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Let me say up front that I am male, and any honest reasonably intelligent male over the age of 12 will admit that he does not understand women, but I think I do try, and I think I have, over the years, made a good effort to understand the world from a feminine perspective, but obviously I will never fully understand what it's like to be a woman.

Let me also note that I hate the term "Women's Issues", though I use it in the title. I would prefer "Issues of Interest to Women", but it didn't fit as well. The former implies ownership, and I believe that many issues that are of interest to women, are also of interest to men. Now with the disclaimers out of the way, let me proceed.

I was in a discussion elsewhere yesterday about Obama and Women. A question came up that I'd heard before. It's usually phrased something like, "How do I know that Barack Obama will stand up for issues that are important to women?", or possibly, "When has he ever spoken up on issues important to women?" I think this is a fair question, so I did some searching.

I'd offer first Sen. Obama's strong voting record on issues that are important to women. He has a 100% rating by various pro-choice groups He co-sponsored the Illinois Equal Pay Act. He was chief sponsor of an Illinois law which would allow victims of abuse to seek treatment without losing their job. At the federal level, in 2007, Obama sponsored an amendment, which became law, to the America Competes Act requiring that women be represented and consulted during the development of innovation/competitiveness strategies at the National Science and Technology Summit (NSTS), on the President's Council on Innovation and Competitiveness, and elsewhere. Also in 2007, Obama sponsored an amendment, which became law, to the America Competes Act that established a mentoring program to support women and underrepresented groups as they progress through education programs proposed by the Department of Energy. So I like that he's thinking in this area.

However, when has he ever spoken out for women? Well in my search yesterday I found the following speech, given to the National Women's Law Center, and I found it so indicative of how a President Obama might be a vocal advocate for women, that I had to share it.

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama at the National Women's Law Center
Thursday, November 10, 2005

National Women's Law Center
Washington, DC

Thank you Duffy for that generous introduction, and I also want to thank you and Marcia and the National Women's Law Center for inviting me here.

As I was thinking about tonight's dinner and all the progress the women's movement has made in the last century, the first thing that came to mind wasn't all the legal cases won or the legislation passed; it wasn't the issues debated or even the individual rights secured.

I thought about my daughters.

I thought about the world that Sasha and Malia will grow up in, about the chances they'll have and the challenges they'll face. And I thought about my hopes for them - that they'll be able to dream without limit, achieve without constraint, and be free to seek their own happiness.

At its heart, this has always been the essence of the women's movement in America - the quest to ensure that our daughters will have the same opportunities as our sons.

Now, I realize that one day, my girls will discover that this journey is not over - that there are doors left to be open and glass ceilings yet to be shattered.

But if they ever come to me and ask whether change is possible - whether it's worth trying - then the people in this room and all those who've come before will have given me an inspiring story to tell.

I'll tell my daughters that there was a time when no one asked a young woman what she wanted to be when she grew up because everyone already knew the answer.

But then women stood up and changed that answer.

I'll tell them there was a time when women were routinely passed over for jobs that went to less qualified men; when they'd lose their jobs for the crime of becoming pregnant; when female athletes would lose out on thousands in college scholarships - a time when all of this was sanctioned by the law.

But then women stood up and changed those laws.

I'll tell them there was a time when women could be openly harassed and demeaned and abused right in the place where they worked or went to school.

But then brave Americans like Anne Ladky and Nancy Kreiter stood up and women everywhere were protected.

And when my daughters ask me whether change is possible, I'll tell them that there was a time when a woman who graduated third in her class at one of the most prestigious law schools in the country couldn't find a single firm in America that would hire her. And that with all her talent and brilliance, she had to start her career as an unpaid assistant to a legal secretary at a county attorney's office in Arizona.

But I'll also mention that years later, the progress made by the women's movement made it possible for Sandra Day O'Connor to leave Arizona and become the first female justice of the United States Supreme Court. And today, if they want to find a female lawyer in a position of prominence, they need look no further than the one they call Mom.

