(WOMENSENEWS)—Throughout the seemingly endless presidential debates, the thought kept occurring to me, “are we women chopped liver?”
I heard people saying Hillary Clinton is just part of the establishment, her ideas are not new, she’s just another pol, etc. etc. etc.
Give me a break. Clinton would be the first female president in the long history of the republic.
Electing a woman would be a historic break from our entire past, but hardly anybody is saying that.
Am I surprised? No. There is a long-standing pattern of women getting through the door of rights and achievement after everybody else. Black men got to vote in 1868, thanks to the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Women–black and white–did not get the vote until 1920.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 has been used in many court cases to remedy job discrimination against women. But that did not happen because people in the ’60s were so worried about women and jobs. It happened because a racist southern congressman, Howard Smith of Virginia, changed the language of the bill. It originally outlawed discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race. Smith added the phrase “sex” in an attempt to make the bill a joke and to perhaps derail it. Helping women was the last thing “Judge” Smith, as he was called, had on his mind.
In the ’60s and early ’70s, most professional schools had quotas on the number of women they would accept.
Women’s job horizons were severely limited, with most channeled into teaching, nursing or secretarial jobs. Elementary school teachers were often fired when they got pregnant. Married women could not get credit cards in their own names. Girls couldn’t play Little League and women were not allowed to run marathons.
As one of the few female Washington political journalists in the ’60s, I was one of the “girls in the balcony.” When top political figures or heads of state came to speak at the national press club in Washington, female reporters were not allowed to sit on the main floor to cover the event. We were ushered to a balcony that had no chairs or tables, where TV equipment was stored and we could barely hear the speaker.
Once, I was working on a profile of Carl Rowan, the first African American to serve as head of the United States Information Agency. I tried for a seat on the press club floor but was marched up to the balcony. I listened as Rowan told of his childhood in Tennessee, where he had to sit in the balcony at the local movie theater. And I, sitting in the balcony, had my first feminist “aha!” moment.
The women’s movement brought substantial change. We now have female astronauts, Supreme Court justices, fighter pilots and marathon runners. But in fact, women’s progress is stalling out on many fronts, from high tech to low paychecks, as Rosalind Barnett of Brandeis and I reported in our book “The New Soft War on Women.”
Glass Ceiling in Place
The glass ceiling remains firmly in place. Many young women believe today that discrimination is a thing of the past. In fact, it has moved underground, where it’s harder to see but is still very real. The election of a female president could be a huge leap forward.
No one is arguing that we should elect just any woman. But the New York Times called Clinton “one of the most broadly and deeply qualified presidential candidates in modern history.”
She was a very effective United States senator, able to work with Republicans across the aisle, and a skillful secretary of state. She’s had everything but the kitchen sink thrown at her and she proved tough and resilient. She’s the leading voice for a women’s right to reproductive autonomy in a year when abortion teeters on the brink and the topic was rarely even raised in the debates.
As for authenticity, what you see is what you get. She’s a policy wonk, not an inspiring orator. But the fact is, candidates run with poetry but govern in prose.
I like Bernie Sanders, I admire Sweden and wish we had free education, free child care, cradle-to-grave health care, six week vacations and government paid pensions. But we’re not Scandinavia. I don’t think an avowed socialist could win in a general election, and even if he did, I don’t believe he could get his programs through Congress.
Clinton would be a better player near the 50-yard line, where most of the yardage is gained in American politics. Going back to food imagery, that would hardly be small potatoes.