January 19, 2009 / Uncategorized

The Tyranny Of Low Expectations: Democratic Women Politicians Celebrate

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Editor’s note: Beginning this month, The New Agenda Blog will be featuring regular columns from a diverse group of contributors. Gretchen Glasscock is Founder and President of Advancing Women, an organization and web portal that supports equity for women and minorities in the workplace through career and financial parity. She’s also the editor of the Advancing Women Career & Biz Blog and a co-founder of The New Agenda.

WASHINGTON - JUNE 07:  U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodha...
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I have to admit I feel intensely conflicted when I see stories like the following:

“Democratic women in politics celebrated”, 1/9/09, by Mackenzie Carpenter in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

WASHINGTON — They joked. They choked up. They banged shoes, they gave thanks, and delivered a warning: that despite gains for progressive female candidates in the 2008 election, there are still five men for every woman in the U.S. House of Representatives.

A lively, lengthy luncheon was hosted by feminist fundraising organization Emily’s List and headlined by Secretary of State nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton and a parade of political superstars celebrating 2008 victories by Democratic women — and female cabinet appointments by President-elect Barack Obama.

The mostly female audience of 2,000 stomped and cheered wildly when Mrs. Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Labor secretary nominee Hilda Solis and Homeland Security secretary nominee Janet Napolitano appeared at the Washington Hilton event to deliver the same message, over and over again: Without Emily’s List, they wouldn’t be there.

Emily’s List is one of the largest and most respected political action committees in the country, which during the 2007-08 election cycle raised more than $43 million to recruit and support liberal women candidates. The organization has just helped elect Senators Hagan and Shaheen, and brought us feminist House members like Diana DeGette, Lynn Woolsey, Betty McCollum, Jan Schakowsky, and Stephanie Herseth and Senators Stabenow and Murray. Quite an achievement, and certainly one to be applauded.

I am all for women getting together and celebrating our victories. But then I’m immediately caught up short with the haunting question: “What exactly are our victories?”

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney wrote a book, Rumours of Our Progress Have Been Greatly Exaggeratedwhich pretty much sums up the problem. Maloney, described as a “gracious, intelligent, fiery and fabulous feminist” makes the point that real progress will come for women “when there is a critical mass of women in government. Once 30% of our representatives are women [Ed. some say 50%], women’s issues begin to be addressed. The United States is nowhere near that critical mass yet.”

We are at 16%-17% of women in Congress. So again, I have to ask….although it may feel good at the moment, exactly what is there to celebrate?

I know most are in a celebratory mood with the coming inauguration and the historical precedent of fuller equality in political office and the life of our country. But let’s face it. Women are still looking for full equity in this society.

And the danger I see is that of the tyranny of low expectations.

We seem to be happy with the crumbs. The term used in this context was “gleeful”. We feel grateful to achieve anything; to get elected to anything merits our celebration.

To me, 16%-17% of women in Congress should merit our outrage and our anger or at the very least our unified and coordinated resistance.

I know. I know. No one likes an angry woman. It is one of the stereotypes used against us. But where would our country be without the outrage that instigated the Boston Tea Party? And where would women be without the Suffragettes’ refusal to accept the status of second class citizens without the full rights enjoyed by others and guaranteed by our Constitution? Where, in fact, would African Americans be without Rosa Parks and her refusal to stoically accept what she was dished out? Would we then be celebrating this inauguration with this incoming president. Or would be waiting another generation or two?

There are some women who are brimming with frustration and disappointment over the slowness—the “pouring molasses on a February day in Vermont” slowness—of our progress. These women may not be sanguine over the success of Emily’s List, believing there is too little accomplishment or laying the blame on women themselves, for one reason or another.

Although they certainly have a right to their opinion and can speak for themselves, I don’t agree with that. I believe we should take pride in and claim our accomplishments as was done at this luncheon and “meeting of the tribe” of those who seek to advance women. Ellen Malcolm, founder of Emily’s List, proudly touted her group’s role in the election of two Democratic women governors, two Democratic women senators and 12 new Democratic women in the House.

At the same time, Malcolm went on to challenge the group to work harder, noting that the U.S. House of Representatives remains predominantly male.

“Our work is far from over,” she said. “We are nowhere near a representative democracy that rightfully includes the full participation of half the population.”

This much is clear.

I believe, like Eleanor Roosevelt said about peace: “It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” And the same applies to women’s rights and elevation to public office. As slow as progress may be we must never give up and never give in. We may take a moment to celebrate where we are. It is after all, a bit further down the road than we were before, at least in some respects. ( Remember the 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling.)

But we must, above all else, keep working to elect women sheriff, dog catcher, city councilwoman, mayor, governor and senator. Then one day, we, too, may finally get to that dream that so many of us have, of women gaining full equity in this country.

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