Today’s U.S. Congress is made up of less than 20% of female members—18% to be exact—a far cry from the parity we strive toward. Any conversation about Women’s History Month must include the rather dismal representation of women in American politics across the board.
The Congressional delegation from New Hampshire are the exception to that 20% barrier. Last November, two women won Congressional seats, joining the two women who already held New Hampshire’s two Senate seats. To top it all off, the state’s governor, speaker of the State House, and chief justice of the State Supreme Court are all women as well.
These women have made history by making New Hampshire the first state with an all-female Congressional delegation.
While this should be celebrated as a historic win for women and women’s rights, the beliefs of these women are diverse, to say the least. On one hand, there’s Carol Shea-Porter, who stands with EMILY’s List and the National Women’s Political Caucus, among other feminist organizations. And then there’s Kelly Ayotte,
The post-election buzz is all about how 2012 was a pivotal year, the demographic shift toward non-white voters and millennials finally kicked in, women finally exercised their electoral power, and yada yada. This is true, and we deserve to celebrate for a few minutes.
But elections come and go, pendulums swing, and no shift happens by itself—people have to make it happen.
That’s why social movements are forever, if they remain relevant and keep them. I was honored to be interviewed by NYU’s Margaret Sanger Papers Project regarding my views of the woman who started the American Birth Control Movement and the organization that would become Planned Parenthood, her work, and what I learned from her leadership. Here you go—let me know what you think.
Margaret Sanger Papers Project:Many years ago, you were a teenage mother living in Texas. Can you describe that experience and how it has contributed to your personal and professional life?
Gloria Feldt: I relate to the hardships of young parents. I have been driven by a passion that my daughters and all future generations of women should have the information, aspiration, and access to birth control and abortion services that give them the ability to determine the course of their own lives. Like Margaret Sanger, I believe biology should not be destiny and no woman can call herself free till she can own and control her own body. The birth control pill represented that liberation for me. It enabled me to start college and build a career. And to become financially independent–economic justice is the second factor, after reproductive rights, women must have to be full and equal citizens, but you can’t have that unless you can make your own sexual and childbearing decisions.
I was in Arizona last week, and who knew that a national radio program I’d been asked to do emanated from just across the valley from my Scottsdale home, in Youngtown AZ?
Youngtown being a euphemism for older folks, which Baby Boomers are quickly becoming in the millions—a very important segment of America. It was great to talk with Pete and Debra who are “Boomer and the Babe”
Listen to the interview right here and chime in with your thoughts in comments.
Open the podcast in a separate window here or listen now by clicking the PLAY arrow above.
Since a military junta grabbed power of the country in 1962, it has secured its power by rigging elections and suppressing opposition. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi spent 15 of the last 20 years under house arrest after her party, the National League for Democracy, won an overwhelming victory in the 1990 elections but was denied power. In November 2010 elections, Myanmar’s main military-backed party won in a vote again engineered to assure the military’s continued grip on power. The National League of Democracy boycotted this election and called it what it was—undemocratic.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi—who was released from house-arrest November of 2010—and her party, the National League for Democracy, have chosen to participate in elections this time around. On April 1 of this year, Suu Kyi and other pro-democratic candidates will run for 47 of the 48 open seats in Parliament.
Her campaign speech, which will appear on National TV, will mark the first time the Nobel Peace laureate has been given the opportunity to use state media to promote her party’s platform. She calls for amending the 2008 constitution,
“A woman has the right to mount the scaffold. She must possess equally the right to mount the rostrum [speaker's platform].”
Olympe de Gouges was an 18th Century French playwright and political activist way ahead of her time, and her feminist and abolitionist writings stirred political discourse in ways that presaged uprisings by women around the world last week.
De Gouges argued that the rights revolutionaries were attempting to expand for men should be extended to women as well. She passionately insisted upon universal suffrage, legal equality in marriage, women’s right to divorce in cases of abuse and her right to property and custody of her children, among other things. In her postscript, Gouges exhorted women to awaken to consciousness of their rights to embrace their power. She encouraged them to step up, take action and demand equality.
