The First 100 Days: expect not, get not

April 24, 2009 by

img-article-page-wonder-woman-ms-magazine-04_114201768983An article posted yesterday in The Huffington Post proclaiming Obama Gets Gender Right in First 100 Days has many women seeing red.

Here’s the author, C. Nicole Mason’s arguments:

  • Obama lifted the global gag rule
  • The first piece of legislation he signed into to law as President was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act
  • Obama’s Cabinet is also chock full of extremely accomplished stateswomen and issue advocates. With two cabinet positions still open, Obama has appointed or nominated a total of eight women to his cabinet or to high-level positions.
  • Less than a month shy of his 100 days, Obama created the White House Council for Women and Girls.

I say this to Nicole – I’ll give you one of four. Yes, President Obama did appoint Valerie Jarrett to chair the newly created White House Council for Women and Girls. The New Agenda did speak out in The Daily Beast to cheer this action on. Of course, we’ve yet to hear a peep from this new Council. But, I personally do have high hopes for Valerie Jarrett and if anyone could do something with that position, it would be her. The question is whether this Council will be given any power.

As to the cabinet, Nicole conveniently added a few “high-level appointments” to buttress her argument; but here’s the fact: President Obama has thus far appointed a total of 24 people to cabinet level positions: 18 are men, and only 6 are women.

Which brings me to the my point: why is that women have such low expectations for what we deserve and are entitled to? Why is 25% (6 of 24) cabinet positions something that any women should be celebrating? After all, we are 52% of the population and we were 54% of the vote in the 2008 Presidential Election. Shouldn’t be expect therefore to have 12 of the 24 appointments be women? And only be issuing glowing articles if that minimum threshold is met?

Perhaps the 25% of cabinet seems okay because it’s all relative. Women make up 17% of our Senate and Congress, 15% of Fortune 500 management (down from 17% in 2005) and 16% of tenured professors. Heck, I was a math minor – I know that 25 is greater than 17, 15 and 16.

But let’s tip this fact pattern on its head for a moment. Our government is composed of 83% men. This puts the U.S. in 84th place in the world in terms of women in government (behind such “advanced” countries as Honduras, Pakistan, China and Sudan). Our Fortune 500 corporations are 85% managed by men — and men are CEO’s of 97%. Does this sound like equality to you? I don’t think so!

Which brings me back to my point. President Obama is not really the issue here. What he has done seems to thrill many women. The problem is that many of the women who claim to lead us have numbed our brains to what is right in front of us: that the women of this country are still second class citizens. Why should we celebrate anything less than equal representation? Why are we okay with men occupying over 80% of positions of power in government, corporations and academia?

I am reminded of a famous quote by a brave and heroic woman named Harriet Tubman: I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.

Well, as an organization dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls, I say this to Harriet:  Hear ya girlfriend! Perhaps the greatest challenge for The New Agenda is to get women to see what is right in front of them.  Numbers don’t lie after all.  And heck, don’t we want to make this country better for ourselves, our daughter and granddaughters?  For the consequence of low reprentation is that issues impacting women are NOT being dealth with.  That is why, for example, violent assaults have been on the decline in our country for over a decade; BUT violence against women and girls continues to skyrocket!

But being angry at Nicole, or for that fact at President Obama, doesn’t solve our problems.  WE need to solve them together.  Women of this country must unite and work together on the issues that matter in our lives. My dear friend Cynthia Ruccia reminds me that President Bill Clinton had to say the phrase “Bridge to the 21st Century” hundreds of times before it stuck, well, heck, my vocal chords are ready and up to the challenge!

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