What to do NOW?

President of the feminist organization talks about Hillary Clinton's presidential run, problems women face at work and home, and popular culture's influence on girls

July 20, 2008|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,Sun reporter

The National Organization for Women convenes its annual conference this weekend in Bethesda against the backdrop of a presidential race that, according to NOW President Kim Gandy, has been underlined not only by one woman's historic campaign but also by an extraordinary amount of sexism. Gandy, who's serving her second term at the helm of the feminist advocacy group, talked with The Sun about those and other topics. She lives in Silver Spring with her husband and two daughters.

Your theme for this weekend's conference is "No Capes, No Masks, No Boundaries: Feminist Super-Women Unite!" What does that mean?

It's a recognition that women are a lot like the superheroes in the comic books in that we are breaking down barriers. We're taking care of people, we're taking care of our families and our kids, and often without much recognition.

We wanted to focus on the challenges that women face and how we're overcoming those challenges. [Speaking at the conference will be] women like Lilly Ledbetter, who, when she found out she was being paid less than all of the male managers at Goodyear Tire, she pursued the case all way to the Supreme Court, and now there's legislation in her name, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act. ... She will tell you that she's doing it not for herself but to make sure other women who work hard, as she did, aren't shortchanged by their employers. When you earn less during your working life, it also means your pension is lower, your Social Security is lower; it has ramifications your whole life. ... And there's women like Barbara Hillary, who learned no African-American women had ever been to the North Pole, and she decided she was going to do it. ... She reached the North Pole last year at age 75. ... There are women like that speaking all through the weekend.

In the presidential race, a woman came closer than ever this year to clinching a major party's nomination. What does Hillary Clinton's competitive race show you about progress women have made in this country, at least politically?

Hillary Clinton's race put to rest one question: Are women qualified? Will a woman be seen as capable of being president of the United States? That was a question in people's minds until this race. There's no question we still have sexism. There are still some people who wouldn't vote for her because she's female. But we clearly have passed a threshold. ... The next threshold will be when women running for higher office get equal treatment.

Media sexism has been cited as a factor in Clinton's loss. Did you see sexism in the media during the primary campaign, and did it ultimately affect the outcome?

It's very hard to say whether it affected the outcome. There was an enormous amount of sexism. She was called a bitch, a witch, shrill, cackle, cleavage - all words that come to mind - and, what was it, thick ankles? There were comments made about her that would never ever be made about a male candidate. The question remains whether these kinds of sexist attacks galvanized women even more on her behalf. The fact that that kind of sexism was so commonplace and so little remarked upon bodes ill for the progress that we've made as a society. I have teenage daughters, a 15-year-old and one turning 13. They watch this kind of treatment of women, and without discussion in the household like we have, perhaps they would think that's just normal, that women who run for office should expect to be called bitch or witch or be compared to the ex-wife standing in front of the courthouse or the scolding mother or a crazed stalker. She was repeatedly compared to the Glenn Close character in Fatal Attraction. ... I didn't expect it. I didn't. I expected a little bit. I expected some. But I didn't expect this level of venom directed at her from people in the mainstream media. I expect it from the fringe Fox News types, sure. But from NPR, from CNN, from NBC and MSNBC, no, I didn't.

How are women handling the disappointment of Clinton's loss? Where do you go from here?

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