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Suit Up: It’s Time for the Women’s Revolution

I used to teach a women’s studies class to middle schoolers at a progressive school. We had an ongoing project called Powerful, Positive Women where the girls researched and presented a woman each day to the rest of the class. Sometimes these were well-known women such as Hillary Clinton and sometimes they were neighbours or aunts or grandmothers who had impressed the girls for one reason or another. That was the beauty of the project – it taught the girls that all women are powerful and have the potential to make positive change in the world.

On Friday, I attended part of the 18th Annual National Issues Conference held by the Democratic National Committee’s Women’s Leadership Forum (hence why the Roundup was so late.  I was totally sidetracked in the morning before I left by the nonuplets). I was there to cover the President’s remarks at the end of the day but arrived early in order to hear some of the speakers. It was the best example of the personal becoming political, with each speaker drawing from their life in order to explain why this upcoming election matters.

The focus was women’s issues and the speakers primarily women prior to the President taking the stage. The topics ranged from health care to economics to education, with each topic building on the next. At our most basic level is the body and our need to keep it healthy. Adding to that is economics, our work, and our usage of said body to contribute to society. And lastly, the mind is necessary to nurture if we want to keep making great strides in STEM fields.

I found myself wishing that the ChickieNob was there, not that she would have understood the issues at seven years old (and more likely than not, she would have zombie walked), but to have felt the energy of the space. The room was filled with emotion because politics touch on emotional issues: our ability to take care of ourselves and our communities. The world we wish to leave for future generations. It was impossible to hear all of those powerful, positive women speak and not be moved to tears as Lilly Ledbetter discussed the role her personal work experience played in moving towards equal pay for all women. Or when Debbie Wasserman-Schultz vowed that when it comes to women, no one will outwork us.

With sponsorship from the Democratic National Committee as well as the group Women for Obama, there was an obvious partisan lens through which the view point was filtered, but that doesn’t negate the strides the Obama Administration has made on behalf of women.  The Affordable Care Act has brought health care services to 45 million women.  He signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act ensuring women receive equal pay for equal work.  He has forced employers to create space and time in the workplace for expressing breast milk for breastfeeding mothers.  And he didn’t just recognize women as part of a campaign slogan — he appointed eight women to cabinet-rank positions, appointed a woman to be third in command of the country, and nominated two women to the Supreme Court (a branch of government which has only had four women total in its 220 year history).

All of that was on my mind as Senator Barbara Mikulski took to the stage to introduce the President.

It is fitting that Senator Mikulski preceded the President before he spoke about women’s issues because she is not only the longest serving female member of Congress, but she is the first woman elected to the Senate (others served before her, but they succeeded a male family member such as a husband).  In her first of many rallying cries, she told the crowd,

I didn’t want to be the first… I wanted to be the first of many!

She explained that women who want to run for office need a “MOM”: money, organization, and message.  And she empowered the women in the audience to get involved, using the story of the Lilly Ledbetter vote to rile up the crowd.  Back then, when it looked as though the bill wouldn’t pass and women would once again be paid unequally for the same jobs performed by men, she drew from the strength of her fellow female Senate members and told her supporters,

This is an Abigail Adam’s moment.  We’re going to start our own revolution.  And I said, “Women of America, suit up!  Square your shoulders!  Put your lipstick on!  The fight has begun!”

What was true then is obviously still true now as she continued to speak about the idea of caring for women; of showing women and children that their country — not just their families — love them.  In a moving twist on the popular put-down, ObamaCare, for the President’s health care plan, Mikulski admits that she likes the term.

I love the word Obamacare because our President does care.

Soon after, the President took to the stage not to look back at his accomplishments so far, but instead to discuss what still needs to be done.  In fact, his only reference to his accomplishments was to point out that the fact that his first law passed directly applies to women, serving as proof of his commitment to women in America.

And as long as I’m President, we are going to keep moving forward.  You can count on that.  You don’t have to take my word on it – you’ve got my signature on it.  Because something like standing up for the principle of equal pay for equal work isn’t something I’m going to have to “get back to you on” – it’s the first law I signed.

