Looking Forward to 2009
| December 29, 2008
The Women’s Media Center asked feminist authors and commentators Lynn Sherr, Alida Brill, and Beverly Guy-Sheftall to tell us what women might expect from what is widely expected to be a new year of national change. Their words are as cautionary as they are hopeful.
Be ever vigilant
We were supposed to be here by now. “Here” being full equality, and “we” being the women who comprise, oh, what is that silly statistic? More than half the voting population. As my hero, Susan B. Anthony, predicted in 1905, “I firmly believe that someday a woman will be elected president of the United States.” It wasn’t remotely possible then, when women didn’t even have the right to vote; today, it remains an elusive goal.
I cite this not to lament the campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose qualifications for chief executive remain first-rate; and not to bash the extraordinarily exciting upcoming presidency of Barack Obama. I’m with you, sir, fingers and toes crossed.
But the achievements are still interim, meaning we must, in the manner of Emerson, be ever vigilant as we enter the New Year.
Yes, the president-elect has five women in his cabinet—one more than either of his two predecessors. Bravo.
And yes, the new Congress of the United States will have four more female members (one in the Senate, three in the House)—raising the ratio one point, to 17 percent. Historically, that puts us behind Sweden (predictable), Cuba (dismissable) and Rwanda (go figure). To name just a few. The percentage could grow if (when) Senator Clinton is confirmed as secretary of State and is then replaced by another woman, which I hope she will be. We are blessed with rare talent in New York State: Representative Carolyn Maloney has been a relentless advocate for all that is right, and Caroline Kennedy is the sort of American citizen who not only could, but should be encouraged, to speak for us all. Susan B. would be proud of both.
So I wish for a new female senator for 2009. And not just because she’s a woman.
In the aftermath of Sarah Palin, whose campaign brought new life to the meaning of incompetence, I trust we can bury the concept that biology is a qualification all by itself. And quash the spectacle that a race among women is an invitation to a brawl. Why are men so fascinated by the idea of two women competing? And if it’s such a cool event, why did it take so long to get the money for women’s tennis pros at a par with that of men?
Now, and in the future, may the best woman simply win, and win big. We, and President-elect Obama, need her. —Lynn Sherr
After the (inaugural) ball is over
“… after the break of morn, after the dancers leaving…many a heart is aching…”
In childhood my father sang that refrain. I read the lyrics much later—pure Tin Pan Alley. It was his warning whenever expectations ran ahead of reality. He knew betrayal, but made certain I knew I had a right to live fully. I was a sick child. I am an unwell woman. My father’s on my mind—he’s unconnected now—thinks I’ve died. And says, “My daughter suffered forever.” He’s put me somewhere pain isn’t.
I’m just one of the millions of women with chronic autoimmune disease. We don’t get better. We don’t go away. We need medical care. The Commonwealth Fund reported chronic illness gets short shrift. Research is under funded, many drugs are expensive, and insurers have “caps” or deny claims. With the focus on the economy and the various plans for bailout, I wonder about us. Will we be left out again? I fear so.
We must speak for ourselves. In Systemic Lupus alone, women outnumber men 9 to 1. We are not to blame; bad judgment didn’t do this. Many of us receive drug protocols called “infusions.” They pump a variety of medications into our veins. They are not cures, but they help tremendously. Many of us do go into remission. If cash infusions are flowing to the banks, to the automobile industry, and the housing/mortgage collapse, then how about funding help for our infusions?
The last lines of the corny song linger “… many the hopes have vanished … after the ball.” Let’s hope we don’t see our hopes vanish in the smoke of big-industry mistakes. All women need to advocate for more funding for research and drugs. Let’s join together to lobby the new administration and demand attention in mainline media outlets. As full citizens we deserve more than a last dance at the Inaugural Ball.—Alida Brill
Look beyond the numbers
Given the historic election of Barack Obama as the first African American president in the United States, it is tempting to expect him to perform miracles—which of course, he will not, despite the mantra of his campaign: YES WE CAN.
What I do hope is that the first year of his presidency will be marked by profound and visible departures from the policies and behaviors of the previous eight years. It will be a disappointment if at the end of his first 365 days in office it appears to be business as usual.
So my hopes transcend what the Democrats will do in 2009. More than anything, it is imperative that progressives and radicals here and around the world continue to struggle for a better world.
I have a particular set of hopes for feminists in the United States. Let's put aside our differences and notice not just how many women Obama appoints but what he's doing for poor women, incarcerated women, women living with HIV/AIDS, working women who can't make ends meet, women who experience violence. Even more importantly, let's engage in serious self-reflection and ask ourselves what we are doing, as individuals and within our organizations, for differently situated women and girls. If our major concern is how many women are in the Obama cabinet, we have missed the point of our nearly 50 year struggles for civil, women's, and human rights in the United States—Beverly Guy-Sheftall