About Mona Gable
Mona Gable is a political blogger for The Huffington Post where her posts on the 2008 presidential election and on Hillary Clinton’s candidacy have been linked to by numerous websites, from ABC News.com to The Drudge Report.
In addition to blogging, Mona is an award-winning journalist and essayist whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Salon, Ladies’ Home Journal, Family Circle, Health, LA magazine, Wall Street Journal, Child, and the San Francisco Chronicle.
She is a contributor to the new Seal Press anthology “The Maternal Is Political: Women Writers at the Intersection of Motherhood and Social Change.” Her essays have also been published in two bestselling anthologies, “Mothers Who Think: Tales of Real-Life Parenthood,” which won the American Book Award and the bestselling anthology “A Cup of Comfort for Mothers and Daughters.” She is currently working on a memoir, a portion of which will be published in West this spring. Since 2004, she has taught creative nonfiction and personal essay in the Writers Program at UCLA Extension.
Latest Posts by Mona Gable
This month is National Women’s History Month. I like Women’s History Month because it’s about women and their achievements. But I also like it because I’m always learning new things about women who got completely ignored or glossed over or minimized when I was in school. You’d think we were a rare species, with how infrequently women appeared! Other than Betsy Ross, Abigail Adams, and Florence Nightingale, who warranted perhaps a paragraph each in my high school U.S. history book, I can’t recall a single woman of consequence we studied — or who was even mentioned. Sojourner Truth Who? Alice Paul Who?
For instance, while gathering material for this post, I learned a fascinating historical tidbit. Did you know that Women’s History Month in the U.S. started in California in 1978, when the Sonoma County school district held a week of events focusing on women’s contributions to society, history, and culture?
I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t, and I live here! One of the activities students participated in was a “Real Woman” essay contest.
Since this was not long after the women’s liberation movement exploded, I can only imagine what those young writers might have described as a “real woman” back then.
Oh, if only those essays were online! Two years later, a handful of those enterprising California women founded the National Women’s History Project, and somehow convinced Congress and the White House of the need for a national campaign devoted to women’s history. And in 1987, the month of March was declared Women’s History Month.
Every year, the celebration is marked by a new theme. This year’s theme, “Women Inspiring Innovation and Imagination,” is honoring women in science, technology, engineering, and math, more popularly know as STEM fields.
Still, I hate the idea of having to squeeze women’s stories and achievements of the past, oh, 300 years into a measly 30 days. It’s impossibly unfair, and some fabulous woman is bound to be left out. Thank god it was just the 50th anniversary of The Feminine Mystique, so at least I don’t need to include Betty Friedan. Also, BlogHer’s Morgan Shanahan just covered MAKERS, the brilliant PBS series about women who shaped American history.
So in lieu of trying to capture the whole fascinating panorama of women in American history, I found this clever mash-up tribute to Lady Gaga and Alice Paul, commemorating the fight for women’s suffrage in 1917. Yes, really. (Paul, by the way, was played by Hillary Swank in the wrenching 2004 HBO film, Iron Jawed Angels. If you missed it, that’s another way you can enjoy women’s history this month.)
Here’s the video updating women’s suffrage, which is choreographed to the edgy Lady Gaga hit, “Bad Romance”:
Do you have a favorite woman in American history you’d like to see get recognized this month? We’d love to hear your suggestions and read your posts. It doesn’t have to be someone famous — maybe it’s your grandmother or a mentor or some other woman who made an enormous difference in your life. And has a woman in the STEM fields had an impact on you?
Credit Image: © Famous – Ace Pictures/Ace Pictures/ZUMAPRESS.com/
This week marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of “The Feminine Mystique.” It’s hard to underestimate the earthshaking effect Betty Friedan’s book had on American women’s lives back then. Many of you weren’t yet born, or were too young like me to grasp its significance, but gender roles were so firmly inscribed that women were expected to be content being mothers and housewives. Astonishingly, “homemaker” was considered an actual profession.
Working-class women, of course, had it even worse. Not only were they stuck in low-paying, dead-end jobs like waitressing, they were also expected to handle the cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the husband and kids.
What’s really shocking to remember is how few legal rights—much less “choices”–women had back then.
As New York Times columnist Gail Collins, who wrote the introduction to the anniversary edition of Friedan’s book, recalls:
In 1963, most women weren’t able to get credit without a male co-signer. In some states they couldn’t sit on juries; in others, their husbands had control not only of their property but also of their earnings. Although Friedan obsesses about women getting jobs, she does not mention that newspapers were allowed to divide their help-wanted ads into categories for men and women, or that it was perfectly legal for an employer to announce that certain jobs were for men only. Even the federal government did it.
