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Repost: Interview With Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Part I

Our lovely blogmother, Riverdaughter, has requested that I repost this interview with one of the possible contenders for Hillary Clinton’s Senate Seat, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney.

Doesn’t this woman seem just an eensy, weensy bit more qualified than Princess Caroline?

You Said It, Sister!
You Said It, Sister!

And speaking of “uneducated old women…” The following is Part I of my email interview with the gracious, intelligent, fiery and fabulous feminist, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, after reading her book: “Rumours of Our Progress Have Been Greatly Exaggerated.” Part II will be posted tomorrow.

MadamaB: Your path to politics was far from direct. Could you share some of that journey?

CM: When I was growing up, I never dreamed of going to Congress. The options for women were very limited. I thought I would be a teacher, librarian or a nurse. Politics wasn’t even a possibility. I can remember reading an interview in Life Magazine with Margaret Chase Smith, Senator from Maine, that illustrates the thinking of women in politics when I was growing up. The interviewer asked Senator Smith what she would do if she woke up in the White House one day. She answered: “I’d apologize to Bess Truman immediately and leave.” It just shows how self-effacing a female politician had to be in those days – the idea that she might want to run for higher office was just too threatening. If you asked Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi what they would do, they’d have a list. It just shows how far we’ve come but, as I show in my book, not enough.

When I left college, I came to New York and became a teacher, teaching English as a second language to immigrant women in upper Manhattan. Within a year after I started, my program lost its funding. I was nominated by my colleagues to lobby the legislature to get the funding restored. I was successful, and my success got me noticed by the Department of Education, which hired me as a lobbyist. I soon realized that you can accomplish a lot more good by working for the legislature, so I became a staffer, first for the New York State Assembly and later for the New York State Senate. While I accomplished a lot as a member of staff, it soon became clear to me that you really have power only when you actually have a seat at the table as the elected official. So I ran for the City Council in 1982.

MadamaB: You have been a Congresswoman in New York since 1992. What prompted you to write this book now?

CM: During the years of Bush I saw a rollback, a stalling of progress on women’s issues, and in many instances an effort to roll back gains we had achieved in the ‘70s. I wanted to bring attention to the problems we continue to face and the danger that we might lose some of the civil rights protections we had struggled so hard to achieve – and more than that, I wanted to get women involved, to give them ideas of how they can work for change in their own communities. I wanted the book to serve as a wake up call, to galvanize women and like-minded men to take action to address some of the problems I talk about in the book.

MadamaB: The candidacy of Senator Hillary Clinton seems to have brought out an awareness that misogyny is far from dead in our society. Yet the press, and many national figures, refuse to admit it exists at all. Is that what inspired the title of your book?

CM: Conventional wisdom about how far women have come far exceeds how far we actually have come. 2008 will go down in history as the year we finally came face to face with the level of misogyny that still persists in American society. While it was awe-inspiring to see Hillary Clinton as a major party candidate, the number of attacks on her for being a woman was simply astonishing. It came from every direction – from the hecklers at rallies who held up signs saying “Iron My Shirt” to the netroots who created a website “Make Me A Sandwich” to the politicians who compared her to the villain in the movie Fatal Attraction and vilified her for not giving up her run for the White House. Most of all, it came from the media who treated us to a nightly attack: Her supporters were called castratos in the eunich chorus; one commentator said she was scary, castrating and that he involuntarily crossed his legs when she came into the room; another said that when she spoke, men heard “Take out the garbage.” If that’s what they thought about someone as accomplished, intelligent and gracious as Hillary Clinton, what must they be thinking of us?

When I started writing the book, some people said that Hillary’s ability to run as a serious candidate would make the book seem out of touch with reality. How could I say that our progress was exaggerated when one woman was Speaker of the House and another could be the Democratic Presidential nominee? Well, not every woman is a Nancy Pelosi or a Hillary Clinton, and most women I meet are struggling because of laws that do not support work/life balance, because they do not have health care, because they’re not paid the same as their male colleagues; or because they’ve spent a lifetime with a wage gap and now have to live in old age on social security and pensions that perpetuate that gap. I wrote the book for all those struggling women – and hopefully to inspire the next Hillary Clinton to throw her hat into the ring and join me in trying to change all that.

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The 30 Percent Solution: Why Democratic Women Are Voting for McCain/Palin

You Said It, Sister!
You Said It, Sister!

When I read Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney’s book, “Rumors of Our Progress Have Been Greatly Exaggerated,” I felt as if I had been sleep-walking through the past twenty years of my life. (I hope that soon I will have the long-promised interview with the Congresswoman for your reading pleasure, but she is obviously quite busy on her book tour!) Through a devastating, methodical collection of facts and figures, the Congresswoman builds an airtight case for her premise: American women have NOT come a long way, baby.

Sexual harrassment suits are still routinely filed at places that are designated by female-led organizations as woman-friendly. Women still make 77% less money than men for doing the same job. Although many other countries, including the not-so-forward-thinking Pakistan and India, have had female heads of state, we Americans are still not quite able to bring ourselves to elect a female president, although many qualified women have tried and failed. Our business community has little to no support for women who want to participate in the workforce; no places for breastfeeding, no help for those who need daycare, and maternity leave for most is a thing of the past, having been replaced by “disability pay” – as if having a child were a disability! And as for a woman’s right to control her own body, although 6 years of Republican control over Congress, the Executive Branch and the Supreme Court has not led to the overturn of Roe v. Wade, certain factions within the Republican Party never seem to stop trying to chip away at reproductive choice. Just recently, HHS Secretary Leavitt put forth a proposal erroneously declaring some forms of birth control as abortifacients, thus opening the door to more “conscientious refusals” by anti-choice health professionals to prescribe them. Finally, the ERA has been dead in the water since it failed to pass in the 1970’s, the last time that a demonstrated, concentrated push for womens’ rights occurred.

Maloney’s excellent book offers practical, real-world solutions for many of these problems; among them, lobbying for specific legislation and networking with women in business to get more females into the top slots in Fortune 500 companies. But when all is said and done, the overwhelming thing we all must do is to elect more women to local, state and federal government. Why? Because of the 30% Solution.

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