A Voice For The Other Half

by digby

It's been a rocky year for feminism, no doubt about it. First, the media let their sexist freak flags fly during the presidential campaign and lately we've been treated to the slick partriarchal gurglings of the good Pastor Rick Warren and the pathetic spectacle of the financial boys club strutting around as if they are wearing skins and wielding clubs as they marginalize and demean the female oracles who saw the writing on the wall (street.) It's frustrating to say the least.

Still, I couldn't help but feel a little bit uncomfortable when I heard Caroline Kennedy's cousin say this:

KERRY KENNEDY, AUTHOR, “BEING CATHOLIC NOW”: ... she‘s a mother and a woman. You know, we live in a country where one out of every five girls is sexually assaulted by the time she reaches the age of 21, where women still only make 79 cents on the dollar made by men; and we need a woman‘s voice and we need Caroline‘s voice and her strength and her determination in that seat.

MATTHEWS: Do you think it‘s important—it sounds like you do—that a woman replace Hillary Clinton?

KENNEDY: Absolutely. You know, there are only 16 women in the Senate right now, and Hillary Clinton is going, and we need Caroline to fill that seat.

What Kerry says about the Senate needing women's voices is correct, but it doesn't necessarily translate to Caroline, who hasn't made any serious contribution to politics up to this point. Just being a woman and a mother isn't really enough. (After all, Phyllis Schlaffley is a woman and a mother too ...)

If I were a New Yorker, I'd be lobbying for Representative Carolyn Maloney to get the slot. She's been in the congress for 16 years and is an unabashed liberal, feminist woman who has been fighting these battles for decades and knows whereof she speaks. Her recent book is called Rumors of Our Progress Have Been Greatly Exaggerated and it catalogs a list of institutional, political and cultural inequities which are still so embedded in our system that we hardly even know to question them.

For instance, after 9/11, when the government was putting together its compensation fund, the government was blithely planning to shortchange female victims' families by hundreds of thousands of dollars because they were using discriminatory projected earnings tables that reflected the wage gap. It took a concerted campaign to persuade the government that the earnings estimates that determined the value of the payout should be gender blind. It wasn't a matter of conscious discrimination. They just didn't consider whether it made sense that the family of a woman who made the same salary as a man at the time of her death should be compensated equally. Maloney organized 11 members of the New York delegation to pursue the matter and reverse the policy. (Insurance companies around the country still use those outdated formulas, by the way.)

And speaking of Wall Street, Maloney compiles some stories about discrimination against women in the financial industry that make your hair stand on end. Morgan Stanley had paid out nearly $100 million in sex discrimination money to many of the top female employees in the past few years. Apparently, as with Sheila Bair and Brooksley Born, the common excuse was that these women just weren't "team players" --- mostly because they weren't welcome at the strip clubs and golf courses where so many of the deals were made. And they just wouldn't get with the program when it came to looking the other way at unethical or reckless practices. (The wimmin are always raining on the parade that way.) Maloney thinks that instead of giving tax deductions to companies for their strip club expenses, most citizens would prefer for that families be allowed to deduct their child care expenses --- and has introduced legislation to do that.

I would expect that women are especially going to be facing some tough times in the near term as their lower level service jobs are going to be very hard hit and they tend to have less money in the bank to tide them over. An awful lot of them are hanging by a thread as it is. Having fewer women in the government right now hardly seems like a good idea (particularly when people need to be reminded that a fiscal stimulus that creates mostly construction and engineering jobs will only put money in the pockets of the 9% of women who work in those fields.) I think that if the argument is that women need a strong voice in the senate, we would probably be better served by a woman like Maloney who has a lifetime of experience in politics and a deep and thorough understanding of these issues than someone whose experience is very limited. I just wouldn't expect Caroline Kennedy, no matter how dedicated and sincere, to be the kind of champion on these issues as someone like Maloney.

I don't know much about New York politics, so maybe there is some other reason why Maloney couldn't be the choice. But on the merits, she's the one I'd choose if I were Patterson. The country badly needs the contributions of the Sheila Bairs and the Carolyn Maloneys if the government really means to clean up the mess the old boys club has made.

Update: It's hard to believe, but I didn't know there was a movement afoot to push Maloney when I wrote this. Here's an article on the subject from the NY Daily News.