When you think about it, this wasn’t all that long ago. My own mother never worked and because she was terribly unhappy, she found unique ways to assert her independence from my father. Her favorite trick was to run up his charge cards with unapproved purchases; one particularly memorable year on their anniversary, she charged a mink stole. My mother didn’t drive. Her second favorite trick was to steal the keys to our Plymouth Fury station wagon and take it for a joy ride. She was like “I Love Lucy,” though not nearly as forgivable. This did not make for great role modeling, but it did supply me with a treasure trove of stories about motherhood.
Collins herself was the first woman to become be editorial page editor of the New York Times. Guess what year that happened? 1985? 1990? Try 2001, nearly 40 years after Friedan wrote her groundbreaking book. And 31 years after four dozen female researchers and employees launched a class-action lawsuit against Newsweek magazine to give them entry into the prestigious and better-paying writing and reporting ranks. I am happy to report that they won their case, due in no small part to the brilliant civil rights lawyer Eleanor Holmes Norton, who was herself a rare case–being a female attorney and black.
Here’s another example of the gender barriers women faced, courtesy of Stephanie Coontz, author of “A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s”:
In 1962, more than two-thirds of the women surveyed
by University of Michigan researchers agreed that most important family decisions “should be made by the man of the house.”
I read Friedan’s book in college, and it had a profound effect on me. It was the first time I heard the phrase “the personal is political.” I was also reading a lot of Gloria Steinem, Sylvia Plath and women’s literature like “The Awakening” at the time. I already knew that I did not want the life my mother had, but Friedan’s book solidified my nascent feminism because it revealed that ideas about women were much bigger and more powerful than me. They were cemented in history, culture and politics.
So where are we now? Have we achieved our dream of equality? Are women better off now that we’re lawyers, doctors, firefighters? That while 70 percent of us with children work fulltime, others of us are staying home with our kids and doing creative things like making artisanal jams or launching blogs? Before I answer that, let me tell you another story.
In 1990, I became a mom. There was no paid maternity leave then. So after much pleading and negotiating, I managed to get three months of unpaid time from the magazine where I worked as one of only two female editors. Then pregnancy was treated as a “disability,” so I did get that, although it was about a third of my paycheck.
Fast forward a month. My editor calls. The magazine has been in financial trouble. Even though he promised me before my leave that I wouldn’t lose my job, I’m being laid off. I soon learn I’m the only one. And, no, there is no part-time option. I’m furious and stunned. I suspect it’s because I’m on leave, but I can’t prove I’m being discriminated against so there’s nothing I can do. So now I’m home with an infant, no childcare or family nearby to help, and need to find a job.
I raise this because it happened more than 20 years ago. And yet practically nothing has changed. I still hear young women agonizing over work and family life, the lack of good, affordable childcare, and the inflexible policies in the workplace that often lead them to abandon their careers or jobs–and with it their financial security and power–because doing it all is just too damn hard. I agree. It is too damn hard. It’s also ridiculous that 20 years on, and on the 50th anniversary of Friedan’s book, we’re still talking about this same stupid problem. This is a perfect example of the “personal being political.”
What’s troubling is that we often frame this problem in the language of choice. But it’s really not much of a “choice” when a woman elects to stay home with her kids, when her husband makes more money than she does and she can’t work part-time or leave work early to pick up her kids without her boss freaking out. So when push comes to shove, it’s the woman who quits–whether she really wants to or not.
Stephanie Coontz made this point in an op-ed piece in last Sunday’s NY Times questioning how far we’ve come since Friedan’s book:
Today the main barriers to further progress toward gender equity no long lie in people’s personal attitudes and relationships. Instead,
structural impediments prevent people form acting on their egalitarian values, forcing men and women into personal accommodations and rationalizations that do not reflect their preferences. The gender revolution is not in a stall. It has hit a wall.
Yet most countries have managed to solve this work-family dilemma just fine.Jody Heymann, dean of the school of public health at the University of California, Los Angeles, has a new book illustrating this called “Children’s Chances: How Countries Can Move from Surviving to Thriving.” I’m going to throw out a few statistics that she and her researchers culled:
The United States is one of only eight out of 188 countries that don’t provide paid leave for new mothers. The other countries are Liberia, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Suriname, and Tonga. Yes, we’re right up there with Tonga!
175 countries provide paid annual leave for working parents. The United States is not one of them.
162 countries limit how many hours you can work in a workweek. The United States is not one of them.
Most women and men, for that matter, would like this to change and are all for the sexes sharing more of the bread-winning, childrearing and domestic duties. A 2011 study by the Center for Work and Family at Boston College discovered that 65 percent of fathers believed that women and men should share childcare equally. A 2010 Pew poll found that an overwhelming number of young men and women–72 percent—between the ages of 18 and 29 said a marriage is best when both partners work and manage the house.
There’s no reason this can’t happen. God knows we need it to so that women and men can have more balanced and satisfying lives, and where parents aren’t forced to make such bitter and unfair choices between family and work. But it’s going to take more than 1960s-style consciousness-raising. It will probably take a revolution.
