"THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE," shouts the tee shirt worn by an illustrated Barack Obama on the cover of the current issue of Ms. magazine. Gosh, I sure hope so. But signals from the White House are coming a bit mixed in these first two weeks of the Obama presidency, and I find myself looking for reassurance. Naming Rosa DeLauro to the cabinet, as the Secretary of Health and Human Services, would provide just the reassurance that I, and other of my sisters, are looking for.
Two days before the inauguration, I found myself seated at a table of feminist superstars at the Women's Ball sponsored by the National Council of Women's Organizations. Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation; Katherine Spillar, executive editor of Ms. magazine (which is published by Feminist Majority); Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation and Martha Burk, director of NCWO's Corporate Accountability Project (who famously led NCWO in protest of the Masters golf tournament for its location at a men-only golf club) all sat down to discuss their hopes for the new administration.
Smeal explained her hopes for a feminist future during Obama's tenure, including his signature on the Lilly Ledbetter Act, the bill that removes an onerous statute of limitations on a woman's ability to sue her employer for discrimination, which Obama symbolically chose as the first piece of legislation to bear his presidential signature. And, she reminded me, he ran on the most feminist party platform ever written (mostly by Karen Kornbluh).
Saporta piped up with Obama's promise to end the "global gag rule" -- that Republican executive order that forbade U.S. foreign aid to go to organizations that provide abortions or information about how to obtain one, even when the money was directed at non-abortion activities. And within days, the deed was done.
Sounds great. But the jobs-building piece of the stimulus package is notably lacking in jobs typically occupied by women, as Linda Hirshman pointed out on the op-ed page of the New York Times. And there are still only five women named to the cabinet -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Hilda Solis, pending her confirmation as secretary of labor; Janet Napolitano as homeland security secretary; Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and Susan Rice, U. N. ambassador.
Then came the nomination of Republican Judd Gregg to be the next Secretary of Commerce. Sen. Judd Gregg, who is largely anti-abortion earned an 85 percent rating for voting with the National Right to Life Committee's agenda in 2007-2008, a 33-percent rating in support of the ACLU's agenda in 2007; a 40-percent rating from the LGBT rights group, the Human Rights Campaign, a five-percent rating from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and a 19-percent rating from the National Organization for Women (NOW). According to On The Issues, Gregg voted in 1995 "to disallow any funds in the Legislative Appropriations bill from being used to award, require, or encourage any Federal contract, if the contract is being awarded on the basis of the race, color, national origin, or gender of the contractor," and generally has an anti-affirmative action record. Ah-hem, President Obama: Bi-partisanship in support of white male hegemony truly is a vice. Don't forget that 56 percent of your vote came from women, and we make up the majority of the workforce producing the goods and services for which the commerce secretary is supposed to advocate.
Today, however, the sun came out a bit with the speculation (via The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder) that Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut would be selected to replace the besmirched Tom Daschle as secretary of health and human services. It's hard to imagine a better pick (especially since my personal favorite, former Planned Parenthood President Gloria Feldt, isn't likely to be offered the job). DeLauro is smart, knows health issues especially well, is a true feminist, and a passionate advocate for her causes.
The American people could scarcely hope to find a better and more capable advocate for their health and well being than Rosa DeLauro. The appointment of DeLauro would send a strong signal to the feminist community, and the progressive community at large, that the president is ready to truly deal women into the change we all want to believe in.