I will tell them all of this not to understate the challenges women face in this new century - challenges to choice and about pay and violence and employment and family - but to illustrate that in all the struggles of past generations, one of the most remarkable achievements of this very American movement has been to forge a consensus around this ideal of equal opportunity - around the notion that discrimination based on gender has no place in our society or in our laws.

The result of this consensus is that today, if you ask any number of men, women, Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives, "Do you believe that your daughters should have the same opportunities as your sons?", the answer you would hear most frequently is "Of course." And when you say "of course," it becomes harder to argue that women shouldn't get equal pay for an equal day's work, or that they shouldn't get the support they need to be good workers and good parents at the same time.

The other side knows this - they know that equal opportunity has always been a winning argument for us. And that's why those who don't want to make it a reality choose to fight on other terms. They make sure that in any given campaign or debate, the only woman's issue that ever comes up is not equal pay or health care or family leave, but the narrowest, most divisive issues like late-term abortion.

Now, the ability for a woman to make decisions about how many children to have and when - without interference from the government - is one of the most fundamental freedoms we have. We all know, becoming a parent is one of the most - if not the most - important jobs there is. No one should make that decision for a woman and her family but them. And we must keep defending their right to make this choice in the years to come.

But even as we defend this right, it's important for us to acknowledge the moral dimension to the choice that's made. Too often in our advocacy, we forget that. And yet we know that many women who make the choice may never forget the difficulty that accompanies it. I noticed that when Hillary Clinton acknowledged this in a speech earlier this year, some criticized her. But she was merely recognizing an important moral reality for many.

I also think that whenever possible, we need frame choice within the broader context of equality and opportunity for women. Because when we argue big, we win. But when the entire struggle for opportunity is narrowed, it plays into the hands of those who thrive on the politics of division; who win by fueling culture wars.

A few weeks ago, I was in Nebraska speaking at the local chapter of Girls, Inc. As many of you know, this is an organization that, for over a century, has helped young women gain self-esteem and opportunity through programs that build job and educational skills, encourage health awareness, and send women to college on scholarships. Recently, the American Girl doll company decided to help out Girls, Inc. by selling special bracelets and donating the proceeds to the organization - a gesture that seems both harmless and well-intentioned.

Unless, of course, you're the conservative right, in which case the most sensible response is to call for a boycott of American Girl. Because apparently, even though it's an issue they don't discuss much and barely mention on their website, Girls, Inc. happens to believe in a woman's right to choose and support for girls regardless of their sexual orientation. And so just like that, an organization dedicated to expanding horizons and providing new opportunity for young women is turned into a front for "abortion-on-demand."

This is what they do. But we don't have to let them drag us into it. There's too much still at stake for women on too many different issues for us to keep fighting on their terms. Here at NWLC, you work on child care and education and health care and welfare and employment - and there's no reason that work should be drowned out by a cultural jihad.

In the coming weeks, many will be scouring the record of Judge Alito to find out exactly where he stands on choice. Since he would replace a pivotal swing vote on the Court, this makes sense. But Sandra Day O'Connor was an independent voice on a host of important women's issues - and her story exemplifies the equality of opportunity at the heart of the women's movement.

Whether Samuel Alito will put the law on the side of upholding this ideal for every American should be at the center of our inquiry into his judicial philosophy, and I know that NWLC will be leading the way on this.

It's time to find strength in this movement's roots of opportunity. At a time where the forces of globalization are transforming the way we work and live, this means taking a new look at the way government can help create economic opportunity for all Americans. In this debate, which has only just begun, it's women who have the most at stake, and women who should be the strongest voices.

The social contract between Americans and their government - the bargain that says if you're willing to work hard for your country then your country will make it easier for you to get ahead and raise a family - was made for a time when most women stayed home with the kids and most workers stayed with one company for their entire lives.

But even though this time is long past - even though the vast majority of women with children today are working, including single mothers - we still have social policies designed around the old model of the male breadwinner.

