Mar 052010
 

By Amy Simon

It’s Women’s History Month 2010! Yay!  Another month to call attention to the gals.

March 2010.   Hmm.  Let’s see.  How are we gals doing?  Well, we have Sarah Palin out there doing stand up and shoppin’ for a reality show. She is just breakin’ all the rules.  Gosh, I remember when she first came on the scene.  I was intrigued, curious and hopeful, as I always am about a new woman on the scene.  Then she got everyone all charged up with her (speechwriter’s) lipstick jokes and I became (and remain) terrified that she’ll end up on a poster next to Eleanor Roosevelt.  God Forbid.

We’ve got Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric and Candy Crowley anchoring big news shows.  Good.  Sonia got in, Hillary’s keepin’ the  peace and Obama’s got lotsa gals doing big jobs.

And Maria Shriver’s October Women’s Conference was just da bomb, with everyone from Eve Ensler to Richard Branson addressing all the challenges we women face, especially in light of the big news that for the first time more than fifty percent of American workers  – PAID American workers that is – are female.

But.  The kids still know a lot more about Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan than they do about Abigail Adams and Lucretia Mott.

MY daughter is turning thirteen.  Becoming a woman and all.  We’re Jewish and having the big B.M. (bat-mitzvah – bar for a boy). It’s a beautiful important right of passage.  She has been studying and preparing for years!   I am so proud of her.  And I can’t help but notice how she stuck it out  – when she was tired or frustrated or just not in the mood – but she didn’t quit.  Did ya hear that Sarah Palin?  She didn’t quit.  Maybe someday she’ll grow up and be the president.  She is learning now about how the right choice is the hard choice and how when you make a commitment – be it to do your chores or learn your Torah portion, you keep it.  I wanted to quit several times.  I wanted to quit reminding her of her responsibilities and I wanted to quit schlepping her every Sunday morning since she was four years old and then Tuesday afternoons and then Tuesday AND Thursday for tutoring.  But like a lot of good woman (and jews) I suffered through it – though never silently.  That’s just not my style.

Anyhoo, I like being a role model for my girls.  I’m a divorced working mother.  I don’t know.  Maybe if some big book agent came at me waving a big fat check I could be persuaded to quit my job and go off and write about all the neat and not so neat stuff that happened to me in the last year.  Of course, my children would probably think it’s OK to quit too, ‘cause ya know it’s not what ya say it’s what you do right?  I have a sixteen-year-old daughter as well who really has her nose to the grindstone taking all those A.P. (Advanced Placement) courses for college.  I admire her as much as I admire her sister.  Ya see, high school has been really hard on her.  It’s really hard anyway but then all this icky stuff happened with her dad and he split and she kinda dropped the academic ball a bit and she had to grow up a little faster than she should have.

I look at my daughters and think about how Victoria Woodhull (the first woman to run for President in 1872) was just fifteen years old when she tried to escape a horrible slave driving religiously fanatic abusive father and mother by marrying, only to learn she married an abusive philandering drunk.  She learned that when she had her first baby at sixteen.  Sixteen.  But she didn’t quit or run off.  Nope.  She hung in there.  Being a women’s history freak has given me the most wonderful appreciation of my daughters.  As my sixteen year old prepares for college I think about all the gals who couldn’t go to college.  Their parents wouldn’t let them.  The school wouldn’t admit them.  Society wouldn’t allow them.  So they fought.  Hell, Lucy Stone saved for nine years until she had enough to go to Oberlin – the ONLY College open to the gals ‘cause when she asked her dad he said, “what is the girl crazy”?  She was thirty years old when she finally got in. She hung in there and became the first gal to debate in public and she was arrested for not paying her taxes (she said “well if I can’t vote I won’t pay taxes!”) and of course founded the Woman’s Journal and kept her name when she was married – oh I could go on an on.  SHE – like so many of the gals I just mentioned was a real maverick. And Elizabeth Blackwell – America’s first female doctor – well she only got in to Geneva College on a prank. The all-male student body voted yes thinking it was a joke.  And Belva Lockwood – the second women to run for President and the first woman to practice in front of the Supreme Court – well she went though hell every time she tried to get an education.  She fought to get admitted to College, then to Law School, then to get her degree issued after she earned it (they didn’t wanna give it to her!) then to practice in front of the Supreme Court.  She had to fight for every single solitary thing she got.  But she didn’t quit.  Nope.  She stuck it out. “Stick–to– it-iveness” is what they called it when I was growing up.  Perseverance.  Look it up Sarah.