Credit Image: The Globe and Mail (first image). Second image: © Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com/
Last September, Molly Secor-Turner got some exciting news. Along with another North Dakota State University researcher, Brandy Randall, she won a 1.2-million federal grant to launch a sex education program in Fargo for at-risk teens.
Despite its emphasis on abstinence education, teen pregnancy is a major problem in North Dakota. There isn’t a single health clinic for adolescents in the state. Between 1991 and 2008, about 13,000 teenagers gave birth, costing taxpayers a total of $300 million.
Two-thirds of high school teens are sexually active, and one in four girls has a sexually transmitted infection. For kids who are homeless, in foster care, or in juvenile detention facilities, the rates of teen pregnancy and STDs are even higher.
For Secor-Turner, a nurse who grew up in North Dakota and returned a few years ago to raise her three children, these were the kind of poor, neglected teens she was dying to reach.
“Here’s a group of youth who are already disenfranchised and at a disadvantage in our society, and certainly in our state, where they don’t have the ability to access health and reproductive services, they probably don’t go to health providers,” she told me in a phone interview. “For me, this was a chance to be an advocate for these youth and make a difference.”
The three-year program, called “Making Proud Choices,” wasn’t just about giving teens accurate information about pregnancy, contraception and how sexual diseases are spread. Though it did dispel myths among teens such as if you pee after sex you won’t get pregnant. It was also about how to make good decisions and set goals, something most of these teens have little life experience with. To help run the program, a teacher and a nurse specializing in adolescent health had been hired. The program also had a strong evaluation component.
But in mid-January, just as she and Randall, an associate professor of human development and family science, were working with agencies to recruit the kids, something they couldn’t possibly have imagined occurred. Dean L. Brescani, the president of NDSU, announced that he was freezing their grant—and did it on a
conservative radio talk show.
Why? Because Planned Parenthood was involved.
Not surprisingly, the North Dakota Catholic Conference hailed NDSU for making “the right decision.”
When Secor-Turner heard that the grant was in jeopardy, she was stunned. “As far as I know,” she told me in a phone interview, “nothing like this has ever happened. Most people are pretty outraged. My colleagues are adolescent health colleagues. They’re alarmed that this is happening, when what has the potential to make a difference in the lives of adolescents to make healthy transitions to adulthood…they can’t believe this is the response.”
This was Secor-Turner’s first time speaking to a reporter about the controversy. Because it reflects the continuing battle over women’s health and reproductive rights, the story has drawn national attention. Though she didn’t want to get into the politics because the decision could be reversed, she was happy to talk with me about the program and the teens it’s designed to serve.
“It’s a pretty bleak picture for adolescents in terms of accessing sexual health and reproductive services,” she said. “We have a very rural state. We have more metropolitan areas, but in the rest of the state, just geographic position and distance make it difficult for adolescents to access sexual health services. Coupled with the social climate that is very conservative, there’s a lot of push from the loudest voice in our state, which is an abstinence-only social position.”
What really struck me was when she said this: “Our laws are not very friendly to women, but particularly to adolescents.”
Right now, North Dakota is considering an unprecedented four anti-abortion measures, including a personhood amendment and a heartbeat ban,which would outlaw abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected.
I read just this moment that North Dakota’s state senate passed two of those bills on Thursday, including a personhood amendment and another measure that would threaten the state’s one abortion clinic.
It’s in this hostile climate that Turner-Secor and Randall wanted to impart science-based knowledge about sex, pregnancy, and making good decisions to vulnerable teens.
The president of NDSU never spoke with the researchers about the grant. He never went to Planned Parenthood’s office in Fargo. When the state did a legal analysis of the grant, it found no conflict of interest with NDSU partnering with Planned Parenthood. But when a few anti-abortion legislators got wind of that the Fargo office was going to provide services, that was all it took. They immediately tried to shut the grant down.
One of them, Rep. Bette Grande, fumed on a local radio talk show:
When I see something that says this is Planned Parenthood–they’re not even a part of the state of North Dakota. They don’t serve anyone in North Dakota, and they shouldn’t be a part of North Dakota. They’re not a part of how we do business in this state. It is an overt abortion industry that we don’t want to be a part of.
There are several problems with Grande’s statement. First off, Planned Parenthood’s office in Fargo doesn’t do abortions and isn’t even a health clinic. It provides advocacy, education and outreach services. Grande also claimed that the sex education program was going to be in schools, and made it sound as if teens were being forced to participate and that the researchers were going to be doling out birth control. None of which was true.
Nonetheless, NDSU froze the grant. And it did so using an obscure 1979 state law that bans state or federal funds from being used “as family planning funds by any person or public or private agency which performs, refers, or encourages abortions.” Even though family planning was not part of the grant.
