THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Madeleine Kunin

America, let's talk about racial and gender bias

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Madeleine Kunin
April 6, 2008

SENATOR BARACK Obama spoke courageously and thoughtfully last month about the history and legacy of race in America. It is a speech that will be remembered. Now we must start a conversation about gender in America.

Neither blacks nor women were seriously considered to be worthy of the vote when the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in 1776. Abigail Adams addressed the role of women when she wrote to her husband John Adams: "Remember the Ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could."

Adams's reply was not helpful: "As to your extraordinary Code of Laws, I cannot but laugh."

It is inaccurate and incendiary to equate women's lack of rights with those of enslaved blacks. Yet, there are some parallels. Married women were considered the property of their husbands. They had no right to their own money or real estate. Divorce was nearly impossible and seldom sought because mothers would have to give up their children.

Both marginalized groups have experienced centuries of struggle to achieve full citizenship, a struggle that is far from over.

Women of my generation experienced both the frustration and exhilaration that came with opening doors once closed to us - in colleges and universities, in the job market, in laws that acknowledged sexual abuse and violence, and in court decisions that made birth control legal and access to early abortions safe. We experienced the "before" and the "now."

Obama said he disagreed with some of the heated statements that his pastor had made, but he did not reject him because he knew from where his anger originated. I do not reject Geraldine Ferraro. Yes, she was wrong in declaring that Obama was "lucky" to be African-American. But I understand why she is angry. She fought for what she had achieved: a law degree when only a handful of women were in law schools; a seat in Congress when she was one of 17 women among 418 men (Congress is now composed of 16 percent women, a record high).

It is dismaying that not everyone understands what the fight for gender equality meant to my generation. Just as we have seen racism surface in this primary season, sexism - both subtle and blatant - has been expressed without remorse or shame. I ask, how can fathers of daughters stand idly by while vulgar words are thrown at women as if they were epithets without malice? A group in New Hampshire who taunted Hillary Clinton with signs saying "Iron my shirt," were thought to be amusing, not outrageous.

The hardest part of today's struggle is that those who point the finger at misogyny, or plain old sexism, are accused of whining, being out of touch, resorting to victimhood, or playing the gender card, as if it were a game they could win.

It's time for a new conversation about race and gender, not as competitors for who has suffered most and for the longest period of time - not even about who should rise first to the presidency. The conversation must begin to acknowledge that gender and racial bias still rest between the folds of the red, white, and blue.

Instead of resorting to the shorthand name-calling that is inevitable in a political campaign, we must face complexity, contradiction, and nuance.

Obama and Clinton are both contesting for the Democratic nomination for the presidency because of two revolutions that occurred before and during their life times - the civil rights movement and the women's movement. It is time to recognize the battle scars, celebrate the achievements, and realize that the promise of a society of equal opportunity and justice for all has not yet been achieved.

Madeleine Kunin, former three-term governor of Vermont, is author of "Pearls, Politics & Power: How Women Can Win and Lead."

  • Email
  • Email
  • Print
  • Print
  • Single page
  • Single page
  • Reprints
  • Reprints
  • Share
  • Share
  • Comment
  • Comment
 
  • Share on DiggShare on Digg
  • Tag with Del.icio.us Save this article
  • powered by Del.icio.us
Your Name Your e-mail address (for return address purposes) E-mail address of recipients (separate multiple addresses with commas) Name and both e-mail fields are required.
Message (optional)
Disclaimer: Boston.com does not share this information or keep it permanently, as it is for the sole purpose of sending this one time e-mail.