Now I have issues with organized religion with its history of sexism (see Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s The Woman’s Bible), but a big fat tenet of the Bat and Bar Mitzvah ceremony is “whoever teaches their child teaches not only their child, but also their child’s child and so on to the end of generations. They are motivated to make a difference, to pursue peace and justice, and have the tools to succeed.”  Yeah, this is right out of the “My Bar/Bat Mitzvah” Booklet given to us by our Temple. I LOVE my Temple.  It is very feminized if you will.  Our head Rabbi is a woman, the temple President is a woman, and there are loads of women runnin’ the place doing amazing things, role modeling and inspiring my girls. I love it!  Social justice, giving back, being part of the community, helping those in need  – this is what my children have been learning all these years at my Temple. The same things Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. and Victoria Woodhull and all the gals fought for and sacrificed for.  I love the kind of women my daughters have grown up around and been exposed to.  The kind of women who – for the most part – say what they mean and mean what they say. Who are hard working, terribly decent and highly principled with a social conscience. These are the kind of women my daughters have been taught and encouraged to be; by me, the school, the community and all those mavericks I keep talking about – the ones that never gave up or backed down.  Ever.

My daughter is about to become a woman.  She can do many things.  But for some reason she cannot tell a joke.  Not everyone can.

I’m glad Sarah Palin can.  I just wish she could handle being the butt of so many.  And, she should only be the kind of woman my daughters are turning into.

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Nov 012009
 

The Women's Conference 2009

Women’s Conference (Architect Of Change)

On October 26th and 27th (Hilary Clinton’s Birthday) Maria Shriver’s Sixth Annual Women’s Conference (which sold out in a record-breaking two days!) took place at The Long Beach Convention Center. In a nutshell – and according to their website – womensconference.org – “The mission of The Women’s Conference is to inspire, empower and educate women to be Architects of Change in their own lives and in the lives of others.”

The theme this year: Be Who YOU Are – An Architect of Change And Pass It On.

The conference coincides with A Woman’s Nation (http://awomansnation.com/) and The Shriver Report, A Study By Maria Shriver And The Center For American Progress that addresses the new fact that half of American workers are now female.

I could not attend so I sat in my home office from 8AM until 3PM absolutely glued to their website which streamed a live webcast of the day’s events. It was also streaming live on The White House website! Yay!!!!!!!

If I had been there, I would have needed a seat belt.

I was, and am, completely and utterly, inspired, motivated, empowered and as Eve Ensler – one of the speaker/performer’s proclaimed “I LOVE LOVE LOVE BEING A GIRL!”

Here are some highlights:

The conference began in a big beautiful ballroom type of setting with attendees sitting at tables. It looked and sounded just like The Academy Awards, dramatic and exciting. The lights dimmed and a woman’s voice boomed out “Ladies and Gentleman! Live! From Long Beach California! Welcome to the Women’s Conference 2009!”

Young, beautiful and talented Los Angeles Opera Singer Angel Blue (yes that is her name) was introduced to sing Frances Scott Key’s The Star Spangled Banner. As she sang I couldn’t help think of Julia Ward Howe’s Battle Hymn Of The Republic – you know it…”mine eyes have seen the glory….”. Both are Civil War songs and I was reminded again of how little we are taught and know about our women’s history. I am determined to change that. Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910), trailblazing mom, was the very first woman elected in 1908 to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.