As for Planned Parenthood’s reaction, “I was pretty much shocked,” said Amy Jacobson, the public affairs manager for North Dakota Planned Parenthood. “The professors worked on this grant, it had gone through all the hoops in place at the university, and they’d received a 1.2-million grant, the largest grant their department had ever won. So we were pretty shocked when all this came to be.”
When the faculty heard that the research had been blocked because of political pressure, they were appalled. They held a silent protest on campus, drawing more than 100 faculty members. They launched a Facebook page called “in support of this partnership with Planned Parenthood.” In a letter to Bresciani, the Faculty Senate Executive Committee blasted the decision:
As we understand it, at no time during this process did you talk to the researchers whose project is in question. The announcement of your decision to freeze this funding on a conservative talk show… makes it difficult to see your decision as anything other than bowing to political pressure.
In an opinion piece in the local paper, they also wrote:
We request that President Bresciani immediately reverse his decision to suspend this important program and evaluation. Teens in North Dakota are at risk for unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections and should be able to access and receive information and education that can help them to make good, informed choices to prevent these outcomes.
The hasn’t outrage hasn’t stopped there. Just this week the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM), a professional organization devoted to advancing teen health, released a statement “vigorously” protesting the school’s decision:
This suspension raises issues of political interference in research, academic freedom, and the importance of health information that youth need to ensure their health and well-being and protect themselves from unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
The statement also condemned NDSU’s president:
Bresciani has offered a number of shifting explanations for the suspension after complaints from several conservative North Dakota legislators due to the program’s affiliation with Planned Parenthood. The competitive $1.2 million grant, awarded in September 2012, was to be used to launch a three-year sex education program for Fargo-area teens to begin later this month. This voluntary program would teach sex education and adult life skills to teenagers aged 15 to 19 years whose parents consented to their participation.
It also emphasized the failure of abstinence-only programs in preventing teen pregnancy:
A 2010 review by the CDC’s Guide to Community Preventive Services found that sexuality education was effective in reducing adolescent sexual risk behaviors, including engagement in sexual activity and unprotected sexual activity. The CDC also found insufficient evidence for programs that deliver only abstinence messages to prevent pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Likewise, SAHM strongly supports comprehensive sexuality education and opposes abstinence-only programs. SAHM supports the findings of the CDC and is concerned that abstinence-only programs are ineffective in changing behavior and that they limit life-saving information to young people.
The case is now being reviewed by North Dakota’s attorney general, who will decide whether the school’s legal claim about Planned Parenthood is valid.
In the meantime, Secor-Turner is optimistic. She can’t imagine that a political battle will prevent hundreds of teens from getting the health information they need about a subject that is so ordinary and yet so crucial.
It’s only their lives and their futures.
Image Credit: Larry Fisher/Quad-City Times/ZUMAPRESS.com
Last night, the contrast between Paul Ryan and Joe Biden on abortion couldn’t have been more blatant. When the subject finally came up nearly 40 minutes into the debate, moderator and ABC correspondent Martha Radditz framed the issue brilliantly.
Of course she did. It would take a woman, a seasoned war correspondent at that, to bring a subject up like this universally important to women, wouldn’t it?
But let’s face it. After Romney’s head-snapping comment to the Des Moines Register earlier this week, where he claimed that there was not any legislation he was familiar with on abortion that he would sign as president, and his campaign staff then had to frantically do damage control to reassure Romney’s anti-abortion conservative base that his position had not changed, and Romney himself told reporters that he was “pro-life,” women were dying to hear Ryan explain.
What the hell did he and Romney believe?
Noting that both Biden and Ryan are practicing Catholics, she asked them what role religion has played in their personal views on abortion. She also asked both men to “please talk personally about this if you could.”
Ryan’s anti-choice agenda is hardly a secret. He’s been explicit about his views for months now. I’ve heard him talk about them so often I can almost recite them in my sleep. He is adamantly opposed to abortion under any circumstance—even in cases of incest and rape and saving the life of the mother.
He co-sponsored a “personhood” amendment that would have given a fertilized egg the same legal rights as a woman. Even Mississippi rebelled against this medieval idea when it was put on the ballot there last November. Interestingly, among the many groups that fought the amendment was a group of Christian moms who couldn’t have had children if the bill had passed because they’d conceived through IVF.
As Salon noted about Ryan’s extremist anti-abortion views:.
He has bragged to the far right of his party that he is “never going to not vote pro-life” and, as just one example of that commitment, in 2006 co-sponsored legislation to require doctors to tell women that a fetus could feel pain at 20 weeks and advising medication for the fetus to stop its pain during an abortion — a measure intended to emotionally intimidate women seeking abortions.
I’m not done yet. The Young Gun, as he likes to call himself, co-sponsored a bill with Missouri Senate candidate Todd “legitimate rape” Akin that would have changed the legal definition of rape to “forcible rape.” Not surprisingly Ryan later walked back his vote after he was picked to be Romney’s running mate.
Just as he did on abortion tonight.
