April 24, 2009 / Uncategorized

The First 100 Days: expect not, get not


img-article-page-wonder-woman-ms-magazine-04_114201768983An article posted yesterday in The Huffington Post proclaiming Obama Gets Gender Right in First 100 Days has many women seeing red.

Here’s the author, C. Nicole Mason’s arguments:

  • Obama lifted the global gag rule
  • The first piece of legislation he signed into to law as President was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act
  • Obama’s Cabinet is also chock full of extremely accomplished stateswomen and issue advocates. With two cabinet positions still open, Obama has appointed or nominated a total of eight women to his cabinet or to high-level positions.
  • Less than a month shy of his 100 days, Obama created the White House Council for Women and Girls.

I say this to Nicole – I’ll give you one of four. Yes, President Obama did appoint Valerie Jarrett to chair the newly created White House Council for Women and Girls. The New Agenda did speak out in The Daily Beast to cheer this action on. Of course, we’ve yet to hear a peep from this new Council. But, I personally do have high hopes for Valerie Jarrett and if anyone could do something with that position, it would be her. The question is whether this Council will be given any power.

As to the cabinet, Nicole conveniently added a few “high-level appointments” to buttress her argument; but here’s the fact: President Obama has thus far appointed a total of 24 people to cabinet level positions: 18 are men, and only 6 are women.

Which brings me to the my point: why is that women have such low expectations for what we deserve and are entitled to? Why is 25% (6 of 24) cabinet positions something that any women should be celebrating? After all, we are 52% of the population and we were 54% of the vote in the 2008 Presidential Election. Shouldn’t be expect therefore to have 12 of the 24 appointments be women? And only be issuing glowing articles if that minimum threshold is met?

Perhaps the 25% of cabinet seems okay because it’s all relative. Women make up 17% of our Senate and Congress, 15% of Fortune 500 management (down from 17% in 2005) and 16% of tenured professors. Heck, I was a math minor – I know that 25 is greater than 17, 15 and 16.

But let’s tip this fact pattern on its head for a moment. Our government is composed of 83% men. This puts the U.S. in 84th place in the world in terms of women in government (behind such “advanced” countries as Honduras, Pakistan, China and Sudan). Our Fortune 500 corporations are 85% managed by men — and men are CEO’s of 97%. Does this sound like equality to you? I don’t think so!

Which brings me back to my point. President Obama is not really the issue here. What he has done seems to thrill many women. The problem is that many of the women who claim to lead us have numbed our brains to what is right in front of us: that the women of this country are still second class citizens. Why should we celebrate anything less than equal representation? Why are we okay with men occupying over 80% of positions of power in government, corporations and academia?

I am reminded of a famous quote by a brave and heroic woman named Harriet Tubman: I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.

Well, as an organization dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls, I say this to Harriet:  Hear ya girlfriend! Perhaps the greatest challenge for The New Agenda is to get women to see what is right in front of them.  Numbers don’t lie after all.  And heck, don’t we want to make this country better for ourselves, our daughter and granddaughters?  For the consequence of low reprentation is that issues impacting women are NOT being dealth with.  That is why, for example, violent assaults have been on the decline in our country for over a decade; BUT violence against women and girls continues to skyrocket!

But being angry at Nicole, or for that fact at President Obama, doesn’t solve our problems.  WE need to solve them together.  Women of this country must unite and work together on the issues that matter in our lives. My dear friend Cynthia Ruccia reminds me that President Bill Clinton had to say the phrase “Bridge to the 21st Century” hundreds of times before it stuck, well, heck, my vocal chords are ready and up to the challenge!

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  • Bes

    The Huff Puff and Nicole are just engaging in what the Obama administration do best. Happy Talk. Too bad no one but the kool aid drinkers listen to them any more.

  • Florida Lady

    Hmmm…..Obama gets to six women on the Caninet by counting Susan Rice at the UN; this has not often been a cabinet office. Leaving aside the pros and cons of the UN and with no comment on Susan Rice herself, this one is a stinker.
    It is really five bona fide cabinet seats for women, and for whatever reason he is wedging the UN in there. Love it or hate it, the UN is not a significant lever of the US government, like the treasury or justice departments.
    the Obama record on women is atrocious and awarding Mrs. Obama’s second cousin, Val Jarrett, a slot is not a great thing. That is old-style Chicago back-scratching.
    Bill Clinton and even doofball GW hired, mentored and promoted women who were not relatives. Karen Hughes and Madeline Albright, for two.
    This is what federal executive management should look like – women who were brought on not as window dressing and to shush critics, but as valued team members whose bosses’ perception of their competence counted.
    The disgraceful running-off of Ellen Moran proves my point. And the needless parry into the mommy wars – “she needs to be with her kids” – was a double diss. She had those kids in Dec. when hired, right? Maybe one has taken ill or something – hope not – but I doubt she was unaware of their needs and the WH demands when she signed on.
    Shoving her off the ship this way ensures that going forward, moms will continue to be scrutinized as possible flameouts, for “family” reasons. Rahmbo has little kids. He isn’t being escorted off the property.

