Electing Change: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Getting Progressive Women Into Office

BlogHer Original Post

On Tuesday, May 3, I tuned into a discussion between Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Stephanie Schriock, President of EMILY's List. EMILY's List is an organization that specifically helps pro-choice, Democratic women get elected to public office. When I tuned into the discussion (ten minutes late due to technical issues on my end, but that's another story), Sen. Gillibrand and Schriock were discussing the importance of electing more women to office. They later agreed that it would be great if more women were in office, and pointed out that only 17% of Congress is female.

NY Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
Image: © Pete Marovich/ZUMApress.com

Sen. Gillibrand said that women can make a big difference in how our nation is governed. She pointed out that many of the cuts in the budget proposed by Republican Paul Ryan's budget disproportionately impact women. The plan guts Title X, which funds pap smears, breast exams, and other women's health screenings and treatments. The budget further decimates investments in early childhood care and education - which as Gillibrand later pointed out is totally part of a jobs agenda because parents can't work if they can't afford a safe place for their kids while they are on the job -- and nutrition for women and infants, among other cuts. The proposed vouchers for Medicare, she said, would really hurt senior women because they would cost more. (In 2008, I wrote about studies that showed insurance companies charging way more to cover women than men.) Gillibrand urged women to pay close attention to the issues and get off the sidelines.

Which is great, assuming that all women want affordable child care, access to health insurance, nutrition, and all sorts of other things that I personally support, except that it turns out that we don't all agree. Smart Girl Politics urges Smart Girls (I guess not actual adult women, though) to do what they can to support the Ryan budget. They are paying close attention to the issue, getting off the sidelines, and working to get their agenda passed. The female contingent of the GOP voted for Ryan's budget, too. A pro-woman agenda means something very different to these individuals than it does to me.

I'm being a little unfair to Schriock and Gillibrand because I know that their mission is not just to put some ladies into office, but a very specific type of lady (pro-choice Democrat, as their mission clearly states); I just think that they need to be explicit about that when they speak about the need to elect more women. I noticed a bumper sticker in 2007 that read, "Elect Women for a Change", and it drove me mad. Electing Michele Bachmann, in my humble opinion, is not going to make any changes to the conservative status quo, whether she has a vagina or not. Same with Sharron Angle. Sarah Palin. Christine O'Donnell. Kay Bailey Hutchinson.

When it comes to a promoting a progressive agenda (my goal), I tend to look at one issue: abortion rights. What I have noticed (and I know I just read a study in a newspaper that verified this, but can't find it at the moment) is that legislators who support the right of a woman to decide for herself whether or not she should bear a child also tend to support every issue I do. Maybe we don't agree 100% exactly, but I am more likely to vote for a pro-choice Republican than an anti-choice Democrat. If the pro-choice candidate also happens to have or have had the equipment to become pregnant, that's just icing on the cake. This, it turns out, is also true in Canada, and I suspect in many parts of the world. I'm actually very intrigued by the way female politicians of all stripes are embracing women's issues in Israel and curious what will happen there.

In the case of Sen. Gillibrand, electing a woman really did bring about change that I see as positive. I love her commitment to the two issues that mean the most to me: reproductive rights and quality, affordable child care. And as she said in the discussion, to call these issues "women's issues" ignores the fact that they really affect everyone. (For example, when women are underpaid based on gender, it is not always just the individual who is affected, but her family as well.) Really, given the way things are going in the United States and other parts of the world, we need a new slogan: "Elect Progressives for a Change."

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Suzanne also blogs at CUSS and Other Rants and is the author of Off the Beaten (Subway) Track.

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