As I watched Ryan talk about his anti-choice stance–a position he came to because of “reason and science” when he saw a bean-sized, seven-week-old ultrasound of his daughter—I wondered, would he stick to his principles? Or would he cynically compromise them to appeal to women voters and moderates who believe women should actually have a say in their own decisions about health, pregnancy—and yes, sex.
I was not disappointed. When asked to define what a Romney abortion policy would be, Ryan said with an absolute straight face that it would allow exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. And he muttered it under his breath.
Credit Image: © Richard Graulich/ZUMA Press/
But Biden heard the change as clear as a bell. And he seized the opportunity to go after Ryan’s hypocrisy. “I guess he accepts Gov. Romney’s position now because in the past he has argued in case of rape or incest it would be a crime to engage in having an abortion.”
And then Biden said forcefully, “I fundamentally disagree with that.”
Biden talked about his Catholic faith, too. How he believes in the Church’s definition of life as beginning at conception. He accepts it. But here is where he parts significantly from Ryan, who would foist his beliefs and morals on women whether they agree with him or not in the most invasive and personal and misogynistic way.
Biden would not.
“With regard to my church’s position on abortion, I accept it in my personal life, but I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews. Unlike my friend the congressman here, I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people, women, they can’t control their bodies. It’s a decision between a woman and her doctor.”
That was all I needed to hear.
Certainly one of the more disturbing aspects of Ryan’s performance and smirky-boy demeanor in relation to abortion and the many medical benefits women will finally receive under Obamacare–which Ryan has also vowed to kill–was that he didn’t mention women once. Not once. It’s like we don’t exist.
Ryan, to give him credit, is right about one thing. This election is a very stark choice between two political visions.
For women, it’s the difference between equality and going back 40 years.
Top photo image credit: WIN MCNAMEE / GETTY IMAGES
It’s time for a birth control lesson, ladies. Are you with me?
This week Foster Friess, a major backer of Rick Santorum’s Super PAC, did an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. Mitchell wondered if Santorum’s quaint notions on social issues like abortion and gay marriage might be a hindrance to his electability, though she did not mention the outrageous and shocking practice of apparently millions of American women using birth control. Which Congress, in case you haven’t heard, is very upset about and trying to get a handle on. But more on that later.
Friess scoffed to the contrary, and then made a delightful and inexplicable detour into an explanation of how women–I mean, “gals”–used to protect themselves in the good old days. By which I take to mean, using some simple math, about a half century ago.
But let’s move on. Are you ready? Here’s what Friess said to Mitchell on the question of Santorum’s views on sex, according to The Huffington Post. Feel free to take notes:
“I get such a chuckle when these things come out,” he said. “We have jihadist camps being set up in Latin America, which Rick has been warning about and people seem to be so preoccupied with sex — I think it says something about our culture. We maybe need a massive therapy session so we can concentrate on what the real issues are.”
Friess then turned to contraception. “This contraceptive thing, my gosh it’s such [sic] inexpensive. Back in my days, they used Bayer Aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly,.”.
Have you picked yourself up off the floor yet?
Unfortunately, Friess’s statement only left me with more questions. (Which Andrea Mitchell, regrettably, failed to ask because she was breathless and at a loss for words.) For instance, how many aspirins did the gals use? Was there a certain number of pills—3,5,7?—they put between their knees that was more effective? At what point did women insert the aspirins? During foreplay? Right before intercourse? Did this rule out certain sexual positions? Was there a trick to holding them in place? What if the aspirins fell right in the heat of things? Or, god help you, broke? Did women always bring the aspirin? Or did men sometimes? Did it have to be Bayer, or was generic OK? And since we’re talking about economics here, how much did a bottle of aspirin cost in, say, 1950?
On that note, it does seem to be “Ladies’ Private Parts Week in Politics.”
Yesterday Republican Rep. Darrell Isa got in trouble for barring women from testifying at a hearing about a matter that mostly concerns, well, women. I’m sure you’ve guessed this already, but the hearing had to do with Obama’s ruling requiring employers and insurers to cover birth control. Issa argued the issue at hand was instead religious liberty and so refused to let a female witness testify. But then he did allow religious leaders to speak. Who are much better informed and more experienced about this kind of thing, as we know. This did not go over well with Democratic House members Nancy Pelosi, Carolyn Malone and Eleanor Holmes Norton, who boycotted the hearing in response to Issa’s decision.
I am not done yet. Then we have the bill by Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, which has 37 co-sponsors including Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. (Which, I must point out here, gets more federal dollars than Afghanistan. And they say Republicans don’t like big government!) Under the measure employers and insurance companies could deny you healthcare coverage if they had a religious or moral objection to a procedure or treatment. This is despite the law, of course. But who cares about that? And we’re not just talking free birth control pills here, though making contraception all but inaccessible is the intent behind the bill.
