President Obama’s visit to Israel was nothing less than inspiring. He met with many people, enjoyed Israeli music, was inspired by Israeli innovative high-tech technology, and made an inspirational, heartwarming speech in front of young students who applauded his every word. If any of us doubted Obama’s obligation to Israel in the past couple of years, our doubts dissolved over the past few days.
But as perfect as his visit was, one thing bothered me: Where was Michelle Obama? A few weeks ago, it was reported that the First Lady would probably join her husband on this historic visit. But when President Obama stepped down from his plane and waved to the crowd, I noticed that the woman by his side, well, wasn’t… When asked, he replied that Michelle wanted to come but felt obligated to stay with their daughters.
Of course eyebrows were raised at the First Lady’s absence. Some argued that it was not important because it was Obama’s presence in Israel, not Michelle’s, was all that mattered. I disagree. She was needed here, right by her husband’s side.
This week Yityish Aynaw, the first black Miss Israel will sit down with Barack Obama, the first black U.S. President. The former may be a beauty pageant winner and the latter the leader of the free world, but beyond the different job descriptions they have a lot in common. Their respective victories made them “firsts,” and by making the strides they have, they’ve also been subject to unfair and unwarranted vitriol, much of it downright racist.
Both Aynaw and President Obama have found success in nations that were founded on noble ideals about freedom from persecution, and proven that individuals can overcome discrimination. As Aynaw herself noted, “For me, [President Obama] is a role model who broke down barriers, a source of inspiration that proves that every person really can reach any height, regardless of their religion, race or gender.”
But unfortunately while success for minorities is possible in both countries, it remains far from probable due to entrenched oppression. In fact, both nations have won new measures of freedom for their own people too often and too intrinsically on the backs of the oppressed, whether second-class citizens at home or victims of occupation and foreign wars.
Around the 1992 election, like the political junkie-in-training I was, I walked around my grade-school wearing campaign buttons featuring the dynamic duo of Jewish female California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, plus new First Lady Hillary Clinton. It was the Year of the Woman, a historic moment for women in politics — and a backlash to the Anita Hill fiasco — that hasn’t been replicated since.
Last night’s election may be remembered as a similarly banner moment, an example of, as social media would quaintly put it, “revenge of the ladyparts.”
The story of last night begins with resounding defeats for some of the most extreme and obnoxious anti-women Tea Party type candidates: Todd “legitimate rape” Akin, Richard “God’s Will” Mourdoch, Joe “abortion is never necessary to save the life of the mother” Walsh and more. Even the shell-shocked folks on Fox News acknowledged that a lot of these races had been the GOP’s to lose, and the candidates’ outmoded, offensive — but deeply revealing — beliefs about gender, abortion and rape lost it for them.
But the losses for (“team rape”)[http://jezebel.com/5958480/team-rape-lost-big-last-night] were women’s gains. This widely-circulating photoset shows a montage of some of the amazing women who were elected or re-elected last night — 19, possibly 20 women in the Senate, a new high.
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
7.30 am: Nauseous. Proceed to voting area. Think about the subversive nature of my vote, and how we can’t let Obama take his base for granted.
9.30 am: Subway to office. Keep reminding myself that if the unthinkable happens, more people will be in the streets. The revolution is happening, and it will keep happening. Consider putting my head between my knees, but train is too crowded.
10:00 am: Update Facebook status: “Nauseous until further notice.” Remember to enact social media embargo today. Feed colleagues the remains of my hurricane/election related Fear Baking.
10:15 am: Remember waiting in line in Ohio to vote for Kerry in 2004. Think about crying in my car when he lost the election, not because I loved John Kerry, but because at the time he was the closest thing there was to hope. I don’t drive anymore, but I’m glad crying in public in New York is acceptable.
Tonight, as we bite our nails waiting for the election results to come in, it feels to me like there’s more at stake than just the vital policy issues I blogged about this morning.
Also hanging in the balance are the type of campaigns we encourage candidates to run as well as how much the media relies on facts and data — in interpreting policy and in gauging public opinion.
To the first point: There’s no question in this blogger’s mind that the Romney campaign has been incredibly dishonest — in its deceptive advertising, its candidate’s constant switching of positions and its refusal to answer policy questions. If Romney wins, it will open the gate for more and more candidates to run based on image projection and “bending with the wind” rather than actual ideas, plans and beliefs. This alarms me. After all, it’s not as though our electoral process is a particularly transparent and honest one to begin with. A Romney victory would be an opportunity to further muddy the waters, to further turn a serious election into a popularity contest.
If you, like me, spent any time this weekend in the areas of New York City that were ravaged by Superstorm Sandy, or if you even spent time just reading about these folks’ plight, it may be a difficult and frustrating task to turn your thoughts back to the endless media noise around the election. The disconnect is huge — but at the same time, the need to vote has never been more important.