And so women still earn 76% of what men do. They receive less in health benefits, less in pensions, less in Social Security. They receive little help for the rising cost of child care. They make up 71% of all Medicaid beneficiaries, and a full two-thirds of all the Americans who lost their health care this year. When women go on maternity leave, America is the only country in the industrialized world to let them go unpaid. When their children become sick and are sent home from school, many mothers are forced to choose between caring for their child and keeping their job.

In short, when it comes to making your way in a twenty-first century economy, our daughters still do not have the same opportunities as our sons.

The Administration's answer to this would only exacerbate the problem for women. The idea here is to give everyone one big refund on their government - divvy it up into some tax breaks, hand them out, and encourage everyone to use their share to go buy their own health care, their own retirement plan, their own unemployment insurance, education, and so forth.

But for the single mom who's already making less than her male counterpart - the mom who had to go without a paycheck for three months when her daughter was born, who's now facing skyrocketing child care costs and an employer who doesn't provide health care coverage for part-time work - for this mom, getting a few hundred bucks off the next tax bill won't solve the problem, will it?

In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society. But in our past there has been another term for it - Social Darwinism, every man and woman for him or herself. It allows us to say to those whose health care or tuition may rise faster than they can afford - tough luck. It allows us to say to the women who lose their jobs when they have to care for a sick child - life isn't fair. It let's us say to the child born into poverty - pull yourself up by your bootstraps

But there is a problem. It won't work. It ignores our history. Our economic dominance has depended on individual initiative and belief in the free market; but it has also depended on our sense of mutual regard for each other, the idea that everybody has a stake in the country, that we're all in it together and everybody's got a shot at opportunity

And so if we're serious about this opportunity, if we truly value families and don't think it's right to penalize parenting, then we need to start acting like it. We need to update the social contract in this country to include the realities faced by working women.

When a parent takes parental leave, we shouldn't act like caring for a newborn baby is a three-month break - we should let them keep their salary. When parents are working and their children need care, we should make sure that care is affordable, and we should make sure our kids can go to school earlier and longer so they have a safe place to learn while their parents are at work. When a mom or a dad has to leave work to care for a sick child, we should make sure it doesn't result in a pink slip. When a woman does lose a job, she should get unemployment insurance even if the job loss was due to a family emergency and even if she's looking for a part-time job. And in an economy where health and pension coverage are shrinking, where people switch jobs multiple times and women don't always depend on their husbands for benefits, we should have portable health care plans and pensions that any individual can take with them to any part-time or full-time job and Medicaid that's there when you need it.

These are ideas that you've all been fighting for here at NWLC; ideas that go beyond the culture wars we're used to and should be able to get support on both sides of the aisle. Ideas that - at their core - are about expanding opportunity for our daughters.

The other day, I was reading through Jonathan Kozol's new book, Shame of a Nation, which tells of his travels to underprivileged schools across America.

At one point, Kozol tells about his trip to Fremont High School in Los Angeles, where he met a girl who tells him that she'd taken hairdressing twice, because there were actually two different levels offered by the high school. The first was in hairstyling; the other in braiding.

Another girl, Mireya, listened as her friend told this story. And she began to cry. When asked what was wrong, she said, "I don't want to take hairdressing. I did not need sewing either. I knew how to sew. My mother is a seamstress in a factory. I'm trying to go to college. I don't need to sew to go to college. My mother sews. I hoped for something else."

I hoped for something else

From the first moment a woman dared to speak that hope - dared to believe that the American Dream was meant for her too - ordinary women have taken on extraordinary odds to give their daughters the chance for something else; for a life more equal, more free, and filled with more opportunity than they ever had. In so many ways we have succeeded, but in so many areas we have much work left to do. The National Women's Law Center has been at the forefront of this journey, and I look forward to working with you as you continue to spread hope and expand opportunity for young women in the years to come. Thank you.

Update [2008-2-8 10:9:43 by Travis Stark]: Not sure there's a purpose to updating, since odds are no one's going to see it, but I was googling around, trying to find a video of the speech above and, though I didn't find one, I did find the video below from "Women for Obama", which I enjoyed and found relevant. Enjoy.