As Thinkprogress points out:
Indeed, under the measure, an insurer or an employer would be able to claim a moral or religious objection to covering HIV/AIDS screenings, Type 2 Diabetes treatments, cancer tests or anything else they deem inappropriate or the result of an “unhealthy” or “immoral” lifestyle. Similarly, a health plan could refuse to cover mental health care on the grounds that the plan believes that psychiatric problems should be treated with prayer.
I know some of you think I talk too much about reproductive issues too much. I feel your pain. I wish I didn’t have to. But when a major donor for a GOP presidential candidate who doesn’t believe in contraception, who thinks birth control “doesn’t cost much,” is allowed to go on a news program and make statements about birth control that are strikingly bizarre and fact-free, when a Republican congressman refuses to let women speak about a health issue that profoundly affects their lives because he believes a female college student asked to testify does not have the “appropriate credentials,” when an all-male panel of religious leaders are considered appropriate to speak on contraception instead, I ask you, What’s a gal to do? Turn off the news? Avoid the Internet? Plead a headache and take two aspirins and go to bed?
Or is it four?
Credit Image: © Sonia Moskowitz/Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com/. Post originally published on BlogHer.
Let’s talk about breasts. After all, it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But the real reason I want to talk about breasts is Meghan McCain.
To recap, last Sunday McCain appeared on Christiane Amanpour’s show on ABC, where she challenged Christine O’Donnell’s fitness to be a U.S. senator. And it wasn’t just because of the TV ad where O’Donnell unwittingly proved the point McCain was making by declaring:
I am not a witch…I am you.
Or her bizarre views on masturbation and abstinence. McCain said that many in her generation see the 41-year-old Sarah Palin wannabe as a
She then added:
I speak as a 26-year-old woman. And my problem is that, no matter what, Christine O’Donnell is making a mockery of running for public office. She has no real history, no real success in any kind of business. And what that sends to my generation is, one day, you can just wake up and run for Senate, no matter how [much] experience you have.
Never mind that McCain is a moderate Republican. Never mind that what she said was entirely reasonable compared to a Senate candidate who believes that teaching creationism in the public schools is perfectly legal. Faster than you can shout “We want our government back!” the new conservative boys’ club started trashing her.
On Michelle Malkin’s blog, a blogger named Doug Powers posted a photo of McCain wearing a skimpy tank top and waving a copy of Andy Warhol’s biography. A year ago McCain caused a tizzy when she uploaded the photo to her Twitter page. If you ask me, the image was far less racy than anything you’d see on a Victoria’s Secret commercial or an episode of the Kardashians. Still, the fake outrage was so intense that McCain eventually apologized and removed the photo.
No matter. Here’s what Powers wrote:
Disregard the above photo. I’m only putting it there to remind myself to check my tire pressure later this afternoon.
Conservative blogger Dan Riehl referred to her as
Meggie ‘Big Mac’ McCain,
and then declared
this self-indulgent set of mega-breasts doesn’t belong anywhere near a TV studio commenting on anything.
If you think that was hilarious, you will really love this comment that Jeff Poor, who writes for something called the Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute, retweeted from a conservative blogger:
I swear, if Meghan McCain gets any dumber she’ll be drooling on her boobs.
Poor, whose surname seems just right, then added:
On Rachel Maddow’s show the other night, McCain said she has gotten used to such sexist attacks and feels good about her body. I’m glad. As it happens, I too have large breasts so I take these attacks personally. Don’t get me wrong. I like my breasts. Still, there were years in my teens and twenties when I felt utterly self-conscious and embarrassed about them. Oh, to be an A cup or a B cup! I would cry, envying women whose chests did not attract stares and lewd remarks wherever they went.
What I did not realize then is that many women are unhappy with their breasts, no matter what their size. Otherwise why would countless women spend thousands of dollars to undergo breast enhancement surgery? (Now there’s a euphemism for you.) Because men are obsessed with breasts. That’s why. Did you know there are at least 138 slang words for breasts? I didn’t either until in the interest of writing this post I did a Google search.
Here are some terms I wasn’t even aware of: funbags, devils’ dumplings, milk wagons, sweater cans. My favorite is Thelma and Louise. (Though Winnebagos was a close second.) As for Thelma and Louise, only a man who’s very insecure would take two iconic feminist movie heroines and reduce them to a pair of breasts.
Which brings me back to Christine O’Donnell, and McCain’s doubts about her ability to be a U.S. senator. I think she might have a point. For example, during the second debate, O’Donnell challenged Democrat Chris Coons when he asserted that the First Amendment dictates the separation of church and state. Really? O’Donnell kept repeating incredulously. At which point the audience started laughing. But rather than realize that they were laughing at her, the clueless O’Donnell just kept talking. And boy can she talk a blue streak!
I’m all for more women running for office. God knows, we need more women in Congress. But when did it become acceptable for female candidates not to be smart? Or accomplished? Or able to think? When did ignorance and failure and a penchant for being glib and talking nonsense not only become OK, but admirable?