Here’s my own frustration: I know the weather-battered residents in the most impoverished, neglected parts of The Rockaways, Coney Island and Staten Island, for instance, may languish no matter who is elected. After all, this is a national political climate where no one ever mentions the word “poor;” instead, the rhetoric focuses on the catch-all middle class. Meanwhile, one side is viciously attacking the other with a coded racial dog whistle for supporting government “handouts” — you know, those relief and assistance programs that save people’s lives and keep them from going hungry. And that’s all on top of a local political environment where our Mayor’s idea of helping lower-income folks is restricting their soda use and frisking their sons.
Meanwhile, it looks like ad hoc community groups in cooperation with Occupy Sandy, may be doing a better job than government or large agencies at getting aid where it’s needed after Sandy — without red tape and with on-the-ground knowledge.
Last night’s Foreign Policy debate was all about swing — the candidates taking final swings at each other and aiming for the hearts and minds of swing voters. And conventional polling wisdom tells us who the most important “swing voters” are, particularly for the President: that’s right, the women.
For President Obama, this is a major opportunity to hone in on the group that may be most important to his election: women. As pointed out by Ron Brownstein, one of the nation’s best students of the interplay of politics and demography, Obama can win the election if he wins over more college-educated women in the Southeast and more non-college educated women in the upper Midwest. He has already made strong inroads with both, but needs a little more heft.
Obama’s best way to do that is to convince women that he will not only protect our security but he will keep us out of war. He has argued in the past that he is doing just that by getting bin Laden and by extracting the U.S. from Iraq and Afghanistan.
There’s a reason for that: Nate Silver noted this week that a particularly pronounced “gender gap” has emerged this year: “if only women voted, President Obama would be on track for a landslide re-election [but] if only men voted, Mr. Obama would be biding his time until a crushing defeat at the hands of Mitt Romney.”
While everyone is up in arms about Romney’s “binders full of women” comment (which I found awkward, but ultimately inoffensive), they are overlooking the big issue that was left out of the debate on how to get rid inequality in the workplace. I am talking about maternity leave and affordable childcare.
Between Obama and Romney, they brought up pay discrimination, affirmative action for women (the “binders”), and flexible work schedules as ways to make workplaces more hospitable to women and rectify the fact that women earn 72 cents for every dollar men earn. They even talked about contraception and healthcare as having an effect on the income gap. But neither of them in their declarations of support for women in the workplace even hinted towards that pesky little issue of having and caring for children, which is one of the biggest handicaps for working gals.
Why is maternity and parental leave, or the lack of it, not part of the national conversation? It is not as though there are no consequences to the United States’ dismal support for new parents. I am getting sick of explaining this dismal support over and over again, but clearly it bears repeating.
Out of 178 industrialized countries in the world, the United States is one of three that does not guarantee paid maternal leave. The other two are Papa New Guinea and Swaziland. If you work for a company with 50 employees or more, you are guaranteed three months of unpaid leave. That is the best our country will do for you.
According to the National Association of Mothers’ Centers, in 2011 only 11% of private sector workers and 17% of public workers reported being offered paid leave by their employer. Considering that the majority of families are now dual-earner households, this is a real problem, not just for women but for the whole household.
After watching two long debates in which the only “women’s issue” raised was in the context of two men’s faith, I had little hope going into last night’s town hall.
And wow, was I surprised. The evening felt like all women, all the time.
A strong, enthusiastic and even charming Barack Obama emerged out of whatever metaphysical funk was keeping him down last time (maybe he had some of what Joe Biden was having?). Of his own volition, he referred to his support of — and his opponents’ threatened cuts to — Planned Parenthood not once, twice or three times, but four times at least. As I jokingly tweeted, no one would have ever suspected “Planned Parenthood” to be the reference that got viewers engaged in a debate drinking game sloshed!
And Obama also got passionate talking about the women’s issue nearest to his heart, women’s pay equity, describing the women in his family working hard and the glass ceiling his grandmother hit. In fact, by framing everything from contraception and abortion to the pay gap in terms of the economy and family values, he was as animated speaking about reproductive rights as I’ve ever heard him.
As soon as Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced Rep. Paul Ryan as his pick for vice president, critics pounced on the all-too-familiar spectacle of two white men in suits campaigning side by side. The stark contrast to 2008’s groundbreaking race — a black nominee! a female GOP veep nominee! — stood out to women’s and feminist groups, and not just because a woman wasn’t on the docket.
Most of the posts I read about Ryan from my fellow feminists arrived in the form of lists, as though the only way to organize and channel our collective feelings of inchoate rage was to calmly enumerate all of the reasons we don’t like this guy. The pro-choice, pro-women group EMILY’s List struck first, sending out an email almost immediately with its own catalog of reasons Ryan was “bad for women,” including his votes against food stamps and abortion.