He pointed out that though we are sometimes discussed as such, women are not an interest group.

Women are not an interest group.  Women shouldn’t be treated that way.  Women are half this country and half of its work force.  You’re 80% of my household if you count my mother-in-law… and I always count my mother-in-law.

And in saying this, pointed out how there are no such things as “women’s issues” because what affects women affects many other people.  If we don’t earn enough money, we’re not spending it in stores, and therefore, equal pay is an economic issue, especially for businesses.  If we have discrepancies in health care coverage, it affects the people who depend on us, becoming a family issue.

His understanding of the bandwidth of women comes directly from observing his wife, the First Lady, as they tried to balance raising their daughters with two careers.

Once Michelle and I had our girls, we gave it our all to balance raising a family and chasing a dream.  And it was tough on me, but let’s face it, it was tougher on her.  I was gone a lot.  I know that when she was with the girls, she would feel guilty that she was giving enough time to work.  When she was at work, she’d feel guilty about not having enough time for the girls.

After the speech, I rode down the Convention Center escalator with some of the several hundred women who attended the conference.  One mused that her take away from this day was that nothing has changed from who Obama was in 2008 to who he is today.  “He hasn’t changed one bit.  He still has that lovely energy,” she commented before we parted ways.

But my takeaway from the conference was that women’s issues are important because they affect the very fabric of our society.  That America will come apart if we ignore the needs of 50% of the population.  But more important than that, every single woman has the ability to make a difference.  Every single one of us has a vote, and we need to use it to support the candidate that best represents our vision for America.  And more than that, we are all powerful, positive women, and we all have a unique voice to add to the whole.

In the words of Senator Mikulski,

How will you get involved in this upcoming election?

Cross-posted with BlogHer


1 magpie { 04.30.12 at 10:58 am }

I took my 8 year old to the Unite Women protest march on Saturday – that felt like a good way to kick off the election season.

2 Corey Feldman { 04.30.12 at 10:59 am }

I am pretty liberal but or maybe because of that, there are things about the Obama Administration I haven’t been thrilled with. But the absolute assault on women’s health from the other side of the political arena is unbelievably frightening.

3 Cristy { 04.30.12 at 12:08 pm }

Wow. I got chills just reading this. I can only imagine what it was like in person.

To answer your question, a few different ways. I’m fortunate to have a democratic leader from our district as a next-door neighbor, so in addition to attending meetings and helping spread the word, there will also be opportunities to get involved with grassroots movements and to network with the community.

The reality is, many in this country view women as second-class citizens. Yet where would our society be without women, even in the classical sense. It’s time that we come together again and raise our voices. Thank you, Mel, for inspiring me today to do that.

4 Jamie { 04.30.12 at 4:28 pm }

This was a powerful post to read. As the mother of a daughter with another baby girl on the way I feel very touched by the message you shared, and have every intention of voting in the upcoming election.

5 a { 04.30.12 at 4:38 pm }

Sigh. If only he weren’t the only one who seemed fully committed to the idea that women have as much a place in society as men…

6 Justine { 04.30.12 at 8:51 pm }

A few thoughts. First, I don’t wear lipstick. I hope I don’t have to in order to suit up properly. 😉

But more seriously: I love what was said about women NOT being an interest group. That women’s issues are everyone’s issues. If only more people could really SEE that.

I will vote. I always vote. But I feel like I want to do more than that … like voting might not be enough.

7 loribeth { 05.01.12 at 8:41 am }

Unfortunately, being Canadian, I don’t get a say in your election. But whatever happens there always has an impact here — so I will be cheering from the sidelines! Obama clearly “gets” women’s issues, in a way that, ummm, some other politicians (on both sides of the border) have clearly shown they do not. :p

8 md { 05.02.12 at 3:10 am }

awesome. i haven’t been following american politics for some time now, and this was a great way to get back in! thanks for sharing. i love what was said about women not being an interest group, and how women’s issues affect everyone. powerful stuff!

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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