This is what Meghan McCain was getting at. And I applaud her for speaking out about it, and then for taking the heat. Not even Karl Rove, after initially trashing O’Donnell, had the courage to stand up to the tea partiers and the GOP. The reason the right-wing hates Nancy Pelosi so much is not because she’s an unapologetic San Francisco liberal and Speaker of the House. That’s just their excuse. The reason they hate her is because she’s fearless, savvy and smart. And if there’s anything conservative men find threatening, it’s a smart woman in charge. Especially one like Pelosi, who doesn’t care a whit what right-wingers think of her.
This is why they resort to attacking women’s bodies. Calling them fat. Calling them ugly. Emphasizing their breasts. Because it’s easy, and it’s mean. And they know how vulnerable women are to this kind of personal shaming. Hillary got the worst of it, and now she’s one of the most powerful and admired women in the world. So occasionally there’s justice.
But it’s not only men who try to bully women like McCain into silence. One female conservative blogger tweeted about her:
You know why Meghan McCain’s physical appearance is still a topic of conversation? Because she won’t shut up about it.
And why should she? It’s a free country. Isn’t that what the tea partiers are always shouting about? Free speech? But the point I want to make is we clearly have a long way to go before women in public life get the respect they deserve. Before going after a woman’s body or her looks as a way to retaliate against her for being smart and opinionated is just no longer acceptable.
In the meantime, let’s talk about breasts. And be sure to get a mammogram.
We haven’t had much to cheer about lately, between the Gulf oil spill and the war in Afghanistan and the pink mama grizzlies rearing up. So I’d like to give a shout-out to the fine citizens of Bell, whose unlikely populist revolt against city leaders has been the feel-good story of the week. (Kudos to the Los Angeles Times too!)
But first a few salient facts:
Bell is a small working-class city about ten miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. It’s also largely Hispanic and poor. Of its 40,000 residents, a quarter live below the poverty line. The median household income is $37,130–in short, we’re not talking Hollywood and Brentwood here.
I’ve never been to Bell. It’s one of those anonymous towns you fly by on the freeway when you’re invariably going somewhere more fun like the retail outlets in Commerce or Disneyland. Clearly I’ve been missing out.
Another thing. Compared to the inane rantings of the Tea Partiers we’ve been hearing, the citizens of Bell actually had legitimate complaints.
Despite its poverty and a dire economy, Bell’s top officials were paying themselves like bankers. In fact, some of the biggest municipal salaries in the nation. City Manager Robert “the rat” Rizzo, whose nickname needs no further explanation, was pulling in nearly $800,000 a year–twice what the President makes. Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia received more than $375,000 a year. Police Chief Randy Adams, who Rizzo hired last year to clean up the department, made $457,000–50 percent more than what LAPD Chief Charlie Beck makes to police our tiny city of 3 million. (An aside here: Adams’ previous post was with the Glendale Police Department, an organization with its own fun history of police brutality and corruption.)
Rizzo’s name has also surfaced in a lawsuit filed by a former Bell police sergeant involving everything from Hitler and sexual harassment of a city employee to voter fraud. The latter of which involves Bell police officers allegedly giving residents ballots and telling them how to vote in a 2009 city council election. And of casting ballots for dead people. Innovative! The L.A. County D.A.’s office has been looking into that since March.
We’re not done yet. There are so many colorful players it’s hard to keep track.
Then there is Mayor Oscar Hernandez, Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo and four of five city council members, all of whom were receiving nearly $100,000 a year for part-time work. Not bad, particularly since part of their salaries came from serving on boards or commissions that typically met during city council meetings. And that lasted only a few minutes.
As it happens, my favorite quote of the Bell scandal comes courtesy of council member Luis Artiga, a pastor. Artiga told the LA Times that when he saw his first paycheck, he believed it was “a miracle from God.” If only!
Meanwhile, the city was cutting $9-an-hour jobs and police and park and recreation services.
I know what you’re thinking. That’s outrageous! How could they get away with this?
In November 2005, to skirt a state law limiting municipal officials’ salaries, Bell held an election in which residents voted to become a charter city. Well, some residents anyway. Out of 10,000 registered voters, fewer than 400 cast ballots.
Last week, all this was revealed in a series of stories in the LA Times.
When the citizens of Bell heard about the astronomical salaries, they were understandably surprised. And that’s when things got interesting. Instead of acting like the poor meek immigrants that Rizzo and his cronies clearly thought they would, they launched a rebellion and demanded that their leaders resign.
Which is precisely what Rizzo, Spaccia and Adams did, though they still could get hefty pensions. That is, if the dizzying number of investigations into the city’s finances don’t get in the way. Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, the Democratic nominee for governor, though you’d hardly know it from his Zen campaign, emerged to say he had subpoenaed hundreds of documents in relation to the fat salaries.
Meanwhile, after a lively city council meeting this week, Bell’s mayor promised to forgo his salary and council members agreed to a 90 percent pay cut. Meaning they’ll now get what they deserve: $310.63 every two weeks.
Still, Bell’s citizens didn’t get everything they wanted. “I will resign my salary, but I will not resign to my position,” said Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo, in another memorable quote. “I am here to stand by my people.”
I’m sure the people were elated to hear that.
There is one good guy in this scandal. City Council member Lorenzo Velez, who had no idea his colleagues had such lavish salaries and convinced them that it might be wise to slash them. He also convinced the mayor to apologize. For this he was named one of CNN’s “Intriguing People.”
I’m sure there are more revelations to come. I do hope they get to the bottom of the Hitler thing.
We’re so lucky in California to have two wealthy women running for political office in our upcoming primary. Who says we haven’t come a long way, baby?
But while I’m a big fan of eBay, the candidate I want to focus on is Carly Fiorina, who wants to be our next female senator and promises to bring jobs, jobs, jobs to our beleaguered state. As opposed to that liberal do-nothing Barbara Boxer.
Let’s review her credentials. Fiorina is perhaps best known for running Hewlett-Packard into the ground when she was CEO, a feat she achieved by laying off thousands of employees, shipping jobs overseas, pushing an ill-advised merger with Compaq, trashing the stock price, and generally destroying HP’s famously mellow culture. For this she got sacked in 2005 in a unanimous and highly publicized vote by HP’s board.
Understandably it’s still a touchy topic. After a Tea Party rally in Pleasanton, CA, in April, Fiorina snapped at some reporters when, instead of asking her about the wonderful response she got from the crowd, they asked her about the recent federal probe into HP’s murky business dealings with Russia when she led the company. And another about HP’s relations with Iran. Talk about a downer!
All of which raises a question: with California’s economy in tatters, a $19 billion deficit, unemployment at a staggering 12.5 percent, do we really need a failed CEO with a chip on her shoulder representing us in Washington? Someone who was widely reviled for axing jobs rather than creating them?
I hate to bring this up, but it’s not like Fiorina has been an avid citizen or particularly excited about government, either. (Unless you count that auspicious period in 2008, when she was one of John McCain’s economic advisers and got in trouble for saying he couldn’t run a company.)
As Connie Bruck wrote in The New Yorker of Fiorina’s record,”she has failed to vote in two-thirds of local, state and national elections since 2000, including gubernatorial elections and Presidential primaries.”
I know teenagers who have better voting records than that.
Call me picky, but it also seems a stretch to call yourself a populist, as Fiorina has done every chance she gets, when you walked away from your last job with $21 million in severance, have a yacht, a mansion, a condo in Georgetown, and have been able to funnel at least $5.5 million of your personal fortune into a Senate race. But let’s not dwell on the obvious.
Aside from the lack of interest problem, the conservative Republican also seems to think she’s running in Texas or South Carolina, and has been proudly touting her endorsements from everyone from anti-choice groups to the NRA to Sarah Palin. (Who in her typical oblivious fashion got her facts about Fiorina’s “humble beginnings” wrong, saying her dad was a school teacher. He was a law professor and later a federal judge.)
At least Fiorina, who has said she would overturn Roe v. Wade if given the chance, hasn’t dubbed herself a feminist, like her new BFF Palin did recently in one of her more comic moments.
In her effort to win the Tea Party vote and disgruntled Independents, Fiorina has been particularly intent on slamming Tom Campbell, a former congressman and the lone moderate in the race. (Chuck DeVore, the other GOP candidate, is pretty much toast at this point.) It seems like ages ago, but remember the delightfully tacky demon sheep ad, where Fiorina painted Campbell as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”?
At a debate in May, when the GOP candidates were asked if people on the “no-fly list” should be allowed to carry guns, Fiorina attacked Campbell when he very sensibly said no, sniffing, “That’s why he has a poor rating from the National Rifle Association, right there.”
The attacks appear to have worked. This week Campbell pulled his ads off the air, after Fiorina leaped ahead in the polls.
She’s nothing if not tenacious. Faster than you can say “demon sheep,” Fiorina was up with a new ad trashing Barbara Boxer. In the ad Boxer is shown saying that climate change is a national security issue. Is that ridiculous, or what? Then Fiorina comes on screen and gravely says, “Terrorism kills, and Barbara Boxer is worried about the weather.”
Is that ridiculous, or what?
As for the newly resurrected wedge issue of the moment, Fiorina is all for Arizona’s harsh immigration law. At a time when Californians are most worried about jobs and not who’s busing their tables or picking their strawberries, that might not be such a swell move.
There’s also the no small matter that one in six voters in November is expected to be Hispanic. And that most young Californians have grown up in a strikingly diverse culture where race-baiting not only is unusual but extremely uncool.
Maybe Fiorina should move to Texas?