Yes, I made up “philactivist.” But what else do you call someone who combines philanthropy with political activism in a unique way, driven by her power of intention. Barbara Lee is one of the women I profiled in No Excuses because I so admire her drive, her vision, and her commitment to women’s advancement in politics. This continues my series of “She’s Doing It” columns in which I ask women what they have learned since I interviewed them.
Barbara Lee pictured with California Attorney General Kamala Harris
Gloria Feldt: In No Excuses, I asked, “When did you know you had the power to_____?”
What have you learned about your power to _____ during the past year or so?
Going to Girl Scout camp at age 12 was my first time away from home. I vividly recall the sound and smell of fresh pine needles crunching under my feet as I gathered twigs to build a fire to earn my campfire badge. I remember rubbing two sticks together for what seemed like forever and with each spark I learned more and more about the power of intention. I was determined to start that fire. It was the first step for me in knowing my own power. Ever since I have kindled my belief in myself and have used the power of intention to make the world a better place for women.
Barbara Lee: Was there a moment when you felt very powerful recently? If so, please describe the circumstances, what you did, and why you were aware of your power. Was there a moment when you felt powerless recently? If so, please describe the circumstances, what you did, and why you felt your lack of power.
“If women want any rights more than they got, why don’t they just take them, and not be talking about it.”
— Sojourner Truth, 1797-1883. Former slave, abolitionist,
women’s rights activist, Methodist minister.
Truth’s admonition seems archaic now. Why are we still “talking about it?”
Is women’s history of struggle for equal rights relevant in a world where women have outpaced men in earning college degrees, equaled their numbers in the workplace, and snatched the family purse to make 85% of consumer purchases?
Since “The End of Men” has been declared and women dubbed “Mistresses of the Universe” shouldn’t young women today, at least those in the industrialized world, feel powerful enough to be and do anything they want?
Could there be a more perfect day for a book urging women to embrace their power?
Thank you for making No Excuses “the little book that could.” It had a 9-month stint on amazon.com’s leadership and feminist theory bestseller lists. It has inspired many, even changed a few lives, and moved me to create a new No Excuses Leadership Workshop in addition to keynotes and panels.
I interviewed amazing women for the book, and I was curious what they’ve learned about power and leadership since then. Today, the “She’s Doing It” weekly series will start answering that question.
The first is a woman I admire greatly for her astute political analysis and smart writing. Keli Goff is the author most recently of The GQ Candidateand you can catch her regularly on The Dylan Ratigan Show. She’s a contributing editor at Loop21.com and blogs at www.TheHuffingtonPost.com. Follow @KeliGoff on twitter. Now, read more from her here:
Gloria: Was there a moment when you felt very powerful recently?
This question intrigues people, but rarely does anyone have as clear and direct answer as Merle Hoffman, this week’s “She’s Doing It.” She seems to have been born knowing, and born quite willing to buck the norm of being the archetypical nice and compliant “good girl” in favor of getting done the things she believes are important.
Merle, the President and CEO of Choices Women’s Medical Center, has recently published a memoir I highly recommend, Intimate Wars: The Life and Times of the Woman Who Brought Abortion Out of the Back Alley and Into the Boardroom.
Merle was kind enough to answer some questions about her life and times for 9 Ways:
Tell me your personal story…why and how did you come to be doing what you a doing?
I really fell into it serendipitously. My early years and adolescence were spent preparing to become a concert pianist. After I graduated from Music and Art, I also dabbled in painting and drama. When I finally decided to go to college at the age of 22, I need three part time jobs to pay for tuition—and one was with an internist , Dr. Martin Gold, for whom I worked as a medical assistant. At just this time (1970), abortion was decriminalized in New York which was three years before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationally. Dr. Gold, one of the architects of HIP, wanted to start a service for women subscribers. I got involved in the beginning of this project and it has become my life’s work.
What motivates you? What’s your passion?
I am motivated by very deep feelings of responsibility which began with the first patient who came to Choices.