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A R T I C L E S* &* S P E E C H E S
INTERVIEWS

Ask Gloria (Continued)


- Women -

Q: What do you think the best thing [Clinton] could do for women would be?

A: He can continue all that he's started, from supporting reproductive freedom to expanding childcare, access to higher education, and such longterm goals as reducing the breast cancer rate by preventing more environmental degradation.

If you're talking about what new "best thing" he could do, I think that it's not only fixing (as he has pledged to do) the welfare bill he should have vetoed in the first place, but going beyond that to begin the dialogue on mechanisms that will attribute an economic value to childrearing and productive work in the home. Women on welfare need this desperately: if they're raising children, they are already working. (For instance, foster parents are paid and supported for this--why not biological parents?) Middleclass women with two jobs need this desperately: as long as the job done inside the home is invisible, they will have an impossible double burden. And full-time child-rearers and homemakers who are supported by wage-earning partners also need this: otherwise, they are treated as dependents when they are really business partners. In other words, this attributed value will benefit almost every woman--as well as men who do this work--so it's worth working toward, even though it cannot be accomplished in one administration.


Q: Rush Limbaugh says we [women] are voting with our loins instead of our brains. What is worse is all the women who call in agree with him. How can this libel be fought?

A: You can turn it around against him by pointing out that he, too, would be voting with his loins if Republican policy were trying to put them under government control--as it is the reproductive capacities of women. If the sperm were to be declared a legal person protected by the fourteenth Amendment--which is what the Republican Party Platform says about any fertilized egg in a woman's body--you can bet that old Rush would be rushing to the polls to protest.

You can also take it in the libelous way he clearly means, and treat him as seriously as you would if he said similar things about blacks or Jews. That means condemning him in every public way, and boycotting every advertiser who supports his hate-filled stuff. (He should have been boycotted long ago for using such terms as "femi-Nazi." In fact, Hitler came to power against the strong feminist movement in Germany, padlocked the family planning clinics, and declared abortion a crime against the state--all views that more closely resemble Limbaugh's.) I agree that the most painful part is the women who go along with him. Nonetheless, they are definitely in the minority. (His audience is so disproportionately male that even some of his advertisers are complaining.) Pro-equality women are the majority, and could make a boycott successful. In addition, bias just gets internalized: there are also self-hating Jews and blacks. The amazing thing is that movements and mutual support can restore our respect for ourselves and each other. Just keep on saying what you feel, joining with all the other women and men who are overthrowing these old hatreds, and Rush Limbaugh will go the way of father Coughlin in the 1930s--who also used the radio to spew out hate.


Q: This may sound sexist but how come there aren't any women running for office? This may sound dumb but why, like some first ladies such as Eleanor Roosevelt, how come she did not run for president, she did after all accomplish a lot? I am 14 years old.

A: For a long time after women of all races got the vote--which was only about 75 years ago--the only women who got into Congress were widows: that is, they had been married to men who were in Congress, and took over their seats after death. Sometimes they got reelected, like Margaret Chase Smith, but this was a very limited path to power. The party process was usually closed to women, they had far less money or ability to raise it, and voters often accused them of being "unnatural" if they weren't home with their children. This really only began to change on a large scale when this wave of feminism began in the 1970's, and caused women--and men who support equality--to organize in mutual support, and to fight the restrictions.

There is still about a third of the electorate that wouldn't vote for a woman for high office, but there are also more who would like to support pro-equality women. I hope that when you're choosing the work you want to do, going into politics is on every list of positive choices.

Yes, Eleanor Roosevelt accomplished a lot--especially on women's rights, racial equality, peace, and establishing the United Nations. But she did it by persuasion, since she didn't have a position of power herself; by example; also by sheer courage. She probably took even more ridicule at the time than Hillary Rodham Clinton is taking now. You might like to read Blanche Wiesen Cook's good new biography of Eleanor Roosevelt; a Penguin Paperback. There are also several shorter biographies for young readers that are in libraries.


Q: Do you think there's a danger in voting for a candidate simply because she is a woman and we would like to see more women in office?

A: Yes--and I don't know any feminist activist or organization that would recommend it. We wouldn't vote for Phyllis Schlafley or other anti-equality women. In fact, having a really negative woman in office may be worse than having a negative man: someone who looks like us and behaves like them just demoralizes us. Only in the case of two candidates who are equally good on the issues of equality would I vote for the female because of her genderˇor the candidate of color, or the gay or lesbian candidate; whatever the less represented group. The idea isn't to vote for biological determinism, but for people who have the cultural experience that comes with being female, African-American, Asian American, Latina--and so on--and will bring the majority concerns of their group into the decision-making process of democracy.


Q: I am very curious to know your opinion on why so many (or any) women support extreme right-wing politics that virtually stand for the inequality of the genders. Why would women ever support the discrimination of women?

