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What’s next for women?

Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, author of "The F-Word: Women, Politics and the Future," talks about what it will take to get mothers’ issues on the national agenda.

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Interview and introduction by Judith Stadtman Tucker

November 3, 2004 was a pretty rough day for me. I dragged around all morning with a bitter taste in my mouth and a nasty mixture of dread and disbelief settling like two tons of concrete in my gut. My heart felt battered and bruised, like the desperate hurt following an especially bad break-up. Over the course of the day, I read and responded to a half-dozen stunned and grief-struck emails from friends and family. I choked back tears when listening to Kerry’s concession speech. I entertained grim fantasies of dousing myself with something flammable and setting myself alight in protest, like a Buddhist monk— and you know things on the national scene have really hit a low point when middle-class, middle-aged moms start contemplating ritual suicide. Gloomily, I predicted our country had passed the point of no return, and started to wonder if America is still a place I want to call “home.” I drank a couple of glasses of red wine and went to bed early. And on the morning of November 4th, I was wide awake and ready to fight. Because the alternative— that those of us who still care about liberty, equality, justice and the future of humanity might let ourselves to become unmoored, that we might become paralyzed by our own down-heartedness and skepticism— is unthinkable. Because then the bad guys win, and there’s just too much at stake.

Like Lakshmi Chaudhry, I agree we need to take some time to sit with the pain. (Chaudhry writes: “I’d planned to get pregnant next year. Maybe I’ll just stay home with the baby – lose myself in motherhood as some women do when defeated in other parts of their lives.”) And like Katha Pollitt, I think a clear-eyed-assessment of exactly what we’re up against— and by “we,” I mean those who consider themselves part of the progressive movement— is probably a warranted. But then I think we need to get going. Like the headline of economist Paul Krugman’s November 5 column for the New York Times— borrowed from a rock-out political ballad by Bruce Springsteen— I say: “No Surrender.” Like social commentator Bob Herbert, I say: it’s time to get “back to work.” Like E.J. Dionne, Jr. of the Washington Post, I say: “Don’t mourn. Organize.” But what really convinced me this is no time to throw in the towel was an essay on the “Optimism of Uncertainty” by historian Howard Zinn from a collection titled The Impossible Will Take a Little While:

In this awful world where the efforts of caring people often pale in comparison to what is done by those who have power, how do I manage to stay involved and seemingly happy? I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that we should not give up the game before all the cards have been played. The metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning.

To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world. There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people's thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible. What leaps out from the history of the past hundred years is its utter unpredictability.

Zinn’s insights into the patterns of social change seems particularly relevant to the course of women’s progress in the United States. For long years— decades, even— resistance to women's full equality seems impossible to overcome. And then something shifts. A door opens, and there is a different world waiting on the other side. We “caring people” just need to keep pushing. No surrender.

The MMO asked Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, author of The F-Word – Feminism in Jeopardy: Women, Politics and the Future, to comment on what happened in the November ‘04 election and what lies ahead for women— and mothers— who want social change

November 22, 2004

MMO: During the 2004 campaign season, a number of feminist organizations targeted women— especially single women between the ages of 18 and 29— with aggressive “get out the vote” campaigns. Is there any indication that young women voters turned out in greater numbers this year than they did in the last presidential election?

Kristin: Yes, the good news is that there was an increased voter turnout in people aged 18 – 29 years old in the 2004 presidential election. According to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) at the University of Maryland, turnout of 18 – 24 year olds was about 42.3 percent, which is up from 36.5 percent in 2000. Turnout of 25 to 29 year old was about 58.8 percent, up from 53.1 percent in 2000. As of late November 2004, this data is not yet broken down by sex.

The bad news? Even with the increased youth voter turnout in 2004, 58 percent of 18 to 24 year olds didn’t bother to cast a ballot. There is still work to be done.

Now the numbers that show the youth vote in relation to overall voter turnout get a little tricky, so hang on to your hats. Here goes: Although there was an increased turnout in the younger age groups, the overall voter turnout also increased for all age groups, so voters under 30 constituted about the same proportion of all voters as they did in 2000 (18 percent).

MMO: Were there any significant gains or losses for women in Congress and the states this year?

Kristin: Slightly more women were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2004 elections. According to the Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University, at least 65 women (out of 435 members) will serve in the U.S. House of Representatives when the 109th Congress convenes in January 2005. This means that women will make up 14.9 percent of that body, which is a record high, up from 13.8 percent last year. The U.S. Senate kept the same number of elected women, 14 out of 100 Senators (14 percent).

Here again we find more work needs to be done. More women need to run for, and be elected to, public office. Women make up half the population, and 14.9 percent is hardly half.

Now here’s a tricky question: Is it sexist to say that more women need to be elected to public office? The answer is a solid, No! Electing women to public office, regardless of political party, changes the way women’s issues are addressed. Numerous studies support this fact. One such study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) found that “women’s presence in legislatures and other state-level elected offices is closely associated with better policy for women.”

MMO: In your opinion, what policy or civil rights issues should young women pay special attention to as the Bush administration enters its second term? What organizations and research groups are tracking these issues now?

Kristin: There certainly are some very important issues that all women should pay attention to in the next four years. Restructuring of social security, and U.S. Supreme Court appointments and decisions relating to reproductive rights are at the top of my list these days (eight of the nine justices are 65 or older, so there could be as many as four new appointments in the next several years). Other important issues include proposals for paid family leave, subsidized child care, and health care solutions for families. Many think the gender wage-gap is directly tied to the lack of federal family friendly policies in the United States.

Quite a few organizations are tracking these issues, including: The Feminist Majority Foundation, National Organization for Women (NOW), NARAL Pro-Choice America, and more. The F-word has a list of over 200 resource organizations in the appendix that includes descriptions of the issues each organization covers along with contact information.

what will it take to get mothers’ issues on the map?

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