Women's Issues, Obama the Feminist and the 111th Congress

The Ms. Special Winter 2009 Inaugural Issue is now out with a cover image of President-elect Barack Obama wearing a t-shirt that says, "This is what a feminist looks like."

Ms2009Winter.jpg

From a media advisory prepared by Ms.:

When the publisher of Ms., Eleanor Smeal, and the chair of the Feminist Majority Foundation board, Peg Yorkin, met Barack Obama,

he immediately offered “I am a feminist.” Obama ran on the strongest platform for women’s rights of any major party in American history. Feminist Karen Kornbluh, the platform’s principle author, ensured women’s rights, opportunities, advancement, and issues were addressed throughout the historic document.

As Smeal says in her introduction to the Inaugural feature, “Never has it been easy fighting for equality and social justice. We have spent far too many years fighting to hold the ground we had already gained. Now is the time to move forward.

“But we are not giving President-Elect Obama a blank check. For our hopes to be achieved, we must speak out and organize, organize, organize to enable our new president’s team to achieve our common goals. Ultimately, we must hold our leaders’ feet to the fire or, to put it more positively, uplift them when they are caught in the crosscurrents of competing interests.”

To that end of not giving Obama a blank check, the American Association of University Women and U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D, CT-3), held a conference call this morning to discuss pay equity, education, and paid sick days for workers. You can read an entire live-blog of the call here, including questions and answers from DeLauro and AAUW director of public policy and government relations, Lisa Maatz.

Highlights from comments made during the call:

-there's excitement that the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (HR 11) is advancing in the Senate and is expected to go up for a vote next week;

-there's great disappointment that the Senate is not taking up the twin bill, the Paycheck Fairness Act (HR 12); that act is seen as providing the tools with which employees can demonstrate the cause of action they get to pursue under Ledbetter;

-AAUW and DeLauro stated more than once that they expect to hold the Senate's "feet to the fire" regarding promises which they say were made to bring the Paycheck Fairness Act to the floor in the next few months. Obviously this feet to the fire activism will need to apply to Obama as needed, also.

If you'd like to see a good pro and con conversation on the issue of pay equity, check out this post at Thurber's Thoughts. Maggie Thurber is a noted conservative blogger and media personality, and former elected official in Lucas County in Ohio, who comes down on the side of business. She and I have a lively exchange in the comments which demonstrate my feelings about these bills (they are necessary to the economic security of all workers, but especially women and families).

If you're not sure what the point is with either of these bills, it was stated well several times during the call and in different ways but here are two:

1. Lisa Maatz of AAUW put it this way: Ledbetter provides the legal basis for the ability to seek redress for discriminatory pay practices; the paycheck fairness Act gives individuals the tools to find out that they're being discriminated against in the first place. Recall that Lilly Ledbetter only knew that she was receiving far less pay than men doing the same work and otherwise similarly situated because the information was leaked to her. The law allowed her to be prohibited from otherwise seeing such information.

2. DeLauro put it this way: "My best way to describe" it is to say that "...I (DeLauro) serve in a body where men and women come from all over the US" with different experience, from different locations, with different training and education, etc. "...but we are paid the EXACT same sum of money."

Many other interesting points were made - one which I wanted to know more about was this: why was the Senate not prioritizing the Paycheck Fairness Act now? Maatz said that it was a political calculation being made, but I would push harder: what was swapped in for swapping Paycheck Fairness out? There had to be a quid pro quo if we're talking "political calculation." I'd love to know what it was.

What do you think it might have been? Which special interests, if any? Or was it about getting a vote now versus later? Anyone with experience in this kind of political calculating, I'd love insight. I confess it could be something I completely am not thinking about.

And please browse through the live-blog. They really did discuss a number of very specific issues related to these broader ones of pay equity, education and sick days.

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