A: When a society holds a deeply stereotyped view of one group - whether it's women, gays, African-Americans, or any other--everybody absorbs it, including members of the group itself. (Indeed, they have to be especially convinced of the stereotype; otherwise, they would write and rebel.) Even though an individual woman, a Jewish person, whatever, knows it isn't personally true for them, they assume it's true for others. That's why they may measure success by being the "only" one, or one of a few, accepted by the "superior" group: the only Jew in the club, the only black family in the neighborhood, the only woman executive. It's also why women may say they wouldn't work for a woman boss, blacks confess to feeling a stab of worry when they see a black pilot--etc. All this is called internalized oppression, and it's one of the deepest and most tragic penalties of oppression: you accept the inferiority of your own group, and may even try to curry favor by enforcing it.

The miracle is that this is also reversible. Listening seriously to the experiences of other members of the group, reading about myths of inferiority as they are disproved--all kinds of beginnings can cause this self-hatred to unravel. That's why consciousness-raising groups were the cell of the women's movement, or "testifying" meetings in black churches in the South were the soul of the Civil Rights Movement.

It's sometimes harder for women to dig out this internalized oppression because it's more likely to be cloaked as biology, we live intimately with the "superior" group, and we don't have a neighborhood or much physical turf where we come together--but it's happening. According to public opinion polls, it's now a minority of women who support discrimination, wouldn't vote for a woman candidate, and other marks of self-hatred.


Q: How as young feminists can we be hopeful and still have the inspiration to move ahead in our cause if at every turn we are hit by people trying to push us down? How did you do it?

A: In or out of an election year, I think we all need the support of a few people who value us as individuals, and who share our values for society. The women's movement, the civil rights movement, and every other social justice movement I know of really came out of people sharing their experiences and problems, seeing the shared patterns, and working to improve them together.

So my suggestion is that you meet at least once a week with several other young feminists, find ways that you can support each other and begin to make improvements in your world. The personal is the political. For instance, you might support one person who's trying to get out of a relationship with an abusive boyfriend, and find yourself doing workshops in your school on this subject, and then trace the relationship between our willingness to use violence in our personal lives and the use of violence in our streets and even in foreign policy. Trust your instincts, and follow the thread of shared experience. It will lead you out of the maze of opposition and confusion.

I know that for myself, I would have remained isolated and discouraged--feeling that I was alone in experiencing certain problems--if I hadn't found the support and companionship of other women. If we live in a society that marginalizes us because we're young, female, or both--or because we're not the "normal" race, ethnicity, class, sexuality; whatever--then we need to create space in which we are. Just be as truthful as you can, listen to each other as openly as you can, and then figure out one positive thing to do--no matter how small--about the shared patterns that emerge. (If you would like examples of groups like this, I put some in an appendix to the paperback edition of Revolution From Within, from Little, Brown & Co. or contact Third Wave, an organization already organizing young feminists).


- Republican Women -

Q: Why isn't there more support for Republican women from feminists? I am a liberal Republican very proud of Olympia Snowe, Nancy Landon Kassebaum, Christie Todd Whitman, Kay Bailey Hutchison and Sandra Day O'Connor but I can't and will not support Democrats.

A: Feminists--that is, people who believe in the social, economic, and political equality of women and men--need to look at the content, not the label. This would be good in any case, but it's crucial for women, since existing groups have been patriarchal to varying degrees. (As a friend of mind put it, "I've been married to one Marxist and one fascist, but neither one took the garbage out.")

For instance, I campaigned for Olympia Snowe because of her support for the issues that the majority of women of all races need. (She voted for reproductive freedom 92% of the time in the last Congress--except for an inexplicable vote to allow medical schools to restrict the abortion training of all doctors and still receive federal funds.) I also felt okay about Sandra Day O'Connor: certainly not the best female candidate for the Supreme Court, but better than the male appointees who were on Reagan's list. (Apparently, he couldn't find a qualified woman who was rightwing enough for him.) On the other hand, I campaigned against Kay Bailey Hutchison, whose male opponent was much better on equality and other issues than she was. (She still calls herself "pro-choice," even though she voted anti-choice 92% of the time in the last Congress, and 85% of the time before that. Whether you agree with her on the issues or not, she should be truthful.) In the last Congress, Nancy Kassebaum voted for reproductive freedom only 65% of the time, even opposing abortion services for women in Federal prisons. Together with Dole, she also used her place in the Senate in a disgraceful way to support Koch Industries, an oil company that has polluted six states and stolen millions of dollars in oil from Indian lands--and contributed a quarter of a million dollars to Dole. (See article in Business Week, also in the September 2, 1996 issue of The Nation. Though that's just the tip of the iceberg, it's clear this corruption makes Whitewater look minor.) As for Christie Todd Whitman, she's pretty good on her own, but helped to conceal the anti-equality extremism of the Republican Party Platform by playing a major role at the Convention--even though she opposed most of the positions she cosmetized. (If this was a Jewish person covering for anti-semites, we would take it seriously--and we should for women, too.)