Broadcast newswoman and journalist Paula Zahn was the day’s MC. She looks and sounds JUST LIKE Jane Fonda did years ago! Freaky. She set the tone talking about how we all want to live more meaningful lives, yet we are trying to live up to our self-imposed unrealistic expectations and how we are exhausted and overwhelmed and need to come together, to be part of a community. Then came the stats; seventy five percent of all women – and men – are feeling stressed out. No kidding. Half of all workers in America are females and two thirds are moms that are either the primary or co-breadwinners in their homes. This is the big news. “We are responsible for so much. Yet”, she goes on to say, “women are still afraid to ask their employers for time off to care for their children or their parents.” No mention of the seventy eight cents to the man’s dollar that women earn or the very real maternal profiling that prevents women from either getting hired or rocking the boat once employed. But these were just the opening remarks and I am happy to report that minimum wage worker’s issues were addressed later in an amazing panel that included Madeline Albright, Claire Shipman, Amy Holmes and Valerie Jarrett hosted by David Gregory. More on that panel later. Zahn spoke of her own life – juggling motherhood with career and the guilt she – and so many women feel always. “Guilt is corrosive and unproductive”. Yes. Zahn now has two shows on the Discovery Channel – and after thirty years, she is her own boss and finally she controls her life.” Zahn asked us to take an inventory of our lives, to be kind to ourselves, to ask for help, and not be martyrs. The key phrase was “Live It, Feel It, Pass It On”. There was definitely a pep rally feel and I loved it!

Next up – Laree Renda, Executive VP of Safeway Inc. who introduced Geena Davis. Remember she played a president on television? Well, she spoke about her organization called SeeJane.org http://www.thegeenadavisinstitute.org/ which is all about gender in media and advancing leadership for women and girls. She talked about how underrepresented we are in Government – only two women out of nine on the Supreme Court- – women are only 20% of congress so I of course immediately thought – again – what a great opportunity to bring up some original architects of change – the female trailblazers in government – Victoria Woodhull – first woman to run for president, Elizabeth Cady Stanton who nominated herself to Congress – the first female nomination (she only got twenty-four votes), Jeanette Rankin- the first gal elected to The House of Representatives – Margaret Chase Smith – first female in the House and the Senate – oh don’t get me started – but I digress. Geena Davis had plenty to talk about – specifically – her study on G rated media targeting girls eleven years of age and under. Her findings: kids media is the WORST – three males for every female character and girls are portrayed as peripheral, undervalued, hyper sexualized. I loved her presentation – factual and sobering and gently and effectively told using comedy when there is NOTHING funny about this subject.

Robin Roberts, Co-Anchor of Good Morning America hosted the next panel entitled Tough Leadership Decisions in Tough Times. The panel consisted of Sheila C. Bair who was introduced as the ChairMAN of the FDIC. Made me laugh of course – ChairMAN – and SIR Richard Branson of The Virgin Group and The Terminator himself Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (whose wife for the un-informed is Maria Shriver). First question posed to the group – to whom do you turn for advice? Arnold said Maria and got a big laugh. Branson discussed his new book “Screw It Just Do It” and advised not to take no for an answer. Bair talked about courage and how she took a foreclosure workshop and worked on the mortgage restructuring and foreclosure crisis in California. The Governor then talked about California economics and taxes and gave his wife Maria some really beautiful props talking about she changed his way of thinking – praising her determination and calling her “The Determinator”. More laughs. Branson told a brilliant story about giving a speech in Saudi Arabia – I loved this – to ten thousand men, and right before he was to deliver the speech, he was told that the women were back in the corner behind a screen – as is the custom. So Branson is introduced and comes out and says “I believe when in Rome…. but here you men have taken all the best seats and put the women in the corner”. He said the men were “deathly silent” but he could hear and see the women screaming from behind the curtain and throwing things in the air. I loved that story. Then he spoke about a law in Norway mandating that 50% of company board members are required now by law to be women. This inspired a whole discussion and Sheila Bair’s comment “I am conflicted – I want women to earn it and not be given the jobs and I think 50% is a low estimate” resulted in major applause and a conversation ensued about quotas and mandates.

Branson said men running companies (and most companies are run by men) need to change their mindset to incorporate more flex time and flex hours.

Arnold discussed diversification in the workplace and bragged about the many women on his staff in positions of leadership and power – not because they are women but because they were the right person for the job and I think that’s great but the reality was not addressed. Momsrising.org has all the sad statistics about maternal profiling – I wanted to hear that phrase maternal profiling and I did not.

Roberts asked them – as philanthropists, successful business people and entrepreneurs – for practical advice for us, about how to be successful. Sheila Bair talked about being yourself and using your gifts. Branson’s advice:– “if you’re running a company – make it fun – have a laugh”. Arnold said “Be willing to fail” and brought up a bunch of his movies that bombed – like Jingle All The Way – and got a lot of laughs but then I was pleased to hear him give specific practical advice which he did discussing how Green Technology is booming in California and there is money to made there. He also talked about being courageous. Branson told a really brilliant story about giving seed money to a woman in a third world country – can’t remember which one – and how he loaned her $300 for a sewing machine to start a business. She succeeded and paid him back and hired other women. It was a very inspirational story.

The issues of self-worth and self-esteem came up next with the awesome Cheryl Saban who is the author and founder of The Women’s Self-Worth Foundation Cheryl Saban, Author and Founder, The Women’s Self Worth Foundation who came on to speak and introduce Eve Ensler. I loved how she spoke about our cultural mores and how they shape us. Again, it brought to my mind Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She spoke and wrote about the same issues over a hundred and fifty years ago and I wish SOMEONE would bring up her groundbreaking The Women’s Bible, in which Stanton accuses religion of keeping women down and describes the Bible as an historical rather than sacred document. Talk about courage….

And then came Even Ensler, playwright (The Vagina Monologues), and V-Day Founder Eve Ensler, Playwright, Performer, V-Day Founder who BLEW THE ROOM AWAY!!!!! “These are dangerous times…” she said and went on: “We are on the precipice, we need to feed the earth, liberate girls and women”. She has spent the last twelve years covering the planet and has seen it all. She talked about pleasing – how we like to please – “the act of pleasing makes everything murky – OK rather than real”. The audience really responded to that. “Here are some new verbs” she said; “provoke, question, challenge, dare, engage” and I of course immediately think about my gals – Woodhull, Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Frances Wright (trailblazing reformer and first woman in America to speak in public that no one ever heard of), Eleanor Roosevelt – all called the most dangerous women in America. They all did provoke, question, challenge, dare, engage and suffered so much – public abuse – familial rejection – all of it. These courageous trailblazing women lived exactly the way Eve Ensler was describing. She has a new book called I Am An Emotional Creature, The Secret Life Of Girls Around The World and went on to say how she had witnessed terrible realities – rape, mutilation, date rapes – and once again came the statistics; one out of three of our American female soldiers are raped – staggering statistics. She then told an amazing story of a fourteen year old Kenyan girl who knew her sister was mutilated (female circumcision), and knew she would be next and overheard her father discussing with her future husband how she was going to be sold for a cow. So she ran away. She walked for two days to a safe house that Eve Ensler’s organization had established and Eve Ensler went with this girl back to her home for a reconciliation and witnessed how, as she said “this fourteen year old girl walked in to that house and was ‘so fierce’ and got her father to change and her family cried and the father promised he would not cut her or her sisters. Talk about empowerment…..

Ensler’s message; take charge, be braver, be bolder, stand up, resist along with the message to honor yourself, your femaleness. She had all these fabulous lines like “terrorists are made, not born” and “one kiss can change your decision making process”…and “you don’t tell the Atlantic Ocean how to behave”.

Then she performed. A new piece. From her book I Am An Emotional Creature, The Secret Life Of Girls Around The World. She stepped out from behind the podium and the light changed – it was theatrical which I love – and the audience just ate her up. She ended by proclaiming – at the top of her voice – so so so passionate “I LOVE LOVE LOVE BEING A GIRL!!! She absolutely brought the house down!!!!!

A very emotional and heartbreaking speaker came on next. SOMALY MAM Somaly Mam, Founder, AFESIP, President, The Somaly Mam Foundation a survivor of Cambodian brothels.
Her life’s work is helping victims – teenage girls who have been forced into prostitution. Married with three children, her story was heartbreaking, saying in her halting broken English”I need mother…no one loved me. WHat a brave and beautiful woman who left with the message “don’t be scared to help the people”.

Katie Couric interviewed Annie Liebowitz – Annie Leibovitz, Photographer the famed Vanity Fair photojournalist, known for her celebrity photographs. Katie looked great in a red dress and red heels. They are friends as Annie had photographed Katie years ago. So the first thing Katie addressed was Liebowitz’s financial woes. She is being sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars and as Vanity Fair’s editor Graydon Carter said “The mind that can take these extraordinary pictures is not necessarily the same mind that is a perfect money manager.” Liebowitz could not discuss any specifics due to an ongoing legal battle but I loved this because she answered that she, like many women, did not pay attention to her finances. She just focused on her work and as she put it “left it in other’s hands”. How many of us can relate? It was a fabulous interview. Liebowitz, who is the mother of three, is very entertaining, very interesting and is a great storyteller – very human, very personal. Her photos were put up on a big screen and she discussed them. There were many of celebrities and many of death from her controversial book “A Photographer’s Life” – including photos of her father (whose death she said was ‘a good death as he died at home, in his bed’ but I had to look way – it was too painful for me. Her dad would have been horrified, she said if he were alive to know of her current financial situation as he was always worried about her. She also had photographed her partner, author and activist Susan Sontag. She was very honest discussing her photos. There were photos (and stories) of Queen Elizabeth, and politicians; Jimmy Carter, Clinton, Gore, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Madeline Albright (who was on a later panel), Sandra Day O’Connor – the first woman elected to the Supreme Court and Ruth Ginsberg – the second woman elected to The Supreme Court and Katie mentioned Sotomayor who Liebowitz had not photographed – yet. Beautiful photos of the Kennedy’s and Hillary of course, and Colin Powell and The Obamas. Katie tried to get her to gossip but she wouldn’t, saying ”I still have years ahead of me to work”. The last photo we saw was of Maria and Arnold.

The next panel was fantastic! How A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything hosted by Meet The Press Moderator David Gregory. Loved the panel which consisted of the First Female Secretary of State Madeline Albright, (mother and grandmother), single mom Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s Senior Advisor, Claire Shipman, ABC’s Senior Correspondent Good Morning America and co-author of Womenomics and Amy Holmes, conservative political analyst and the only unmarried non-mother panelist.

An unbelievable clip was shown from a 1972 Meet the Press with moderator Lawrence Spivak asking Gloria Steinem the most ridiculous questions about women’s roles in response to her statement about women not being taken seriously, being undervalued, ridiculed, ignored by society, etcetera. So Spivak makes the statement that white men are virtually controlled by women from birth through puberty and beyond that. “Why hadn’t you done a better job, if you’ re as smart as you say you are “? So now you can hear the audience of the conference laughing in disbelief in the background watching this clip and Steinem responds by saying “well that is your statement, not mine that women are virtually controlled by men” and goes on spelling out for the poor guy how “she has no real power over her life outside of her home, no power over the politics or economics of her life so I wouldn’t accept the premise of that statement”. Then Spivak asks her “Can’t she brainwash the male? Why doesn’t she do it?” More laughter in the background and again Steinem explains to the poor guy how it’s not about brainwashing but changing – “eliminating the sex and race stereotypes of how women are taught and trained to invest their hopes and dreams in their male children and how their female children are not expected to meet those expectations and so on”. She was and always is so articulate and intelligent and poised. I love her so much. Don’t we all?

