Good morning. I want to thank Carrie Frye for inviting me to talk to the best audience in the world—the teachers of Delta Kappa Gamma.
It is a delight to be in the company of those for whom grammar is a noble cause. I’ve come to accept that future generations won’t wear a wrist watch or read a map or write in cursive or communicate in more than 140 characters.
What makes my blood run backwards, however, is their indifference to—nay, willful ignorance of–objective pronouns. Here in Savannah, I know the phrase “please give it to her and myself” will not even be whispered.
I am the grateful product of the Fairfax County, VA public school system. Where I was taught the proper use of personal, demonstrative, interrogative, indefinite, possessive, relative, and reciprocal pronouns. Where a 12-year pride of teachers–one or two of them male—guided me towards independence, coherence, tolerance, and civic engagement.
In recognition of their relative success in this 1954 through 1965 endeavor, let me say “thanks.” I may not be as appreciative of the Algebra two/Trig instructor who gave me my only “C” in high school as I am to the 11th grade English teacher who changed my life forever with an introduction to Jane Austin. But I am well and truly grateful.
So Carrie has asked me to share my views about how things have been going for women since I started addressing the magnificent members of DKG at a northeast convention at Penn State five years ago. Where, by the way, I was presented with a seven-pound statuette of a Nittany Lion, engraved: “I am Woman. Hear me Roar!”
To paraphrase the Emperor Hirohito at the end of World War II, the situation for American women has not necessarily developed to our advantage.” In fact, I was so upset after last November’s mid-term elections that I retreated to my Cage of Despond in the basement. And had to chew through the bars to attend the DKG Christmas banquet in Springfield, VA.
So let’s set the scene. For nine years, I chaired the National Council of Women’s Organizations, or NCWO. We are a coalition of 240 progressive women’s groups representing 12 million American women. Everything from Girls, Inc. to the Older Women’s League.
We collaborate through substantive policy work and grass roots activism to address issues of concern to women, including family and work balance, economic equity, education, affirmative action, aging, STEM careers, reproductive freedom, healthcare, immigration, and international rights.
NCWO was founded in 1982 when the Equal Rights Amendment failed by nine votes in three states. We came together in DC to lick our wounds and decide a new course of action. That path led us to law suits, lobbying, legislation, and links with labor.
Our activities are only limited by the imagination. My predecessor, Martha Burk, organized the 2002 protest at the Master’s Tournament because Augusta Country Club wouldn’t admit women members. Lo and behold, in a victory delayed by just over a decade, two women–one of them former Secretary of State Condolessa Rice–were invited onto those favoured fairways in 2013.
After Don Imus made his despicable remarks about the Rutgers women’s basketball team, we successfully lobbied MSNBC and all of their corporate sponsors to have the show cancelled. It seems that the threat of a product boycott by the movers, shakers, and shoppers of America had those capitalists quaking in their designer boots.
NCWO leaders testify before Congress, meet at the White House, and take cases to the Supreme Court. Our members march for reproductive freedom, gun control, and immigration reform. Which brings me to an important disclaimer: All views expressed by me through this microphone are mine alone and do not represent those of Delta Kappa Gamma.
In 1980, I helped draft legislation creating Women’s History Week, which ultimately became Women’s History Month. Nobody would have dared ask a Congress that was 96 percent male for a whole month for women way back then!
The logical choice for such a celebration would have been the week surrounding August 26th, Women’s Equality Day, when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women’s suffrage, was ratified in 1920. But many of you know that our Nation’s Capital in August is like living eight inches from the sun. You’d be hard pressed to pinpoint a more miserable place on the planet.
So we selected springtime, when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. My grandmother would have seconded that motion. She loved the cherry blossoms.
I am a third generation Washingtonian. My granny, my mother, my sister and I were all born in DC. Mom and her five brothers considered the Tidal Basin their swimming hole. The Tidal Basin is where the glorious cherry blossom trees from Japan were planted in 1912.
But in March 1934, President Roosevelt put men to work building the Jefferson Memorial along the Potomac River. The plan was to tear out over half the trees.
It was my grandmother who organized all the wives in her neighborhood and all the garden clubs in the city and marched them to the site, just five blocks from her home. Wearing hats, gloves, and corsets under their Sunday-best suits, they protested by joining hands and chaining themselves to the trees.
Obviously, I come from a long line of women who refused to suffer in silence. My grandmother proved that middle-aged housewives can cause powerful male politicians to go weak at the knees.
Originally, the Jefferson Memorial was to go where FDR’s Memorial sits today. Because of that human chain of angry women, planners were instructed to move the Memorial 30 degrees to the left, where far fewer trees would be felled.