Especially as a liberal Republican dispossessed by the rightwing extremists in your party--most of whom, like Jesse Helms, used to be Democrats, I hope you look at the issues--and then make your own decision. Read The Republican War Against Women by Tanya Melich, a liberal Republican insider who knows where all the bodies are buried. As with what we eat, ignoring content can be dangerous to our health.

Update: Republican Women to watch in the 105th Congress: Senator Susan Collins of Maine and Representative Connie Morella of Maryland.


Q: Do you believe, as Tanya Melich says in her book The Republican War Against Women that Republicans have engaged in a deliberate and cynical strategy of trading women's opportunities for votes?

A: Tanya Melich's book is not only accurate about its facts, but also was personally experienced by her--and many other pro-equality Republicans over the last twenty-five years. However, to say that women's opportunities were traded for votes makes it sound as if the majority of Americans don't support the issues of equality--and they do. (For instance, even the majority of Republicans support two supposedly controversial issues: the Equal Rights Amendment and safe and legal abortion.) What happened is that many true believers in racial and sexual inequality began to flee the Democratic Party as it responded to the civil rights, anti-Vietnam, and women's movements--especially but not only in the South--and the Republican Southern strategy went after those particular voters. The true believers weren't being cynical: fundamentalist Baptists claim they have 9000 churches whose members vote, and they may well really believe in a hierarchy based on sex and race. But in a way, it was only the apathy, cynicism, or complacency of secular, centrist Republicans that allowed the true believers and bigots to take over the Republican Party machinery, and Republican primaries. (For this story of sell-out as witnessed by a male Republican who is centrist and secular, see Up From Conservatism: Why the Right Is Wrong for America by Michael Lind, (Free Press), a newly published expose of the victory of "race-baiting and Bible-thumping," as well as obvious anti-feminism and subtle anti-semitism, over principled conservatism.


Republicans/Democrats/Liberals/Christian Right

Q: I'm having a hard time defining the opposing philosophical differences between the Democratic and the Republican Parties in today's world. Can you help me out?

A: Historically, the core of being a Democrat was the belief that each person has the right and the duty--as well as the unique ability and information to make decisions about their own lives. The government was the expression of this populist will, and also ensured enough equality so that it could be expressed; for instance, it protected minorities against the tyranny of the majority.

Historically, the core of being a Republican was that some people have the right and the duty--as well as the unique ability and information to make decisions about the lives of others. The best government was one that governed least, and gave such forces free reign; for instance, the free market.

(Of course, such political philosophies originally excluded women of all races or men of color from their definition of person. That had to be forced on and/or fought for.)

Democrats got away from their bottom-up philosophy by tilting toward strong centralized policy--which is part of the reason why "liberal" got a bad name. From the move to de centralize schools and poverty programs, there has been a shift back to at least lip service to localized power. Republicans got away from their individual rights, small government philosophy beginning in the 1960's when Dixiecrats and others fled a Democratic party enlarged by the civil rights movement, the women's movement, and various social justice movements, and took their desire to restore a certain racial, sexual, social and even religiously-based order into the Republican Party. As a result, the Republican Party now wants to legislate women's private reproductive decisions, and even what constitutes a family or religious values, though the majority of Republicans actually disagree with that use of government power. One of the most important results of defeating current Republican leadership would be the chance for moderate to liberal Republicans to return, take back the party, and restore the tradition of individual rights.


Q: Does it really make a difference if one party holds a slight majority over the other in the House and Senate? Don't they need to work together to get anything passed anyway?

A: Bipartisan cooperation is certainly a good idea, and it's needed if members of the majority party don't agree. But if they have a majority, they can pass anything that doesn't get vetoed by the President (only a two-thirds majority can overturn a veto), or isn't a Constitutional amendment (which also requires a two-thirds majority). That's a lot of power right there. In addition, the majority party appoints Congressional leadership, sets up Congressional committees, and appoints their chairs--and they control a lot of the process. One example of substance: Because the Republicans won a Congressional majority in 1994, Newt Gingrich took over as Speaker of the House, and claimed that "the American people" supported that Contract with America, even though only about 39 percent of those eligible had voted at all, only about 20 percent created victory, and a tiny percentage of those had ever heard of the Contract, much less even one issue that was in it. Another example on procedure: Gingrich could and did take away the Congressional support from caucuses--the Black Caucus, the Congressional Women's Caucus, and others--which are important ways of organizing, reaching concensus on issues, strategizing, and so on. But if only a few hundred more people per precinct had voted, the Republicans wouldn't have had the leadership at all. You know the saying, "Mighty oaks grow from tiny acorns"? Well, a mighty Congress--and a huge force in our daily lives grows from only a few votes.