After the clip, Gregory asks Albright what has changed and would that question be asked today and she says “well I think it has finally been recognized that more than half the population is made up of women” and and goes on commenting about the status of women and how women should be politically and economically empowered”. These were Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s exact sentiments at the very first Women’s Conference at Seneca Falls in 1848!!! Albright then went on to say “And if that question were to be asked today I think the answer would begin with the letter F.” Lotsa laughter and applause then. Albright was brilliant, citing her own trailblazing journey as a journalist, always taking a backseat always to her husband and later brought up how much she was criticized – by OTHER MOTHERS for being ambitious and opened up the whole ridiculous mommy wars issue. I loved it when she said “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other”. Major applause there too. She spoke about how when she graduated Wellesley in 1959, they were told it was their responsibility to raise smart children (not to pursue a career or use their education). She went on discussing how business needs to offer daycare etcetera – and hey! My gals ALL said the same thing – Stanton, Frances Wright – Victoria Woodhull – gosh we are still talking about the same issues!!! It was a terrific panel addressing infrastructure and support systems and of course balancing motherhood with career, which is really what I think the whole conference was about. I loved how Shipman said she sees a “feminization of values”. The takeaway was “choice” and partnership”.

First Lady Maria Shriver introduces a Once-in-a-Lifetime Conversation: Grief, Healing and Resilience
Finally, the last session of the day was Once-in-a-Lifetime Conversation: Grief, Healing and Resilience with opening remarks by Katie Couric followed by Maria Shriver who then hosted the panel with Susan St. James, who lost her son five years ago; Elizabeth Edwards who lost HER son thirteen years ago and Lisa Niemi, Patrick Swayze’s wife who stepped in for Kelly Preston whose recent loss of her son Jett proved to difficult for her to attend.

I had planned to be at The Conference. LA Parent Magazine asked me to blog for them as did Air America’s Nicole Sandler, my friend, a single working motherless mom who at the tender age of nineteen lost her own mother thirty Octobers ago. There are so many of us that needed this panel. I did not attend because I just lost my mother on October 18th.

Couric talked about her life and loss of her husband and sister. Then Shriver spoke so movingly and emotionally, and honestly about her mother’s (Eunice Shriver passed on August 15th) death and the death of her Uncle (Ted Kennedy) who died a few weeks later. It was very personal.

When all the women came together it was so very powerful, and healing, and helpful and resonated so much with everyone. Loss is sadly, so universal.

A recurring theme of the conference was about being your own advocate (Amy Holmes’ line) and listening to your own voice. I grew up hearing my mother say “you can be anything you want, just be the best you can be at whatever you choose”. I remember my Aunt Pearl, my mother’s older sister a thoroughly modern woman, telling me about my mom. She said, “she would have made a great man”.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

This Margaret Mead quote was spoken a few times during the conference.

I wish this conference could have streamed live on monitors placed in every Girls Room and Ladies Room in America but it was only available to watch on a computer. The good news…you can still see it. Just click here http://www.californiawomen.org/.

So yes. I feel empowered, inspired, comforted, supported and excited. About being a woman. In this, a woman’s nation. Great job Maria. All the gals would be proud of you. From Mary Wollstonecraft to Anne Hutchinson, to Frances Wright to Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Victoria Woodhull to all the Margarets; Fuller, Sanger, Meade, Mitchell, Chase, to Eleanor Roosevelt. But let’s not kid ourselves. We HAVE come a long way baby and we have a long way yet to go. But – as Claire Shipman so aptly put it, with “a feminization of values” coming, I am hopeful we will get there.

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Oct 222009
 

The Shriver Report

So Maria Shriver has a new project called A Woman’s Nation (Huffington Post April 15). Her goal: “identifying America’s modern woman and helping her overcome obstacles to success”. Some new information has surfaced regarding women’s role in the workplace – apparently more than fifty percent of the American workers are now female. Wow. From bread baking to bread winning. And how is that going? Well…

Let’s take a look back, shall we, identify our fore sisters’ success in overcoming obstacles, and chart how far we’ve come.

