
There was sexism coming from the establishment in the past, too, in the idea that it wasn’t Hillary’s turn, that something was wrong with her “likability,” when she was a competitive candidate in 2008.
Just as there is sexism in the frame that only women can credibly challenge Hillary today. Why must Hillary play in a women’s league?
This piece is happening on both sides of the aisle.
The calls to draft Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are interesting, because by dint of her actions, principles, and resolve, Warren symbolizes the progressive movement better than any other one candidate. But I’d also like to challenge these calls a bit from a gender lens.
First, it’s the simple matter men dominate everything, including the infrastructural leadership of the progressive movement, and even with Warren’s qualifications, it’s a bit fishy that the official energy backed by money and power has coalesced around her and no other alternative; that a woman is expected to challenge a woman from the left.
Second, some of us may remember when Jessica Williams asked her “feminist” critics on Twitter to lean the fuck away from her after she indicated she was not interested in taking over as host of The Daily Show. There’s an element of that here, although it’s nuanced.
On one hand, Elizabeth Warren has said repeatedly that she is not running for president — and the activists continue to beat the drum. On the other hand, this is sort of how politics work — the song and dance of being asked to run by the grassroots. Still, one is left with a discomfiting sense that were Warren a man, her word might be taken at her word by large progressive organizations like MoveOn.
On the Republican side, Carly Fiorina is expected to run for president, or at least make a great deal of noise. No one expects her to become president — she couldn’t even win a Senate election. So what exactly is she running for, and why is she getting so much space to air her views in presidential fora on the right?
Simple. She is running against Hillary’s campaign on behalf of the real candidates for the Republican Party — just like Jackie Sharp on House of Cards. It’s insulting to Fiorina, and it’s insulting to Hillary. It’s also insulting that the men of the Republican Party who are credible contenders are delegating the women’s work of taking down a woman named Hillary Clinton who steps out of the boundaries of traditional womanhood.
The coming election will bring with it a bevy of sexist attacks; and feminists must call them out and demand a change in culture, no matter where we stand on Hillary and her priorities. But feminists and everyone must also be free to question Hillary and examine her policy proposals as we move forward; it’s frankly sexist to silence ourselves in pursuit of elevating one woman to the top.
I appeared as a panelist on this week’s episode of To The Contrary, and discussed the 2014 election results, paid parental leave and advancing women in the workplace, and women as peacemakers. You can watch a video of the show here:
NARAL has a nifty new video out about why you should vote pro-choice, and I’m proud to be a part of it:
Be awesome or don’t bother, friends.
I appeared as a panelist on this week’s episode of To The Contrary, and discussed the war on women, consent on campus, and fighting breast cancer. You can watch a video of the show here: