A FIRST LADY IN THE CLOSET

In a televised interview last night, Laura Bush helpfully told a CNN reporter that she took Michelle Obama around the White House and, “showed her the closets. I showed her all the things that women are interested in.” Well, I guess that’s an insight into why, for eight wretched years, two wars, thousands of American sons and daughters killed and injured, not to mention innocent Iraqis, and more dismal reverses for our country and the world than can be chronicled here, Laura Bush has been a shadow. Our current First Lady thinks women are most captivated by — closets.

Considering the myriad national traumas during her tenure in the White House, Laura Bush rates right down there with her husband as a miserable failure of a First Lady. Now we know why she’s had such minimal involvement in national or international affairs,  and maintained a tight-lipped refusal to use her pastel pulpit. She’s been cleaning, rearranging, or perhaps just hiding in all those grand White House closets.

Closets are not just what Laura Bush, and her political party, believe are women’s main interests, they are a metaphor for the contraints Republicans have traditionally put on women’s roles. Notwithstanding the desperation that foisted Sarah Palin on the national stage, and led Republican conventioneers to cheer the idea of women being mothers, wives and career women capable of the most unlikely job promotions, Laura Bush has spoken the pre-Palin Republican orthodoxy. A woman’s place is in the home. Better yet, cleaning the closets.

If you think the Republican party has really changed, spend some time on the Focus on the Family website.

Or how about the Eagle Forum?

Or just check out how many Republicans sign on or vote for the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act ensuring women equal pay with their male counterparts at work when it comes up next year.

I’m guessing Michelle Obama has interests far beyond closets. I’m guessing she’s a civic-minded, patriotic American who understands that  the grand, privileged and powerful opportunity to be First Lady comes with a duty to help and heal the nation. And you can’t do that from inside a closet.

VISIT MY WEBSITE: www.robingerber.com

WHAT IF ELEANOR ROOSEVELT HAD RUN FOR PRESIDENT?

The End of Luck

I’ve met a lot of lucky women lately, only they’re not. When they tell me why they feel so lucky what I hear is how hard they worked, how smart they were, how determined, untiring, able to see another door when one closed, another path when the one they were on got swallowed in an earthquake.

“Persistence, Persistence, Persistence,” my mentor James MacGregor Burns used to say. I see that in ‘lucky’ women, but I also see an insistence on giving credit everywhere but to themselves. It reminds me of the way girls I coached in soccer would say ‘sorry’ on the soccer field, when they had nothing to be sorry for. They were just playing the game, and usually playing it well when the ‘sorry’ moment occurred. Rather than remorse, they needed to feel power, pride, accomplishment. So it is with luck. We women need to trade it in, and claim our accomplishments as extensions of our best selves. That old saying, “you make your own luck,” really means that there’s no luck at all.

So the next time someone compliments you, and you say, ‘Oh I was lucky,” don’t. Say, “thanks, I worked hard for that.” Claim your place in the world for what it is, the culmination of all the actions, decisions, set-backs and step-forwards that got you where you are.

A Hacker’s Guide to Women’s Equality

Thanks to Bryce Covert at ThinkProgress for this newsflash:

“After leaked emails in the Sony hack showed unequal pay between male and female actors, Charlize Theron insisted she get the same pay as her male co-star Chris Hemsworth for “The Huntsman.” She succeeded, netting a $10 million increase that puts her on par with Hemsworth.”

http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2015/01/12/3610424/charlize-theron-pay-gap/

It’s ironic that a blow against discrimination in the arts was struck by the hackers who were trying to blow down artistic freedom, but then ending unequal treatment is a messy, often dangerous business. See the movie Selma.

Theron, the  Lilly Ledbetter of Hollywood, must have a more nuanced view of hacking now. What if women could hack the major players in other sectors, say technology, energy, pharmaceuticals, law, or (fill in your favorite)? How many of us would be Therons, insisting on equal pay for equal work?

I would like to think there would be mini-uprisings across the country, C-suites would rumble and the pay scales would tip a bit closer to even. Meanwhile, absent the help of Anonymous whose minions are hacking the heck out of ISIS et. al., let’s demand a great opening of the books, and leveling of the playing field for all women.

Masters of the Universe, Drama Queens and Whole Foods

During Q&A’s I’m often asked about the roots of sexism in today’s society. It’s a complex question, but sometimes you trip over dispiriting answers in the most unlikely places.

Yesterday, in Whole Foods ‘walking dead sexism,’ grabbed me with its ghastly outstretched arms. I was eye-balling the baby toy and accessory section (yes, WF has one), with thoughts of my grandson in mind when I picked up a pack of bibs with sayings on them. One said “Here comes trouble.” Another said, “Master of the Universe.” Both were lettered in blue, with a curly-haired baby boy smiling at me from the cardboard tag. Hmmmm. I looked at the rack again, and sure enough, a pink-lettered pack with a baby girl on the tag hung there as well. With dread rising, I read the top bib. “Drama Queen.” Another bib had a picture of an apple with one bite taken out and the words, “I’m saving this for later.” I suppose it could have said, “Mistress of Anorexia.”

In the great nature/nurture debate, there’s no question that we are born with gender differences, but I’ve never believed they were as great as the difference imposed on us by culture and upbringing. (See the STILL relevant “Growing Up Free” http://www.lettycottinpogrebin.com/growing_up_free_117532.htm, by Letty Cottin Pogrebin) Boys don’t benefit from the stifling insistence that they live up to masculine stereotypes (mastering the universe!), but women suffer far more from the early and endless cultural messages that seek to disempower and trivialize us.

Where are the roots of sexism? Take a left out of the produce department in Whole Foods and stop at the cute display of baby books, toys, teething rings and bibs.

Anthony on blanket 7-7-14 tipping

 

A NEW WAVE OF THE WOMEN’S MOVEMENT

Sarah Palin got a near perfect score for her Olympian dive off the heights of the Republican convention and onto the national stage as John McCain’s vice-presidential running mate. Her performance since then and the positive reaction to it by conservative women sent a hurricane-sized wave at the women’s movement. For those of us still paddling toward the promise of second-wave feminism (post Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique”) the water has gotten suddenly rough.

Conservative female voters who came to a Palin rally in Virginia had finally found a brand of feminism, although they would be loathe to call it that, that they could embrace. Palin is with them on social issues like opposing the right to choose an abortion or providing sex education other than promoting abstinence. She wants to put creationism into school curriculums and keep gays from marrying. But she also stands for being a working mother and wife. She’s a woman with five children whose life stands for the idea that mothers can be successful in the working world, even more successful than men. She’s all about “shattering the glass ceiling,” as she put it, breast pump in one hand and hammer in the other.  As Republican pollster and mother of three Kellyanne Conway put it, “(Palin) strongly conveys to women today that you don’t have to choose between a successful career and motherhood. You do have to make sacrifices, but you can have it all.”

Evidently, while us second-wave feminists were focused on extending and enforcing legislative victories for equal gender treatment in the workplace and in schools, the powerful idea that women deserve equal rights began to seep into conservative thinking –maybe men could take on more home responsibility, maybe it is unfairly limiting and destructive to assign women roles that constrict their ambition, creativity and dreams.

The hypocrisy of conservative leaders embracing these feminist ideas when it comes to Palin, from jabberers like O’Reilly and Limbaugh to movement leaders like Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum and James Dobson of Focus on the Family is thick as sewer sludge, but it’s also a distraction.  Those Americans who care about ensuring and expanding the promise of equality for women need to think about how Palin can forward the feminist agenda. We also have to be wary of a Palinesque pseudo-feminism full of inherent contradictions.

The McCain/Palin ticket opposes pay equity for women, but extols the virtues of Palin’s husband Todd helping out at home, a circumstance unaffordable for most couples.  With women’s wages still lagging behind those of men, the dream of shared parental responsibility is just that.  When it comes to pregnancy, women who make the difficult and deeply personal decision to have an abortion aren’t looking to be told they can have it all, they just want to be left alone. And while conservative women rejoice that Palin rejects the promise of science in stem cell research and the importance of scientific discovery represented by the teaching of evolution, they also see her opening the door to their aspirations. But Palin’s stubborn adherence to discredited ideas offers little hope that she will attack the kind of continuing sexism in the workplace that limits women’s pay and opportunities. A  woman who can’t agree that equality dictates that anyone should be able to marry whomever they love isn’t likely to undertake the fight for equality that will give women full rights in every part of American life.

Still, Palin has created a new wave in the womens’ movement. But it’s a riptide certain to pull us back from gains we have made and progress we look to achieve if we don’t respond with respect and savvy.  I don’t agree on social issues with most Republican women, but I do believe they suffer from sexism as I have. They are caught  in the cultural imperative that tells them they must be everything to everyone and, therefore, leaves little time or energy for them to follow their passion and dreams. They are populating workplaces where a double standard for leadership holds them back and a double-dose of negative stereotypes about their ability to take charge, rather than just take care, leaves them frustrated and often insecure.

Sarah Palin’s given feminists the opportunity to talk about women’s equality again and get the country, and Republican women, listening. Like Democratic women, more of them than ever are in the workplace, living the experience of continued inequality. Where we stand apart on social issues, we can stand together on getting our fair share and fair chance. It’s a place, at least, to start a conversation.

VISIT MY WEBSITE: WWW.ROBINGERBER.COM

DODGING THE DEBATE

DODGING THE DEBATE

Senator Barack Obama has been compared to former Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson. Both from the prairie state. Both capable of rhetorical music that sends the heartstrings of highly-educated liberals into harmonic rapture. Both young, relatively inexperienced politicians exalting high-minded ideals over the ruts of the low-road. And in 1952, Stevenson, like Obama today, faced a debate dilemma against his rival in the general election, Dwight D. Eisenhower that was critical to the campaign.

In the general election of 1952, two major networks offered the candidates for President free air time for what would have been the first nationally televised debate. The networks had, for the first time, covered both parties contested conventions that summer and the audience response had been tremendous. CBS, who had created the “anchor” position for Walter Cronkite’s convention coverage, and NBC were anxious to continue the experiment with election-related television.

Eisenhower had wrested the nomination for the Republicans from Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, who thought he had it in the bag going into the convention. The Democrats drafted Stevenson at the convention after the delegates deadlocked over choosing among the nominees who had, unlike Stevenson, run in the primaries. It was the last brokered convention for the Democratic Party, although that may change this year.

The Republicans dreaded the idea of Eisenhower debating Stevenson whose soaring, fluid rhetoric electrified audiences. They didn’t have to worry. Stevenson declined to debate, saying that it would not be fair for him to take advantage of General Eisenhower’s well-deserved war-time fame by forcing him to share a nationally televised stage. It was a high-minded decision, typical of Stevenson, and that’s where the Obama-Stevenson comparison falls apart.

Rather than declining to debate, as Stevenson did for the best of reasons, Obama is dodging a debate with Clinton for the worst of reasons – rank political self-interest. He tanked at the last debate on the stage in Pennsylvania, petty and irrelevant questions from the moderators notwithstanding. Where he had the opportunity to rise above and soar, he slipped, wallowed and soured. Stevenson-esque it was not.

Now Clinton has suggested the kind of debate Stevenson would have relished. No moderators needed or allowed, just one-on-one in the tradition of the great Illinois Senate debates in 1858 between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. She’s given Obama another chance to rise to the challenge. But Obama is flatly refusing to debate between now and the Indiana primary on May 6th. He claims that twenty-one debates are enough, as if the quantity of encounters mattered more than their quality and context. He also claims that a debate would interfere with talking to voters and taking their questions, proving that Obama is as capable of making an absurd argument as the next politician.

Ten million people watched the last debate. A no-holds barred, Lincoln-Douglas type format could easily double that number. Obama would have a supreme chance to talk to voters, and as to taking questions, perhaps they could be limited to voters from the upcoming primary states to allay Obama’s concerns.

Of course, Obama knows his history and Stevenson ended up the loser in 1952. Political calculation calls for Obama to stay away from any stage with Clinton on it. Rather than going mano-a-mano, he wants to just go mono.

Obama’s great on the stage by himself, a speaker of rare gifts enjoying questions from adoring fans and riffing off shouts of “I love you” from the crowd. But Presidents have to be able to argue, confront, ask tough questions and, yes, debate about the tough issues on a daily basis. They aren’t just “deciders,” as Bush likes to refer to himself, they are leaders who must have a vision and the skills to bring others around to their view so that change can ultimately be made. Watching Obama in a debate, especially the kind Clinton has proposed, would give voters a chance to see if he is more than an inspirational speaker. Such a debate would be a chance to judge leadership skills. Obama should end the dodge and take the challenge.

MISSING MY BLOG

Hello World! Tomorrow I turn in the manuscript for the biography of the founder of Mattel Toy company and the creator of Barbie: Ruth Handler. She has kept me away from my blog this last month, but it’s been a fun writing trip to create “Ruth and Barbie: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her.”

Ruth has an amazing story. The tenth and last child of Polish/Jewish immigrants, she was an entreprenuerial and marketing genius. Her husband Elliot was the shy, retiring designer and she was the corporate dynamo. The company was already making millions before she came up with Barbie, and contrary to what feminists (including myself ) thought about the doll’s creation, Ruth’s idea was to give little girl’s a grown-up toy so they could fantasize about being grown-up women. Unfortunately, the model she found was a German sex toy, but you’ll have to read the book (out from Harper/Collins next year on Barbie’s fiftieth birthday) to get that story. Ruth also lost a breast to cancer and her company to a federal fraud charge, but rehabilitated herself (ala but better than Martha Stewart) by creating a line of breast prostheses that made her a hero to breast cancer survivors.

Why don’t more people know about Ruth Handler? She built a $300 million dollar company and created one of the most recognizable icons in the world, but she was a woman. No one bothered to write her biography, and the press refers to her as a “co-founder,” at best, of Mattel. I assure you, without Ruth, her husband would have been designing light fixtures or toys for Louis Marx, who was the big toy company back then.

I’m looking forward to getting back into the election news and will be writing for Politics Magazine (formerly Campaigns & Elections), Huffington Post, Women’s Voices for Change, and of course, right here. Thanks for your comments, especially about my novel “Eleanor vs. Ike” which is still timely reading!!



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