Wednesday, May 28, 2008

CNN takes apart Vogue, Cindy McCain & Michelle Obama

Today’s political atmosphere has birthed inspired passion and obsessed acolytes at a time of economic shakiness and international frisson. As with any multiparty election system, there will be a portion of our people sorely disappointed no matter what the outcome of the second Tuesday in November. They will rail against the rules and bylaws and claim they were cheated by a system that was created before cars, the Internet or cell phones. And this will be true whether a Democrat or a Republican wins the highest seat in the land that day.

In this winter of discontent, new leaders must emerge and champion the social issues of the day, see funding for important projects through increasingly hostile Beltway waters and do what people are essentially sent here to do, govern a vastly diverse and complexly at odds country. These leaders will be men and women chosen by their constituencies for beliefs personal and political and actions political and personal. They will be judged by what they do, what they say, who they are seen with and who they are seen without, and for the driven women who people their ranks, they will be judged by the most inconsequential of all rulers, their clothes, their hair and their packaged look.

I have again had this double standard thrust before my eyes this week in the coverage of the two prominent potential First Ladies who have taken oaths to stand by their husbands, in sickness and health, in election years and political downtime, as CNN choose to cover the fashion choices of potential First Ladies, Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama. Do you ever wonder if they kick their husbands out of bed in the morning because all they really want is to sleep in and make waffles, as even the most career-minded person, man or woman, is wont to do occasionally? Oh, to be a fly on the wall when they want to be anywhere but the campaign bus. Really, I want to be there when they voice an opinion in a meeting they’re attending that is not well received, because to me, that’s the woman I want to know is going to stand by our next President or be our next President.

As fascinating as understanding the reasoning behind Cindy McCain’s choice of blue jeans in a Vogue spread versus Michelle Obama’s choice of a black dress and pearls in hers, what I am most curious about is where these women stand on the issues that their husbands and Sen. Clinton are campaigning on – and I don’t just want their canned responses that they support and share their husbands’ beliefs and positions. I want to know what Michelle Obama says when her daughters ask her about gay marriage – if they ask her at all. I want to know what Cindy McCain says when her children express concern about their father’s age and the brutal pace of the presidential campaign and then term in the White House. Do they think of their daughters when the topic of choice comes up on the trail? Do they think of their sons or nephews when people question whether a draft should be reinstated?

I question this because I feel like these are questions I know or at least have a good idea of answers for when women themselves run for office. Sen. Clinton may or may not win the nomination. She may or may not answer every question with candor and honesty – she is a politician – I don’t expect pure black and white from her or any of her colleagues frankly. But these are questions I want to ask women who hold political office or hope to hold political office.

I’ve read and been told that this is a step in the wrong direction. People don’t question a man’s family unless scandal is associated with him. They don’t ask him how he’ll raise the child his wife is ready to have any day now, but you can be sure that a pregnant political candidate is going to be asked how she plans on raising that child and holding an office at the same time. It’s just not a question men get.

I want these questions to be asked of all our political candidates because we are a world and a country in desperate need of mothers right now. People say that “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world,” and with more than 4,000 dead in Afghanistan and Iraq, bombings happening everyday between Israel and Palestine and correction facilities filling to the brim every year with convicts who seem younger and younger as they move from juvenile detention directly into the criminal system, I want leaders who recognize that to nurture is a strength, not a weakness. Leaders must know that the bigger gun will not always win against a cunning enemy, and that creating a world where we lessen the need for bigger guns every year is a goal we should all strive for in honor of our children and their children after them.

When did asking these questions become a weakness? Why have they stayed sexist? Couldn’t we turn the tables if we started asking these questions of men and of women? Would that not even the playing field just a little, while still getting answers to vital questions?

If these are questions we continue to shy away from because they weaken women by reminding voters of our inate ability to create and carry life, what’s the point of questioning politicians at all? Why do we bother with elections and campaigns? They could fill out a survey, distribute it and we could choose based on those answers, blindly. I suppose the media circus of today will never let that happen but I deeply hope that I see fewer stories dissecting wardrobe choices in our political candidates. I could care less if someone spends $400 on a hair cut or wears blue jeans or a black dress for a fashion spread. I want to know what they will do when eight proverbial balls are in the air and the famed red phone rings as they all start to fall. And I want to know, straight up, what kind of world they will leave for the children I will have someday. Those are the stories that matter and the rest is merely filler in a book that could use fewer words to relay its point.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

In the Center Ring: Issues

I listen to Sens. Obama and Clinton talk of health care and the economy, global warming and the war in Iraq, and I notice that they only drop in the personal anecdote or campaign anecdote rarely. They are full of talk of big ideas and big policy. I expect more from my leaders. And frankly, I expect more from the mothers, sisters, daughters and granddaughters who run the country now, in our Congress, on local school boards and paving the way for a new generation of women to leap into politics with both feet.

I want to believe that the politics I experience as a young woman in America is built on the backs of people who remember that a system for all to have health care versus a system that lowers cost for health care need to accomplish the same thing in the end: my siblings need to be able to take their children to the doctor when they're sick, whether their health care is universal or lower cost. I want to believe that my stepmother and aunt and cousins will be able to retire because they've faithfully paid into Social Security every year they have worked. I'm tired of hearing people degrade the Speaker of my House of Representatives – and as a citizen of the U.S., it is mine – because she's a woman.