Lucretia Mott, abolitionist, minister and major mommy of the women’s movement, had a great dad. He, like many Quakers, encouraged education for girls as well as for boys, even though girls were considered man’s chattel, had no rights and were – in 1825 – legally uninsurable – like eggs and glass. Mott was a teaching assistant at a Quaker boarding school near Poughkeepsie, New York when she learned that the men doing the same job as she were paid more. Hmmm. Sounds sadly similar to Lilly Ledbetter’s story. Lovely Lilly Ledbetter has quite the little story that Lucretia Mott would not like to hear. In 1979 she became a working mother with her job as a plant supervisor at The Goodyear Tire Company in Alabama. One fine day, in 1998, she got to work and when she checked her mailbox – yes an actual physical mailbox – she found a note someone sent her showing her pay versus three men who did the same job, and guess what – the men got paid a whole lot more. And had been. For like twenty years. Ruh Row. Déjà vu. So, she sued, and her case went all the way to the Supreme Court. And then, she lost. It was a silly Supreme Court decision. (So silly, it was mentioned for it’s nonsensical ruling in the Sotomayor hearings.) But in the fine tradition of her suffragist sisters, Ledbetter fought on– for ten years, until on January 27, 2009, the silly Supreme Court decision was reversed and The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act became the first bill President Obama signed into law. What would Lucretia say? In 1848, in Seneca Falls, she and a gaggle of gals helped Elizabeth Cady Stanton draft The Declaration Of Sentiments, (http://facweb.furman.edu/~benson/seneca-falls.cmu) a written framework demanding equality. Modeled after the Declaration of Independence, which was based on eighteen grievances against King George, it started with “we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal”. I can’t help thinking of the eighteen million cracks Hillary made. Of course we have come a long way baby since then – or have we?

Today, woman STILL earn only seventy-eight cents to the man’s dollar. Yes. Someone should tell Sarah Palin who, when asked by Katie Couric where she stands on the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (before Obama made it a law), responded by saying “I’m absolutely for equal pay for equal work. Thankfully, there are laws on the books, there have been since 1963, that no woman could be discriminated against in the workplace in terms of anything, but especially in terms of pay. So, thankfully we have the laws on the books and they better be enforced.” Lucretia Mott would be appalled.

I am hoping A Woman’s Nation is working with Momsrising.org, who reports that forty-four percent of mothers are not hired compared to non-mothers, and mothers earn eleven percent less than non-mothers. Ann Crittenden, former New York Times reporter, financial writer for Newsweek, economics commentator for CBS News, Pulitzer Prize nominee, wrote “The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is the Least Valued”. Her inspiration for writing this book came when after giving birth and “opting out of the paid workforce”, someone asked her “didn’t you used to be Ann Crittenden”? She discovered that we moms pay. A real “mommy tax” (a term she coined) which is what mothers pay for opting out, off-ramping, interrupting their careers, leaving the paid work force and staying home – to raise the future. Crittenden computes a loss of one million dollars over a lifetime if one is college educated. And every year around Mother’s Day, Salary.com comes out with THEIR tabulation on what mothers’ unpaid work is really worth – usually in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“We will take a hard look at how women are doing in the United States today and consider the central question of the role government, business, and faith organizations, as well as individual women and men should play in supporting women’s role now in the workforce and the U.S. economy,“ said John Podesta, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress. “We look forward to teaming up with Maria Shriver on this important work.

Maria’s project is all about painting the modern portrait of the American Woman. Gosh, I know exactly what she looks like. Hurried. Worried. And Harried.

