Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bella to Hillary...and Beyond

I've spent much of April saying yes to saying no. After a grueling (but wildly fun) March, April 1st commenced my month of slowing-it-down. I said no to coffee, no to many events, and no, ultimately, to all the things that distract me from getting my writing done. But when my colleagues at the Women's Media Center sent over a comped invite to a panel at The Paley Center for Media last Thursday, I jumped. Just couldn't pass up a chance to hear ladies like Gloria Steinem, Suzanne Braun Levine, Mary Thom, Patricia Mitchell, Carol Jenkins, and Marlene Sanders pontificate on women, media, and politics, "From Bella to Hillary," as it were.

Listening to the panel was a great cap to the speaking I've been doing of late with my fellow WomenGirlsLadies. It confirmed and inspired.

Confirmed: Women in this country have a long, long way to go. (We're 71st in the world in terms of representation of women in positions of political power; we occupy a whopping 3% of the clout positions in media over here, oh boy.) The program included a clip from an early women's movement documentary, "The Hand That Rocks the Ballot Box," and much of the cry then is the same as it is now. As Lily Tomlin proclaimed in another clip from a 1992 PSA that was shown, women in this country have a better chance of getting into another galaxy then Congress--where, in 2008, we're still only at 16%.

Inspired: Gloria Steinem spoke of the variety and differences within the women's movement, and how we're still dealing with a lack of full and nuanced tellings when it comes to telling the story of that movement's past. "First a movement is a hula hoop," she said. It's ridiculed by the press, and then it quickly becomes Not News. What was missed in that cursory coverage, she noted, was the role women of color played in shaping the movement of the '60s and '70s. Take Fannie Lou Hamer, a founder of the National Women's Political Caucus and the first woman to come forward against forced steralization. While Hamer is remembered as a Civil Rights movement champion of voter registration, her role in the women's movement is underplayed.

"Whitemiddleclass became like one key on the typewriter, used to devalue the women's movement in the media at large," said Steinem. And that's the version we next-generation feminists imbibed wholesale too, I might add. I'm looking forward to the forthcoming scholarship that's bound to unleash a wider range of tellings, scholarship I know from various sources is well underway.

During the Q&A, I asked panelists for their thoughts on how we might capitalize on the outrage women feel about how Hillary has been treated by the media. It's an outrage transcends candidate support and transcends age. No clear answers emerged, but all agreed that we need to channel it into harnessing votes against the hardly-woman-friendly John McCain. I look forward to figuring that out together as the general election nears.

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