Feministing produced another take on the Ryan listicle, and Jezebel went even further with its highlighting of “nine depressingly kooky facts” about the soon-to-be veep nominee, including not just those troubling votes and budget proposals but his avowed worship of Ayn Rand, his crackdown on protesters at a town hall and the illustrative fact that his budget cuts slash so many programs for the poor and elderly he has actually attracted the disapproval of the usually Republican-friendly Council of Catholic Bishops.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit it but I have a soft spot for commencement speeches. They provide a rare opportunity to hear people at the top of their game — actors, politicians, scientists, musicians, inventors — shelve their normal talking points and share a bit of wisdom they’ve acquired through their life.
Since graduating from Barnard College in 2007, I have watched Anna Deavere Smith, Meryl Streep and Sheryl Sandberg address the graduates of my alma mater. No matter the speaker, the role of women in our world is always front and center in these speeches. This year’s speaker — President Obama — seemed to offer the ultimate opportunity to hear someone I admire speak about women’s rights.
Cloaked in one of Columbia’s signature pale blue gowns, Obama stood behind the podium and joked about his time at the university in the early 1980s, when Michael Jackson’s moonwalk was the pinnacle of cool. More significantly, the president went on to discuss the improvements in the gender gap in higher education and in the workplace.
But what struck me most about this year’s graduation was not the speaker himself or what he had to say, but a small black book that was presented to him shortly before the ceremony. The book, “Pass It On: Wisdom from the Barnard College Class of 2012 to Sasha and Malia Obama,” is made up of 74 letters from members of the graduating class addressed to the First Daughters. The book embodies the sentiment of a Madeleine Albright quote that student body president Jessica Blank stated during her speech: “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” So here, the Barnard Class of 2012, put pen to paper to help two young women.
The introduction of the book states: “To Sasha and Malia…We are honored that [your father] chose to share his words with us at our Commencement… and we wanted to share our thoughts with you in return.”
Barnard shared excerpts of the book with The Sisterhood.
The public acceptance of gay marriage by the President of the United States — a position that most Jews support — is hardly the end of the struggle for full equality for LGBTQ citizens, who continue to lack many of the same enshrined rights and protections as other minority groups. Similarly, Barack Obama’s historic announcement of what many of us long suspected lay in his heart already will have almost zero impact on policy, and likely little impact on the election, since the issue ranks far below economic ones with most voters at the moment.
Instead, it represents a benchmark. Because his choice of words does show that both feminism and the gay rights community have made inroads where it matters most: our definition of relationships. Obama’s evolution echoed ours.
After all when Obama spoke about the “committed, monogamous” relationships of his gay friends, he was positing marriage as a simple, straightforward commitment between two equal people, not as a patriarchal social construct with the man as the head of the household, literally receiving his wife from her father. That very different vision, after all, is what marriage used to be (after, of course, it evolved from Biblical-era polygamy). Marriage once was a transaction between a bread-earner and a child-bearer. And yet when Obama spoke of marriage, he said:
As I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.
His words reflect nothing of these old visions of marriage. Instead these images conjure up love, commitment, raising kids as partners (not one person raising kids), and even an unspoken freedom from “constraints.”
Jewish law takes a pretty liberal stance when it comes to birth control. Pretty much any rabbi will say it’s permissible for the sake of a woman’s physical, emotional or mental health, or the sake of a couple’s marriage, or the needs of a family. Furthermore, many rabbis consider oral contraceptives to be most preferable under Jewish law. That means if an Orthodox woman is using birth control, chances are she’s using the Pill.
So why did the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel ally themselves with the Catholic Church, and demand institutional exemptions on the grounds of religious freedom? What would make Orthodox organizations ally themselves with a faith group that holds opposing views on the issue of birth control?
Some have speculated that it’s about controlling women, but I believe the answer lies in something even more irrational that has been sweeping the ranks of American conservatives. It is an Obama-hatred so visceral that anything the man supports must be bad, wrong, and shot down. I say this as a Republican voter myself.
Yes, the OU (which, it should be said, welcomed the White House compromise on the issue of contraceptive coverage), and Agudath are not political institutions. But let’s face it, they represent constituencies far more likely than the American Jewish community as a whole to vote Republican.
Like many other feminist political junkies this morning, my emotions were sent back and forth.
At first I was dismayed by the announcement that President Obama had agreed to a compromise (or was it an “accommodation”) on his smart policy that would have required employers, even most religiously affiliated ones, to consent to employee insurance plans that included free contraception.The Catholic Church has been raising a huge fuss about this — and the media has largely taken its side — and so the fear was this would be a full capitulation.
But when the plan was revealed, many began to realize that the “accommodation” might have in fact been a master stroke by the administration, at least politically speaking. The new rule will allow women at these institutions that object to contraception coverage to get that coverage, free of charge, directly from insurance companies.
Jodi Jacobson broke it down moments after the announcement:
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