A little more about middle-aged women. We’re the ones who control the national pocketbook. And we’re the only part of the population that grows more liberal as we age. You really don’t want to make us mad! That’s because we’ve raised children, divorced husbands, buried parents, gotten short-changed on our careers, endured cancer and chronic diseases or sat with sisters who have. By the time we hit our 50s and 60s, there’s very little you can frighten us with.
Alongside their fathers, husbands, and brothers, American women fought and died to settle this country. They sacrificed their lives in every war in our history. Until 1930, many more American women died in childbirth than men on the battlefield. They ran the farms and the homes and helped in small businesses, all the while confined by corsets, convention, and buttoned-up footwear.
And let me bring you up-to-date on this generation of women: More than 80,000 U.S. servicewomen have completed at least one tour in Iraq or Afghanistan. 150 have died, 98 from hostile fire. 865 have received Purple Hearts for wounds incurred through enemy action. Two women—both enlisted—were awarded the Silver Star for heroism.
So who knows about the role women have played and are playing in building this nation? Not many Americans. I serve on the Board of the National Women’s History Museum, which exists in cyber-space only. We have been battling for nearly 20 years to gain a place for women on the National Mall – America’s front yard!
There are only three statues of woman on the Mall: the figure of Freedom atop the Capitol, the three anonymous nurses at the Vietnam Memorial, and Eleanor Roosevelt tucked into a small corner of the massive stone tribute to her husband.
Invisible? Of the 100 individuals honored in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, only nine are women. We recently persuaded Kansas to replace one of its two forgettable old white guys with Amelia Earhart, but now we’ve got to raise half-a-million bucks for her statue.
Growing up, my annual school field trips introduced me to George Washington’s house, Robert E. Lee’s horse, and Charles Lindberg’s plane. Where were Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Earhart, and Eleanor Roosevelt to show me that I could be bold and brassy and brave? Where are Sally Ride and Rosa Parks and Geraldine Ferraro to show our daughters and grand daughters that they can make a difference?
The unspoken message I received from these educational expeditions? Girls grow up to keep the home fires burning while sending their men off to make history. A further reinforcement: less than 10 percent of today’s U.S. history textbooks are devoted to the contributions our gender has made to this country. And it’s Betsy Ross’s flag rather than Admiral Grace Hopper’s nanosecond that gets the ink.
If we can’t see ourselves as the inventors, artists, revolutionaries and creators that came before, how the heck are we supposed to fashion ourselves into their modern-day equivalents?
On November 17th, the Museum celebrated three amazing women at our annual gala: Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel; 93 year-old NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson; and 30 year-old Debbie Sterling, who founded the exciting girls construction toy company, Golidblocks.
What did these overachievers have in common? Each one singled out by name a female teacher whose advice, reassurance, and inspiration changed the course of their careers. In fact, Sally Jewell began to cry when she spoke of her now 80 year-old high school math instructor–the one who made all the difference by telling her she was terrific at math and should become an engineer.
With Secretary Jewell’s tears, the audience went up for grabs. Don’t you love how a room full of women always sighs in empathy and encouragement at emotional moments?! \And don’t you know most of us were thinking about that one special teacher who gave us the courage and the kick-in-the-ass to break with tradition?
So I helped found the Congresswomen’s Caucus in 1977. That’s when the 17 women in the U.S. House of Representatives and one woman Senator came together, across party lines, to advance the rights and responsibilities of American women.
As of today, the 114th Congress includes 88 women in the House and 20 in the Senate. That’s a jump from 4 percent to 18.2 percent in 37 years.
Women are 52 percent of the population but less than 20 percent of the Legislative Branch. Could it be that we really DO “suck at math?!”
Around the country, there are five women governors out of 50. In state legislatures, 23.7 percent of elected representatives are female. Only nine percent of mayors in the 100 largest cities are women. That puts us 55th in the world in political empowerment. Allow me to list just a few of the countries where women enjoy greater political repre-sentation in their legislatures than we do in America: Bangladesh, India, Uganda, Argentina, Lesotho, Macedonia, Tajikistan, Serbia, Israel, Vietnam, Uzbekitstan, Afghanistan, Botswana, Guyana, Maldova, China, Timor, and Ethopia. We’re tied with Turkmenistan.
There is SOME encouraging news. When I arrived on Capitol Hill, The best way for a woman to get elected was to have her Congressman husband die in a plane crash, a car crash, or just plain die. Of the 17 women serving then, seven were “widowed” into office.
Perhaps you Georgians in the crowd will be pleased to learn that the first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate is from The Peach State. Rebecca Latimer Felton, a suffragist who ran her Congressman husband’s campaigns, was appointed by the Governor of Georgia in 1922. She served exactly 24 hours and is still the only woman to represent Georgia in the Senate.
