Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women. ~Maya Angelou
You can always tell ambitious women by the shape of their heads. They’re flat on top from being patted, patronizingly. ~Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley
This week, the Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece in which the author told Dr. Jill Biden to drop her “Dr.” honorific:
“Madame First Lady—Mrs. Biden—Jill—kiddo: a bit of advice … Any chance you might drop the ‘Dr.’ before your name? ‘Dr. Jill Biden’ sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic.”
Ah, of course. It “sounds and feels fraudulent” – and even funny! – for a woman to use the title that she earned…. Because it sounds and feels really uncomfortable to some that the first lady is an accomplished woman in her own right who demands the respect she deserves.
As hordes of women took to Twitter to change their profile names to add their PhD, the WSJ opinion editor who published the piece defended his author and fellow male chauvinist, claiming that they both were the victims (!) of a left-wing political conspiracy to make them into the bad guys by pointing out that they are, indeed, bad guys.
He defended the reference to Dr. Biden as “kiddo,” by noting that Joe Biden often calls his wife “kiddo.” I look forward to their editorials referring to Joe as “honey,” “sugar,” love bug,” or whatever term of endearment Dr. Biden may use for her husband.
It was infuriating, even if unsurprising.
Meanwhile, closer to my own home, a feisty and fiery friend of mine is the County Councilwoman for over 100,000 people in St. Louis County. She, like many of us, has been working from home and managing her professional obligations from an office that at one point is calm and the next is filled with kids asking for help/food/hugs/assurance and cats trying to claw each others’ eyes out. And did I mention that she’s a single mom?
There’s really never a second of peace, or a break of any kind.
The Council meetings, held on Tuesday evenings, are now virtual. She logs on from her home office, a cheerful shade of blue. (Appropriate.) As a home office, it’s … a home office. She’s got books. Pictures. Things her kids have drawn, and I’ll bet she’s got Legos from her daughter’s princess castle project underfoot.
She also had a stack of campaign signs in the corner, which was visible in her screen. There’s a rule against using government resources for campaigns (similar to the one that Trump flouted with great zeal) and Republicans pounced on her visible campaign signs as an opportunity. They claimed she was using government resources for her campaign, and having her campaign signs in her screen was akin to free advertising.
They filed a complaint with an ethics authority and made a fuss, but it was easy enough to move the campaign signs and that seemed to be that.
Until the local newspaper weighed in. They published a scathing editorial that went far beyond a campaign-sign-in-your-video-view issue – and included a complaint from a conservative critic that she “lacked professionalism” in part because she had “frolicked” with her kids during the 6:30 p.m. council meetings. (I do not recall such frolicking, but I know her kids have occasionally popped into view because they needed something and she is a single mom doing all of the things.)
There’s so much wrong with that I really don’t know where to start. But I’ll point out that when a toddler interrupts a man’s video conference calls, the results are widely considered adorable, shareable, and completely heartwarming – especially when the men rightfully treat their children with the respect that human beings deserve and don’t chastise them for not knowing Daddy’s in a Very Important Meeting.
Nobody questions those dads’ “professionalism.”
But kids interrupting a TUESDAY EVENING County Council meeting (held during dinnertime, y’all) means the Councilwoman is “frolicking” with her kids and not taking her job seriously.
For that to be written by a large local newspaper was disappointing, to put it mildly.
She penned a sharp but well-written letter to the editor that called them out on the editorial. It was pretty long, at 389 words.
They published a letter that they claimed she wrote.
Their version had 196 words.
They not only slashed the length. They murdered the substance. Entire sentences that she didn’t write were attributed to her. Entire sentences that she definitely did write were completely gone.
Basically, they stuffed words into her mouth and hit “publish.”
There you go, kiddo.
It made me angrier than it probably should have. Maybe because she’s a friend. But more likely because I’m seeing a pattern.
Dr. Biden being belittled for the offense of asking to be referred to by her earned title. My friend’s professionalism being questioned because of her parenting – and her voice being silenced.
Two powerful women, in the public sphere, who are criticized for asking for the same courtesy that men would be given without hesitation. I’m tired of the double standard.
The way women are treated, talked to, talked about, judged and evaluated by their peers and public is, for lack of a better phrase, messed up.
Meanwhile the expectations of women have never been greater. Moms working while parenting and teaching. Shouldering the pressure to keep a house, cook, clean, entertain, teach – but also accomplish, meet deadlines, achieve, close. It’s all so completely impossible, but it’s the struggle I’m seeing women take on with a shrug and a “What else can we do?”. (See the article Other Countries Have Social Safety Nets. The U.S. Has Women for a sociologist’s brilliant and honest explanation of the situation.)
There’s been a lot of lip service paid to these issues, and I’m not the first to spill some ink over them. But I’m tired of the nodding heads and furrowed brows.
We can’t do much about the expectations part right now. That’s going to take a societal shift. Hulking tectonic plates of culture are colliding, and the earthquakes we’re feeling are the New Way pushing the Old Way over and under.
But what we can do is call out this stuff when we see it.
If you have a PhD, demand that people use the honorific. Call out the guy who didn’t use it when introducing another speaker.
Check yourself when you’re making judgments about people who are managing a global pandemic, their daily work, and other obligations.
Call out editorials that trivialize women, and don’t fall for the gaslighting when they try to explain away their obviously sexist behavior.
And keep doing the hard, unglamorous, often unrecognized work that you do every day to make the world a more respectful and equitable place … for all of us.
Let’s get to work.
Actions for the Week of December 15, 2020
Tuesday: Call Congress For COVID Relief!