Originally posted to Travis Stark on Fri Feb 08, 2008 at 05:59 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks for this (6+ / 0-)

    This is nice to see.

  •  This is something that needs circulated. (7+ / 0-)

    The more Clinton starts to feel her female voting block slipping away, the more she's going to stump about Obama being "weak on women's issues."

    Which, as it turns out, is just wrong.

    My Blog: The place I ramble when I'm not rambling here.

    by Capt America on Fri Feb 08, 2008 at 06:04:19 AM PST

  •  It's a difference in art, not policy... (6+ / 0-)

    ...and still agnostic on Obama v Hillary.

    But I can tell you as a woman when Hillary talks about women's and children's issues, and healthcare in that context, you can hear her passion coming through (which is in stark relief to her other remarks in other areas, where she is not as personally passionate).

    So I think it's just a presentation thing, imo.

    "The revolution's just an ethical haircut away..." Billy Bragg

    by grannyhelen on Fri Feb 08, 2008 at 06:04:27 AM PST

    •  Hi Granny. (3+ / 0-)

      I searched high and low for video or audio of this speech, but I found none. I'm sure though, in reading the speech, and having heard Sen. Obama speak, that there was no lack of passion that day.

      That is not to say that Sen. Clinton is not passionate on issues of interest to women, and I agree it comes across when she's speaking about it. It's just to point out that the guy really does appear to care about these issues.

      "From the many, we are one." - Barack Obama

      by Travis Stark on Fri Feb 08, 2008 at 06:09:12 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I don't doubt that... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        highacidity, malibu1964

        seriously, I think women's issues are probably an area where the two of them have some of the most in common.

        It's just that Hillary's notable quotables usually come when she talks about this subject (and they're the lines that seem most unusually spontaneous) - i.e., equating women's rights with human rights in China is one that just immediately comes to mind.

        Like I said, it's not a policy difference. And when you have a candidate to just generally tries to inspire across the board and another one who's more wonkish in most areas save one (where she gets inspirational), it's just a difference in tone.

        "The revolution's just an ethical haircut away..." Billy Bragg

        by grannyhelen on Fri Feb 08, 2008 at 06:14:32 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  I remember that you liked Edwards, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ignorant bystander

      Elizabeth Edwards is someone that I truly love.  I watched this video and saw Michelle Obama for the first time, and now I love her the way I love Elizabeth Edwards.  

      I also believe that Obama is of an age that will make all the difference..can you imagine John McCain ever saying these things?

      I am solidly supporting Obama.  I don't care for Hillary because of the other issues besides women's issues..she is horrible on Neoliberal trade policies.. she is horrible on the war in Iraq...she is horrible on supporting George W. Bush..

      I believe he is going to be a truly transformative and wonderful president..it will be a transformative and fearless time..Michelle Obama is right..we have to support the possible...

      •  "can you imagine John McCain" (0+ / 0-)

        I just tried to and I'm still laughing. "My friends.... now... my friends..."

        I did though see a documentary on A&E last night on McCain, that included his POW experience. Man, that guy was put through hell. I expect to see this documentary a lot.

        "From the many, we are one." - Barack Obama

        by Travis Stark on Fri Feb 08, 2008 at 07:50:45 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  This was such a wonderful diary. (0+ / 0-)

          I saw Barack today at Key Arena in Seattle.  It was a wonderful event.  Packed house, 18,000 people and they had to turn 3,000 people away...can you say AWESOME..and I understand that the credential committee of the DNC is made up of former Clinton Administration bigwigs..not good..Last night Hillary drew 5,000 people and they gave her a shed..

          Oh..and Obama drew 21,000 people with 2 days notice..

  •  this is a part of why I support Obama (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LynChi, marcoto

    What's madness but nobility of the soul at odds with circumstance?

    by slinkerwink on Fri Feb 08, 2008 at 06:06:33 AM PST

  •  So he has sponsored bills/amendments (0+ / 0-)

    relating to women since 2005?  Building up his Presidential resume, perhaps.