Q: Is there any hope for the Republican Party, in terms of reclaiming it from the "Christian" right?

A: Yes, definitely--but it will take hard work, just as it did to loosen the stranglehold of racist Southerners on that democratic party. The first step is defeating Dole and other Republican candidates who have caved in to the demands of the Christian right. (For example, most Republicans are pro-choice, yet Dole has been so anti-choice, even in his Senate races.) This can only be done by a healthy voter turn-out. Then Republicans will have to spend the next four years taking their rightful places in precinct caucuses, and all the local party and primary process--in spite of the traditional reluctance of centrist and liberal Republicans to organize. The delegate-selection rules for the National Convention also need reforming: the rightwing has skewed them to over-represent the rural South, and under-represent the urban North and other strongholds of secular, centrist-to-liberal Republicans. In four years, the result might be a very combative convention, given the tactics and ferocity of the ultra-rightwing, but Republicans could enter the next century as a party committed to its historic principles of individual rights--not just the power of the corporate, religious, and well-to-do. Afterward, the Christian rightwing and other extremists might stay as a minority influence, found their own third party, or divide themselves between the Democratic and Republican parties. They would continue to be an influence, as is their own right in a democracy--but at least their extremism would no longer be concealed by a Republican mask. (See Up From Conservatism: Why the Right is Wrong for America by Michael Lind (The Free Press) and The Republican War Against Women by Tanya Melich (Bantam Books) for recommendations on taking back the party from two Republican insiders.)


Q:Why is being "liberal" so often mischaracterized as "bad?" And why doesn't Clinton state what liberal means?

A: I agree that this is a misinterpretation. Go to the dictionary, and you'll find a very positive interpretation that features words like "enlightened" and "generous." Look in a political encyclopedia and you'll find a stream of political thought that has constructed most of the accepted social policy of this century. But "liberal" got a reputation for meaning policy made from the top down, not from the bottom up - partly a deserved reputation, especially during the Johnson Administration which departed from the Roosevelt Administration's tradition of replicating local models - and so came to be seen as policy made by the powerful for the powerless. (Which is why many in the left/liberal side came to call themselves "radical," to indicate their desire to put power into the hands of the people.) Apparently, Clinton has decided not to fight this public relations battle, but rather to avoid labels and talk specifically about policies. But I agree that we should not let "liberal" be so twisted in the future.


- Voting -

Q: How does one register to vote? If you've registered to vote once, do you need to do it again?

A: Though most states make registration fairly simple, the U.S. still makes it harder to register and vote than any other democracy in the world. (For instance, Canada sends two government employees to each household to make sure its eligible members are registered, and also posts a list of registered voters in each neighborhood so voters can make sure their names are on it.) There has been a long tradition here of disenfranchising--from preventing black men and all women from voting to levying poll taxes--so fight for your right. Anything that has been so opposed must be powerful.

To register to vote you must fill out your state's voter registration form or the National Voter Registration Form. You must be eighteen years old or be eighteen before election day. You must be a U.S. citizen and you may not be incarcerated. If your state has yet to implement or is exempt from implementing the National Voter Registration Act, the national form applies only to federal (Senatorial, Congressional, and Presidential) races. The National Voting Rights Act of 1994 was signed into law by President Clinton. (President Bush had twice refused to sign this law, since conservative-to-rightwing politicians have tended to resist any reforms that make voting easier for the average voter. They know that they are in the minority on most issues, and are less likely to win in a majority voter turn-out.) That particular law mandated the registration of voters wherever drivers' licenses were received or renewed, and where such other government services as welfare, food stamps, and Medicaid were administered; hence its nickname, "Motor Voter." However, some states fought that law (Mississippi is still in court over it), and others dragged their feet about administering it--especially in places like welfare lines where the politicians in office least wanted to empower people--so call your Board of Elections to find out whether "Motor Voter" is in force in your state or call Human Serve (212-854-4053), who is responsible for drafting the NVRA. Demand your right to register. For instance, if your Medicaid office is supposed to be registering voters but isn't, your insistence will help other potential voters.

Voter registration forms are available from the Board of Elections and also through state agencies. In more progressive states, you can even find voter registration forms at coffee shops, bookstores and in your workplace. Power the Vote (a project of Ladies' Home Journal and the League of Women Voters) also has an Online Registration form.

If you have moved since you last registered to vote you must re-register; if you have changed your name since you last registered you must re-register; and if you haven't voted in the last two major elections (meaning the past four years) you must re-register. These musts' have actually come as a surprise to many who show up on election day, only to be told that they are not registered. In '94, in New York City alone, 53,000 previously registered voters were denied their right to vote for these very reasons. If you think you might fall under any of the above categories, please call your local board of elections prior to any election day to make sure.

Voting isn't the most we can do--but it is the least.

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