In the coming years, whether our White House is Democrat or Republican, we need to come together to solve the problems of all Americans. I want to have health care and not just because I work for a company that offers it. I want to see green technology thrive because everyone sees that it's good and necessary. Most of all, I want to see people step back from the overabundance that flows from the internet, the network television, the capitalist-driven market place. I want to see stories on the news, not all as horrifying as 400+ children being removed from their home and families for certain, that reflect the actual people of the United States. I want to know what is going on in Iraq because those are friends of mine and friends of my friends over there. I'm tired of non-stop electioneering and policy. If I have to see politics in the news, I don't know about you, but I want it to be stories about the accomplishments of our politicians as we go forward into a twenty-first century that will have to see change, whether our leaders are black or white, male or female or Democrat or Republican.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A World That Women Will Build

I consider myself a reader before anything else. I read posters and signs when there is nothing else to read. I am permanently doing damage to my shoulders and back with books that weigh down the single-strap purses I know are bad for my posture. I read when I'm tired; I read when I'm awake; I read when I'm hungry and am trying to hold off until the next scheduled meal.

And I am presently inspired by the books I see getting media coverage. Maybe it's the presence of our first competitive female candidate in the presidential election or maybe it's the fact that mothers and young women are among the highest spending consumers in the market. All I know is that I am inundated with books I want to read, and they all revolve around women, power and confidence.

In a previous post, I discussed attending a book signing by Dee Dee Myers that was to promote her new book, Why Women Should Rule the World. It still languishes on my bookshelf, waiting to be read. This morning, before I'd even had a chance to have coffee, I saw a feature on CNN about Seducing the Boys Club: Uncensored Tactics from a Woman at the Top by Nina Disesa, the first woman and first creative director named chairman at McCann Erickson New York, one of – if not the – largest advertising agencies in the world. Now obviously, as I just saw this feature this morning, I have not read the book yet. But I would imagine it is, as the subtitle suggests, everything from tips and anecdotes to glass ceilings and straightforward advice from a woman who has made it to the top of her profession.

As a young woman myself, I see in books like Ms. Myers's and Ms. Disesa's, the possibility for women to learn from each other and to take something back from what has for so many years been an "old boys club": politics. In a few years, I may be adding to my list books by women I respect and admire like Sen. Clinton and Michelle Obama. There may be new voices out there who have tackled Washington with a new excitement and a new energy who are ready to inspire the young women who look up to them. I just hope that I continue to see women who have broken through the proverbial glass ceiling reaching back through that barrier and holding out a helping hand to young women trying to make it themselves. I am encouraged daily by the women I see around me; the women who work in offices on Capitol Hill; the women who provide insight and commentary on the news and political events of the day; and the women who encourage me to make the most of my talents and to keep reaching for dreams I thought long dead and in the past.

All of these women who are my examples and who have been my examples for years are women who have, at some point or another, handed me a book. They are not all works of non-fiction. They are not all even books but sometimes are articles and magazines that they thought would inspire me or give me insight into the person they saw me becoming. I read because of them, and I read because I know that someday I want to be able to hand off a book to a young women in whose eyes and voice and excitement I can see a better future for her children and my own. I read on the Metro; I read on the bus; I read walking down the sidewalk – sometimes to the detriment of my toes and coffee – and I will keep reading because I see so much in what to some is just a pile of paper covered in scribbles.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Women to Watch Awards

Ladies and Gentlemen, the next time you are searching for a little inspiration or you're feeling downtrodden and like nothing you do is good enough, Google-search a few of these women and be reminded that one person, one woman, can make miracles happen around the world. Last night, I was honored to attend Running Start's Second Annual Women to Watch Awards at the National Press Club. There, I got to witness history happen. And I don't care if you don't see it on the national news - it was history because I got to see women who will someday be on a much larger public stage than mine be recognized for the incredible work that they do.

This year's nominees included, Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools, Chief of Police Cathy Lanier, Nicole Lee, Executive Direct of the TransAfrica Forum, Dana Perino, Press Secretary to President George W. Bush, and Linda Rottenberg, founder of the nonprofit Endeavor. Not only did these incredible women accept their awards and speak briefly on women in politics, the Women to Watch Awards brought together women and men from all walks of life and all manner of careers for an evening of conversation and recognition of the impact that women can and will have on the public arena in the coming years.

I was reminded last night, by a young woman who attended last year's Young Women's Political Leadership Retreat, of Mahatma Ghandi's truth, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world," and again wanted to be the change in the world as we in the audience listened to the stories of these female leaders who are everyday living a dream and breaking through glass ceilings that will help young women later.

During the reception before the awards were actually presented, I was lucky enough to meet some of the attendees and some of the award recipients. All everyone was talking about was how great Running Start is and how exciting they find the organization. There was no talk of the election among the groups among which I wandered. There was no talk of partisanship, although a friend much more versed in Washington "Who's Who" than I observed that Dems stuck with Dems and Republicans stuck with Republicans, as Running Start is a completely nonpartisan organization. It was awe-inspiring and so exciting to see this complete removal of the all-pervasive politics at a political gathering.

In the end, I walked away from a beautiful evening inspired to go out again and try my hardest to be the change I want to see in the world. Plus, I got to meet Dana Perino, which - as a writer and a young woman pursuing a career in communications and politics - was pretty awesome.