  •  Thank you for posting this. (5+ / 0-)

    I would imagine that since he lives with and loves 3 female humans, he'd be pretty good on these issues. That's not the only reason, of course, but it helps.

    "Life is like 'this'." Ajahn Sumedho

    by hester on Fri Feb 08, 2008 at 06:25:32 AM PST

  •  This is great research but (5+ / 0-)

    the first sentence was massively depressing: "any honest reasonably intelligent male over the age of 12 will admit that he does not understand women"

    Why? We're human beings. Men are human beings. If we talk and listen to another human being with openness and imagination, we can usually get a pretty good idea of where the other person is coming from. I feel that I understand men, and my male friends all understand me.

    What I have never understood is the mystification of women, as if we were some alien species. I always wonder if the people who started that tradition knew a lot of unreasonable women who tried to pass off garden-variety irrationality as some sort of "feminine prerogative," or whether they just didn't like to do the work of listening to other people and found it convenient to dismiss half the human race as incomprehensible from the get-go.

    This is a really good and helpful diary -- don't get me wrong. Just the first sentence brought me down.

    •  Glad it's not just me. (4+ / 0-)

      This kind of comment has always bummed me out too, even when uttered without malice, as is clearly the case here. I mean, are we really so alien?

      I think it also bugs me because it feels so reductive. As if to say, no matter what else I may be--a political junkie, a minister, a Texan, a tennis player, a college graduate, a red wine drinker--if I'm also a woman, I'm incomprehensible, and that's that.

      •  Hardly "that's that" :-) (0+ / 0-)

        I joke in my house that since my son has gone away to college, and I'm at home with my wife and my 17 year old daughter, that the testosterone level has gone down so much in our house and now I'm watching romantic comedies every weekend. But it's just a joke.

        I would be a totally different person without what my wife and daughter have taught me, and it would be a shame.

        "From the many, we are one." - Barack Obama

        by Travis Stark on Fri Feb 08, 2008 at 06:53:36 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  It's a matter of experience (3+ / 0-)

      Men and women are not the same. I think it's silly to think we are, or should be. In many ways, women are superior. My experience, and I believe the experience of most men, tells me that as much as I can try to get into a woman's skin and see things from a female perspective, I'm sometimes totally off, and I've been surprised by this enough times to think that really there is a difference in the way men and women are "wired".

      I also think it's a matter of the experience of women. As much as I can fight for equality of African-American people, I can never know what it has been like to be an African-American in this country. Likewise, I can never know what it's like to be discriminated against just because of gender.

      It doesn't mean one gender is inherently better. It's just that we're different I think. It's not surprising. We have very different hormonal makeup. Women aren't burdened with the testosterone that affects so much of what men do, and we are lacking estrogen effects that would certainly affect how we think.

      I could be wrong. Certainly we are more alike than we are different, but I think we are different, and I think that as we stop our long held gender biases, we'll find that the differences are actually complementary, and that together we are better working together than separately because of that.

      "From the many, we are one." - Barack Obama

      by Travis Stark on Fri Feb 08, 2008 at 06:50:16 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Oh..I love this man.. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Travis Stark

    I am really really glad he is running..I will support him..my friend has doubts..but I don't she is 65.. I am 51..I have no doubt this is going to be one precious president...

  •  Thank you for the video..it was great.. (0+ / 0-)

    I live in Seattle and we are going to see Barack today at Key Arena..the doors open at 11 am.. I am going to stand in line in a half an hour so that we get a place to sit.  The Key Arena holds 17,000 people.  They expect to be turning people away..

    Last night, Hillary was on the waterfront, on a dock, Pier 30  and managed to gather a crowd of 5,000.  Pretty good for a bitterly cold wet night..

    •  If I were you I'd go earlier. (0+ / 0-)

      Don't mind standing in line. You'll meet lots of like-minded people. But I imagine there are people in line right now. Get outta here! ;-)

      "From the many, we are one." - Barack Obama

      by Travis Stark on Fri Feb 08, 2008 at 07:52:08 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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