  • Halane Hughes

    “Why are we okay with men occupying over 80% of positions of power in government, corporations and academia?” I hope women and men really think about this statement. Not only are “women’s issues” obviously not dealt with, what about other issues? Are we happy with what this disproportional representation has done for us? Seems to me that our country is in “crisis”. Pick up any newspaper or visit any news station or website and what do you see? Economic Crisis. Health Care Crisis. Energy Crisis. Global Warming Crisis. Hey! Maybe disproportionate representation isn’t the way to go. Maybe, just maybe, if both halves of the population are represented in positions of power, we’d have better decisions effecting both halves of the population. Maybe we wouldn’t be a nation of crises.

    Let’s make it happen. My vocal chords are ready too!

  • MaryL

    Obama spoke yesterday on new regulations governing credit card pricing and terms. Tim Geithner sat to Obama’s right; Valerie Jarrett sat to his left.
    Has Jarrett appeared publicly on ANY women’s issue?
    Has she issued ANY statement on the progress made on the “Council on Women and Girls?”
    Does anyone know if she is working on anything at all for the Council?
    Why was she needed at this particular conference?

  • Juliette

    Two best selling books. One sings the praises of a polygamist dead beat dad who never supported any of his many children, and was a miserable failure as a human being. The other book, inspired by a crack pot, hate spewing preacher who’s theology would be better discribed as Poverty Exploitation Theology; not that Black Liberation Theology is in any way respectable, or Christian.
    So where are the books that show love for those typical white women in Obama’s life. You know, the ones who hung around long enough to raise him. No love for them! Barak Obama is a feminist. like George Bush is a poet.

  • Alice Paul

    I’m not enthused about Ms. Jarrett. She sat silent for some of the worst misogyny in a campaign and in the media of our time. It’s odd she’s leading this council. I’d think someone who has spent a life working on women’s rights issues would be a better fit. Not to mention she is one of the reasons we do not have a female POTUS right now. I’m not going to become an Obama apologist any time soon.

    Yes, we need to demand more. The problem I fear is that someone who ran a campaign that levered misogyny to that degree simply doesn’t understand or care about women’s issues. I’m not holding my breath on the compassion or understanding of Obama’s council on women and girls.

    It was a nice power “gesture” That’s about it.

  • Juliette

    Alice Paul, you are absolutely right.

  • Kiuku


    Obama appointed women because he -had to-. He appointed the minimum amount of women he felt he could get away with. Of course they are all extremely accomplished women, juxtaposed against an array of under-accomplished bigoted men.

  • In order to get more women in politics and winning in political races, we first have to see the Nanny Tax for the shameful thing that it is: a modern woman’s poll tax. How is it that we tax wages over $1400 per year for raising children but we give tax breaks for raising tobacco and timber? And why aren’t we outraged when a Senator like Diane Feinstein gleefully says she remembers back to a time she and her (other women politician friends) were really happy that they thought about this earlier and paid their taxes – instead of her pointing out that childcare shouldn’t be taxed until it rises to the level of real money first and then the burden should be on the person earning the decent wages! Where are the voices shouting that ousting a woman running for office who didn’t pay Nanny Taxes for wages under the poverty level is shameful and that we should applaud such an act of civil disobedience instead. More women in politics? Lets get childcare tax free until it’s paid at the rate of some luxury items.

  • Adriene

    Kiuku said: “Obama appointed women because he -had to-. He appointed the minimum amount of women he felt he could get away with. Of course they are all extremely accomplished women, juxtaposed against an array of under-accomplished bigoted men.”

    I wonder if part of what qualified Larry Summers for Obama was his statement as Harvard president that women might be intellectually inferior to men, and that is why Harvard was doing such a poor job of promoting women in science. It was Summers who played a key role in creating the conditions for the current economic crisis. Of all the people he could have appointed, such as the brilliant women who objected to what led to the crisis, way back when, why did Obama pick Summers? I wonder if it was this statement, and the no-confidence vote by Harvard faculty that followed, that made him stand out for Obama. Even Kim Gandy, president of NOW, said she had “mixed feelings” about the appointment of Summers. This is how afraid the establishment is of criticizing Obama, because of their fear of criticism being interpreted as racism. This is how skewed and abused the discussion on race has become in this country.

    Obama, when it comes to women, seems to be good at doing the minimum of what he “has to” do, (as Kiuku said) and somehow spitting at us at the same time. I remember his speech on race, and how he equated his white grandmother’s (supposed) fear of black men with Rev. Wright’s weekly hate-mongering to thousands. I believe that was the last public statement he made about the woman who raised him (and who obviously did a good job, considering how capable and confident he is), before she died. He thanked her in a moving way only after she was dead, at the election victory speech. Like Juliette (above) said, he wrote no glorifying books on the “white women who hung around long enough to raise him”. The one on her death bed was held up in his historic speech on race as an example of racism – for quietly fearing rape in a non-egalitarian, politically incorrect way. The nerve of that old, dying woman.

    I will give Obama credit for lifting the global gag rule and signing the Lily Ledbetter act, the least of what he could do for the constituency that got him elected. But I like Amy Siskind’s point about feminist’s being grateful for so little. And Harriet Tubman’s point about the slaves not realizing they are slaves, and so unable to escape.

  • MaryL

    Another idea for Valerie Jarrett:

    The UK’s Equality Bill requires businesses to report on gender pay, among other things.