Tongablog

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Women and Politics…

The purpose of this blog was originally to inform friends and family in the States about our lives in the South Pacific island nation of Tonga.  Interestingly, my current reality is (in this moment) more defined by events taking place thousands of miles away, then by my daily activities here.  I suppose that some of this occurrence is due to the nature of timing.  As we approach our year anniversary of living in Tonga, what once struck us as curious and “exotic” now seems almost mundane.  The festivities of the King’s coronation have passed, and life has slipped into a routine.  We wake up early, go to work, do the shopping and housework, and fall asleep weary from the day.  It isn’t all that dissimilar from our lives in the States.  Of course, the subtle differences remain–  now a warm shower first requires a visit to the outdoor rain tank, then heating the water up on a stove, and filling up the “shower bag.”  The cross-cultural communication barriers are plentiful (and still frustrating.)  Perhaps now we have just gotten more accustomed to dealing with them.

And these days, I find myself (for lack of a better word) obsessed with the upcoming US Presidential election.  Despite my geographic location, I am an American first and foremost.  And this election affects me, as much as any other citizen.

I titled this blog post, “Women and Politics.”  The subject has been a passion of mine, ever since (approximately ten years ago) enrolling in an undergraduate, Political Science course with the same title.  The class was taught by Lynne E. Ford, author of “Women and Politics:  The Pursuit of Equality” and “Encyclopedia of Women and American Politics.”  It was in that classroom that I began to formulate my own opinions and theories regarding power and privilege, gender and bias, sexism and stereotypes.

In the last blog post, I wrote some about the women in my family and their participation in political movements.  I decided that my mother’s awakening to politics required additional details.  Her first campaign was in 1968 and she was 14 years old (not eight years old, as I previously mentioned– my bad.)  Her middle school Social Studies teacher gave her class an assignment, to write a paper on who they supported in the Nixon vs. Humphrey election.  Since she wasn’t sure, her dad (my grandfather) took my mother to the Nixon Headquarters in downtown San Jose, California and also to the Humphrey Headquarters a few blocks away to get some information from both of the candidates.  She liked Humphrey’s stand on the war and his social values. Fourteen year old Mary wrote her paper supporting him and got an A on it.

My grandfather then took her back to the Humphrey headquarters so she could show them her paper.  They asked her if she wanted to volunteer on the campaign.  She eagerly accepted, and worked on the phone banks and passed leaflets at nearby San Jose State.  On election night, the campaign invited her “to the big party at the fancy hotel” in San Jose.  To this day, she remembers ” having a fabulous time even though we lost.”

I love this story.  It makes me feel the direct lineage between my mother and myself.  I see a bit of my own spirit in that story, one that I undoubtedly acquired from her.  I also love the role her teacher played in nurturing the intellectual capabilities and curiosities of her students. I think of my grandmother, who was active in “The League of Women Voters,” and know that she too saw a bit of herself in my mother’s budding personality.

Today, I find myself revisiting the topic of women and politics.  Through the gift of “you tube,” we were able to download many of the Democratic National Convention speeches.  As I watched the montage honoring Hillary Clinton’s life (narrated by her daughter,) it was impossible not to feel a deep sense of pride in her wisdom, tenacity, and spirit of fortitude.  Her speech was unbelievably rousing, and I felt so honored to have a woman like Hillary Clinton as a “spokesperson” for Democratic women like myself.  Michelle Obama’s fantastic speech inspired more notions of pride and solidarity.

And then McCain’s announcement came.  Sarah Palin as VP.  And like many Americans, I was stunned.  And then horrified.  And then I became angry.  McCain’s decision to nominate Sarah Palin is such an obvious ploy to entice undecided female voters.  Of course I welcome increased participation of women in politics.  Yet Sarah Palin is a candidate who will not advance the rights of women.  She is fiercely anti-choice, and wants to deny reproductive choice to victims of rape and incest (www.naral.org.)

As the political pundits, bloggers, and comedians reeled over the announcement, so came the sexist comments.  Do I believe Sarah Palin is a poor choice for VP?  YES.  Do I believe Sarah Palin is too in-experienced to be VP?  YES.  But not because she is a very attractive woman who has chosen to have five children.  Attractive women are very capable of being strong, political leaders.  So are mothers.  Sarah Palin is a poor choice because of her positions on a myriad of issues such as reproductive choice, teaching creationism in schools, and environmental protection.  She is also a poor choice because she has no experience in foreign policy.  I’m sorry Cindy McCain, but living in Alaska does not make Sarah Palin an expert in Russian politics.

Prior to this announcement, I gave John McCain the benefit of the doubt.  I disagreed with him on numerous issues, but I believed that he was an American who first and foremost wanted to serve his nation.  I greatly respected his initiatives to normalize relations with Vietnam.  Yet after this VP decision, I honestly feel that Senator McCain is jeopardizing the fate of nation by potentially placing it in the hands of a grossly inexperienced person.  But I will say, I have yet to hear Sarah Palin debate.  I read a blog post today that proclaimed, “Do you honestly think Sarah Palin knows the difference between the Sunnis and the Shiites?”  It is DEFINITELY a valid question.  Yet the tone of it was riddled with sexism.  I don’t know if Sarah Palin knows the answer (obviously she damn well should), and none of us truly do until she has the opportunity to answer such questions herself.  Viewing the clip where she asks (on camera), “What exactly does the VP do everyday?” gives me a hint to the answer.  And all this once again makes me really angry at John McCain.  How dare he gamble with the future of our nation, in an attempt to secure votes?  He could have easily nominated a seasoned female Republican leader like Kay Bailey Hutchinson or Olympia Snowe.  Not that I love their politics either, but there is really something to be said for the argument that Sarah Pain does not possess the qualifications and experience for the VP position.

And Senator McCain and Sarah Palin DID NOT and WILL NOT break the glass ceiling.  Women still earn approximately 75 cents to every dollar a male earns.  Geraldine Ferraro (who ran as VP in 1984)  obviously didn’t break the glass ceiling then and it is going to require more than this nomination to break it now.  Just ask Lilly Ledbetter, who was a manager in a Goodyear plant in Gasden, Ala. A jury found that Goodyear discriminated against her in pay, giving her smaller raises than the male managers.  The House passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, but Republicans recently blocked it in the Senate. Obama supported the Ledbetter bill. John McCain argued that it was not needed.

My advice to the Obama/Biden team— Now more than ever, Americans need to see and hear Michelle Obama and Jill Biden on the campaign trail.  Hillary Clinton needs public acknowledgment of a prominent cabinet position in their future administration.  Joe Biden needs to be talking about his incredible initiatives with the “Violence Against Women Act,” which provides funding for domestic violence shelters around the U.S., and Obama needs to talk about his 100% approval rating from Planned Parenthood.  My vote is obviously going to the candidates who truly care about women’s rights.

If anyone is still reading this, thanks for listening:)

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1 Comment»

  Geoff Miller wrote @

““Do you honestly think Sarah Palin knows the difference between the Sunnis and the Shiites?”

That is a legit question. It’s a legit question for any Congressperson, Senator, VP and Presidential candidate. I don’t know how it appeared in the context you saw it, but Mr. McCain has repeatedly made this gaffe. If McCain is anointed the “guru” of foreign policy by the DC elite and still makes this simple mistakerepeatedly, then in the appropriate context it’s an appropriate statement directed at a politician who has no experience in foreign policy, yet could sit in the presidential on deck circle.


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