Nowadays, political careers are built through law degrees – well over half of the members of Congress are lawyers and half of today’s law students are women.
Thank you, Title IX! Title IX is the law that mandates equal funding for women in the classroom, the science lab, and the ballpark.
I was in the Senate gallery the day Title IX passed. Trust me: we were focused on discriminatory college admission policies, academic scholarships, equal pay, and enabling women to become school principals or to chair college departments.
Not one of Title IX’s authors had the slightest idea that athletics would be affected. In our wildest dreams, we might have imagined girls coming to school, tying on gym shoes, and perhaps holding a field day of racing and jumping.
Remember: I’m a Baby Boomer. Not for one minute of one day from kindergarten to 12th grade was I allowed to wear slacks to school. So an athletic field day sounded like the promised land to me.
Here you have a prime example of the law of unintended consequences. Those of us who were limited to half-court basketball were fighting for academic equality. Yet we created a new breed of woman, comfortable in her own skin. Who understands team-
work, embraces competition, puts herself forward, isn’t afraid to win or embarrassed to sweat, wins athletic scholarships, and accepts that there’s no crying in baseball!
At the 2012 London Olympics only one country–China–took home as many gold medals as the U.S. women’s team. China won 48, the women of the United States tied Great Britain with 29. It gets better. The United States women won 58 medals in all, better than all but three countries (China, Russia, and Great Britain). Finally, they topped their male teammates both in gold medals won (29 to 17) and overall medals earned (58 to 45).
Need I mention the recent triumph of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team? Or the fact that the U.S. Men’s Team—eliminated in the first round of competition—was paid four times as much as our international female champions?!
Because of Title IX, the Millennial generation and their younger sisters are the single most educated cohort in world history. They hold more high school, college, master’s and doctoral degrees than their male counterparts and will soon top them in law, medicine, and even divinity schools. So what does all of this mean, long term?
First, women are getting married, bearing children, accepting full-time employment, and buying homes four years later than their Baby Boomer mothers did.
Second, they are graduating with enormous debt – about $1.2 trillion in all. So instead of purchasing a home, they’ll spend up to 20 years paying off school loans. Larger, if they marry a spouse with similar college debt.
Let’s compare that financial burden with the free university educations Germany and Sweden and six other countries provide their citizens. Are there any questions as to why we’re being handed our economic lunch by the rest of the world?!
Third, women see themselves as economically independent with a choice of whether to marry or to raise children without a spouse. Consequently, fewer than a quarter of American families are now structured in the traditional pattern of working father, stay-at-home mother, and children.
For most of these overachievers, educational advantages prove not just expensive, but short-lived. Women enter the work force with relatively better credentials than men, which is especially true for women of color, and yet you’re not seeing compar-able progress as they move forward in their careers.
Women’s ongoing failure to attain leadership positions can no longer be blamed on a lack of qualified candidates in the professional pipeline; even when women are abundantly represented in a given field, they rarely manage to reach the top levels of management. Of the Fortune 500 CEO’s, 24 or 5.2 percent are women. It makes me want to set my hair on fire!
Allow me to share another Unintended Consequence of Title IX—a not very happy one for this proud graduate of an all-women’s college. In 1960, a college-bound female eager to attend a single-sex school could select from 234 all-women institutions.
Fifty years later, the same applicant would find only 53 such schools, even as the number of colleges in America has grown exponentially. Why? Women’s colleges no longer serve their original purpose of providing opportunities to those shut out of the male-dominated world of higher education. Take a look at who is editing the newspaper or captaining a sports team or running student government or giving the Valedictorian’s address at coed schools? It’s the women that Title IX empowered and that men’s colleges realized would study harder, earn higher grades, graduate in four years, and rape NOBODY.
While few would deny that gender discrimination still exists, this rationale proves less than compelling when women account for well over half of the college student popu-lation. The latest ratio was 59 female students for every 41 males. As women continue to advance in society, women’s colleges will continue to decline in enrollment and must repurpose themselves in order to survive.
So, in addition to winning Olympic medals and earning academic honors, do you know what else American women are good at? Voting.
In the 2012 national elections, President Obama won women by 12 percentage points, while Mitt Romney won men by 8. That’s a 20-point gender gap. These statistics are critically important because there are more women than men in the population and women go to the polls in significantly higher numbers. For example, American women ages 25 to 29 outvoted men of the same age 51.8 to 42.6 percent in the 2012 Presi-dential race. And unmarried women supported Barack Obama by an incredible 70-to-29 percent margin.