Give me a call Maria and I’ll hook ya up. Ya see, I am the modern woman. I am a fifty-two year old college educated single divorced mother of two, whose fourteen-year detour from the paid workforce really cost me. Thanks to the very real issue of gender and maternal bias (and a healthy dose of eleven percent unemployment in my home state of California), I can’t find a job to pay me enough (not NEARLY enough) to provide for my family. And let’s not even talk about health insurance! I went from a well paid full time career woman to an unpaid full time career as a mommy and guess what? Although I could not be prouder of the humans I am raising – THEY apparently, are my resume, and OUR future – I am paying. As Ann Crittenden says, the price of motherhood is high and is the big obstacle to economic equality. Leslie Bennett so eloquently put it in her 2007 “The Feminine Mistake”, saying, “Choosing to leave the paid workforce and depending on the spouse (male or female but statistically the breadwinner is male because male earns more money) is economic suicide”. How eloquent and true. Ann Crittenden says, “Having a baby is the worst financial decision a woman can make.” And unfortunately Maria, they are right. Elizabeth Cady Stanton (suffering from what she called “mental hunger and domestic drudgery”) knew it. Lucretia Mott knew it and Susan B. Anthony knew it, which is why she refused – as she put it “to fall into the trap that is marriage and motherhood”. David Leonhardt wrote a great piece in the New York Times Business Section (Financial Careers Come At A Cost To Families May 26, 2009) about the economic price – the financial penalty – for leaving the paid workforce. He knows it. The Harvard researchers who conducted the research know it. And you Maria, must know it with four of your own.

But you don’t really have to look far or wide to “identify” the modern woman. Just pop in to a restaurant or hospital or school. In the corporate world, most of the clerical and middle management positions are filled with modern American women – not trying to do it all or have it all (a completely archaic and unrealistic ideal today) but just trying to make it, and dinner, and the kid’s open house – oh and the house payment or those bills on that seventy eight cents to a dollar paycheck.
“The last time a government project like this was organized was in 1961, when my uncle, President John F. Kennedy, appointed Eleanor Roosevelt to chair a commission to report on the status of women”.

Well yeah but it was actually Esther Peterson, pioneer and long-time woman’s rights activist and the highest ranking woman in Kennedy’s administration who proposed the idea. He ran with it but let’s give credit to Esther and of course to the amazing Eleanor Roosevelt (who in 1948 helped draft the Declaration of Human Rights for The United Nations) and led the first Presidential commission on the Status of Women (which Esther established and co-chaired).

And what is so very interesting is that first of all, Eleanor Roosevelt was not a supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, although it was SHE who pressured JFK to give women executive positions. When he only came up with nine female appointments, she gave him a letter – three pages listing many qualified women to fill the posts. According to the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project “After chairing the commission’s ?rst meeting February 12, 1962, she told readers of her syndicated newspaper column My Day that “the effort, of course, is to ?nd how we can best use the potentialities of women without impairing their ?rst responsibilities, which are to their homes, their husbands and their children.”

Fascinating isn’t it? Who knew? We modern – and not so modern – women are just filled with contradictions.

A Woman’s Nation will include roundtables, a national poll, and interviews with icons of the women’s movement and other prominent leaders. The preliminary report will be released in the fall, to be followed by a book.

I cannot wait to hear/see/read your preliminary plan. And I am so curious about which accomplished women and icons of the women’s movement A Woman’s Nation will be working with. I hope they are really on the front lines, truly experiencing the daily obstacles of making it. Your average modern American woman does not have a housekeeper or chef, personal trainer or personal assistant.

“The world has changed dramatically since my uncle launched his commission, and “A Woman’s Nation” serves to update these findings to promote the new definition of who the American woman is today and what she expects and needs from our nation’s economic, cultural and social institutions in order to thrive now and in the future.”

Susan Mashuart said it best in her groundbreaking “The Mask Of Motherhood”. On mothers: “The fears frustrations and confusions they are experiencing are not evidence of personal incompetence, but a legacy of unworkable social structures and contradictory cultural demands.”

Yes. Mashuart has so clearly identified the obstacles: Unworkable social structures and contradictory cultural demands. I hope Maria, you really take this on. Mott, Stanton, Anthony – Peterson and Eleanor Roosevelt are watching.

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