Get out those phones! There is very little time to get a COVID relief bill passed, and we need to put as much pressure on our Representatives and Senators as possible.
COVID cases are surging nationwide, and 30 million people will lose unemployment benefits by the end of the year if they’re not extended (12 million the day after Christmas). The moratorium on evictions is set to expire at the end of the year. (Read more from the CBPP about the wave of evictions that will happen without more relief – it’s terrible.) People are in a bad place.
Word on the street is that some of the less controversial portions of the bills that have been floated may be moving (leaving behind funding for state and local governments and the liability protections for corporations that McConnell is demanding). That’s good, but not everything that we need. (You can read more about the status of negotiations, which seem to be heating up, HERE.)
Our state and local governments NEED this funding. They can’t operate with deficits (unlike the federal government) and their already meager funding has been cut even more with the loss of sales takes. School districts, public health programs, and all the other local services you rely upon need this funding. Honestly, it’s something that will touch every single one of us.
But we also need the unemployment insurance and paid leave provisions that support the millions who have lost their jobs, would put money in people’s pockets (never a problem for the GOP when we’re talking about tax cuts for millionaires but a real sticking point to them now). It would also provide expanded testing and tracing, workplace safety measures, and free and equitable distribution of vaccines and treatments.
So let’s call our two Senators and our Representative, and let them know that we expect them to pass a relief bill that actually, you know, provides relief.
Script: Hi, my name is ___ and I’m a constituent at ___. I’m calling to encourage the Senator/Congress[wo/man] to support a COVID relief package that extends the current benefits and provides additional state and local funding. Months ago the federal government decided that it was going to kick management of COVID to the states and local governments, and not providing them with resources means our cities and states are going to be stretched to the max, and facing budget shortfalls that they’ll have to make up for in services or staff. Please pass a bill that includes funding for our local governments, but that doesn’t protect corporations that knowingly violate public health guidelines and expose their employees or public to the virus. Thanks!
Wednesday: Tune in for Center for American Progress Events
The Center for American Progress is getting a bit more attention these days, now that Neera Tanden (President of CAP) has been nominated for Director of the Office of Management and Budget. This week, CAP has three great events scheduled – all are virtual, and all will be live-streamed from their website. RSVP for any (or all!) of them here: https://www.americanprogress.org/events/upcoming-events/ You can also review them after the fact, because they will be maintained on their website.
Wednesday, 11-12(eastern); The 2020 Youth Vote. Please join Generation Progress and the Center for American Progress for a timely and critical discussion about what motivated youth voter turnout and how vital young people are to campaigning and the future of progressive policies in America. It is time that young voters are seen as the crucial constituency that they are and retire once and for all the worn-out narrative that young people are too disengaged to vote.
Thursday, 12-1(eastern): Ocean Climate Action. Please join the Center for American Progress, the League of Conservation Voters, and Ocean Defense Initiative for a discussion on the future of ocean climate action. Former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner will moderate a panel of experts and stakeholders who will discuss the ocean climate nexus and how to build momentum to implement ocean climate solutions.
Friday, 10:00-12:15(eastern): The Financial System & Climate Change. There is a growing consensus among policymakers across the globe that climate change poses significant risks to the safety and stability of the financial system. Safeguarding the financial system against climate-related risks would protect businesses and households, which rely on a stable financial system to thrive. Please join the Center for American Progress for a conversation with federal and state policymakers on addressing climate risk through financial regulation. **Senators Brian Schatz and Sherrod Brown are featured speakers.
Thursday: League of Conservation Voters Candidate Academy!
The League of Conservation Voters is now accepting applications for the 2021 class of the LCV Candidate Academy! In 2020, LCV launched its first-ever Candidate Academy for West Coast-based CVM leaders. There is a lot of candidate training available, but, according to LCV, none that is so focused on training pro-environment candidates with a focus on racial justice and equity.
Because the Candidate Academy is part of our strategy to advance our racial justice and equity work, they chose to work with re:power as their training partner. re:power’s framework is focused on inclusive politics, and seeks to increase representation of underrepresented groups in elected office and the progressive movement. This partnership has allowed LCV to create a training that is welcoming and inclusive for a diverse group of leaders, and also to talk specifically about the issues that women candidates and candidates of color frequently experience on the campaign trail, and how to prepare for them.
In addition to all the typical content of a candidate training, LCV’s nonpartisan academy focuses on relationship-building and listening as critical skills for candidates to develop, and builds their skills to think about environmental issues in an intersectional way and to think critically about what it means to be an ally to marginalized groups, in a non-transactional way.
If you are an environmental champion planning to run in 2021 or 2022, you are encouraged to apply, especially if you live in New England or the Mid-Atlantic states. The deadline to apply is January 5, 2021 Here’s the LINK.
Friday: Check Out Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 Activist Toolkit!
Sierra Club has published its Ready for 100 activist toolkit, which is an excellent resource. (Check it out here) As they describe it, they’re “turning [their] organizing model inside out by handing the keys of [their] campaign over to you [because they’re] ready for a 100% community-led path to 100% clean, renewable energy — and [they] believe that’s only possible when that path is by, for, and of the people in your community.”
The Activist Toolkit is a pretty comprehensive set of tools and resources, and I wanted to make sure you got a copy! Go check it out! And while you’re at it, check out all the volunteering opportunities Sierra Club has at https://clubvolunteer.org Note that MANY of the opportunities listed as in-person are remote due to the pandemic.
WHEW! GO, TEAM! SUPER PROUD OF YOU!
P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.
If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!
Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.