There has been a significant Gender Gap in every national election since 1980. More women vote Democratic, particularly African-American and now Latina women. More white men vote Republican. Women had more at stake in the last Presidential election. They are the largest portion of public sector employees at the federal, state, and local levels – where jobs are still being cut to overcome budget deficits.
Women also live longer with less money and far out-number men amongst the poor, seniors, nursing home residents, and college students who count on the social safety net the Republicans want to cut. It now remains to be seen whether Hillary Clinton–or another Democrat–can stir up the excited coalitions that twice swept Barack Obama into the White House.
Now I’m going to close by telling you how I flunked retirement and became the face of female sexual satisfaction in America.
In 2010, a large German pharmaceutical company discovered and subsequently spent $1 billion developing Flibanserin, a drug that increases sexual desire in women by working on serotonin in the brain. The Germans ran one of the largest clinical trials in history– 11,000 women. Sixty-three percent of whom declared that Flibanserin successfully addressed what the Food & Drug Administration calls HSDD or Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder.
For 30 years, HSDD has been recognized by FDA as an unresearched physical condition that causes great distress in sufferers. A woman wakes up one morning and a switch has gone off. She no longer desires sex. It’s caused by brain chemistry – not a bad relationship with her husband or exhaustion from raising kids. HSDD affects up to one in ten women. That’s as many as 16 million American women!
Yet when Flibanserin was brought before the mostly male reviewers at FDA, it was twice rejected because, they said, the risk was not worth the reward. The risks? The same as taking an over-the-counter Claritin. That would be slight dizziness, mild fatigue, and dry mouth. The rewards? Loving wives and girl friends for whom conjugal relations had become unbearable were gradually inclined to cuddle or make love with their husbands and partners.
So while there are no treatment options open to women suffering from the most common form of sexual dysfunction. Perhaps you’d like to guess how many are available to men: 26.
If I ran a highlight reel of my career, I couldn’t recall a single occasion when women in the United States didn’t have to fight for fair medical treatment. And I’ve got the scar tissue to prove it!
In 1977, the 17 women in the House of Representatives had to publicly confront the Director of the National Institutes of Health at an appropriations committee hearing because male heroin addiction was receiving four times more federal research funding than breast cancer.
In 1994, we had to pass legislation to force the FDA to include women in clinical trials.
In 1999, Congress mandated full insurance cover-age of Viagra three months after it arrived on the market. It took us only 39 years and six months more to shame male members of the House and Senate to require equal coverage for the birth control pill, approved in 1960.
In 2005, the White House deliberately inserted religion and politics into science. And we had to go to court to get approval for Plan B emergency contraception to be sold over-the-counter. It seems there was not one victory for women’s health without a battle on the Hill, in the medical community, or in the court of public opinion.
Back in January, a group of women’s advocates took a bus out to the FDA to present our concerns about the 26 to nothing ratio of FDA-approved drugs for male versus female sexual dysfunction. I called it our Have Outrage/Will Travel Tour.
FDA claims that the risk is not worth the reward for a women’s treatment. Perhaps you’d be interested in the possible side effects offered by the 26 drugs approved for male sexual dysfunction: Heart attack. Sudden death. Blindness. And my personal favorite, penile rupture. That’s right, folks, a man’s penis could, quite literally, explode as a result of taking one of these drugs!
While acknowledging these alarming side effects, the FDA still decided to leave the
risk-benefit decisions up to a patient and his physician. Let’s see. Dry mouth versus exploding penis…
So I founded Even the Score, a coalition of health experts, patients, and women’s rights advocates that does not advocate for a single medication. We’re fighting to break down FDA’s paternalistic barrier so women will have many treatment options. Just like men! Today, we make good on our grandmother and mother’s sexual revolution. In 1960, the birth control pill precipitated a societal shift to recognize women’s rights as reproductive beings. In 2014, we’re shifting society to recognize a woman’s right to a healthy sex life.
And on June 4th, we won approval of Flibanserin by an 18 to 6 vote of the FDA expert Advisory Committee.
I guess I’ve grown impatient with waiting for equality. The Suffragists fought 72 years for the right to vote. We’re at 90 years and counting to get the Equal Rights Amendment into the Constitution. And there’s been no female President in 225 years of U.S. history.
I have devoted my life to teaching young women about power and politics. And now I’m preparing to pass the baton to the next generation. Besides outrage, what have I taught them?
That in Washington, DC, where the decisions are made, you’re either at the table or on the menu.
Let me repeat that: In Washington, DC – at the feast of democracy – you’re either at the table or on the menu.
It has been my life’s work to bring women to the table.
Thank you for allowing me to speak at yours!