Homecoming queen Claire McCaskill Dancing in 1970
My work as a English language trainer has given me an excuse to become less involved in local politics. I admit it. Short of voting in general elections, I have spent more time educating myself about world politics than I have local, state and US politics. I gave myself permission by rationalizing that if I can’t have a fairly knowledgeable conversation about what is going on in the world and more specifically in France, I probably won’t be taken very seriously professionally. The French like to remind me that the average American can’t locate France on a world map much less converse about French politics and given that I have a tremendously large ego, I could not allow them to define me with that generalization. I do have strong opinions about violence against women and gender equality but it wasn’t until a beloved friend and former local democratic volunteer coordinator reminded me that advocacy starts at the local level that I was bumped from my high horse and took another look at involvement.
On Friday I attended a National Women’s Political Caucus luncheon. Senator Claire McCaskill was the speaker and honestly, she rocked my world. In November of 2012, McCaskill was reelected to the US Senate winning 54% of the vote. Her opponent, Republican Todd Akin lost after the well-publicized remark, “Women who are victims of legitimate rape, rarely get pregnant”. Akin amazingly, got 39% of the vote. Libertarian, Jonathon Dine received 6% of the vote. McCaskill is currently one of only twenty female US senators, a groundbreaking high for the US.
Although I had a history of voting for Senator McCaskill I honestly did not have a very personal connection to her. Frankly, I voted for her because she is a woman who represents my party and supports many of the same causes that I embrace. The woman that I saw speak is down to earth, witty, warm, dynamic and made me want to see her again and again. She has the ability to speak in a way which makes you feel connected, in a way which honestly, a man cannot speak to women. She speaks in a way that is genuine, intelligent and direct but strongly feminine. She is a woman that I respect. The women of the Kansas City NWPC refer to Senator McCaskill as “Claire” because they feel that she belongs to her constituents, and her constituents belong to “Claire”. After hearing her speak, I must say, she is also “my” Claire. I am a fan.
Claire spoke on the importance of women in the political process. She spoke candidly about her race against Todd Akin and the voter base in Missouri. She said that in Missouri 20% of women are getting their news from sources such as MSNBC and 35% watch FOX news while the remainder watches Dancing With the Stars. Claire pushed my “Hot Button”. It has always been hard for me to understand why there are such a terrific number of women who are not more involved in legislation that affects their lives. I cannot comprehend the fact that women are so frequently the victims of violence and discrimination yet are not willing to take a stand in a meaningful way. I have serious issues with women, some of whom are my friends, who would rather get lost in mindless commercial television than invest their attention on the future.
After Claire’s speech she invited questions from the audience and called on me. This was my question:
The issue of violence against women is directly related to the issue of equality and in terms of women’s economic equality the US ranks #31 internationally. We are followed by Zimbabwe at #32. How can we as women in the US truly have an opportunity for equality with this sort of ranking?
Claire responded by saying that first we need affordable and dependable childcare. Next she said that women need to learn to advocate for themselves professionally. They need to learn to ask for better salaries and raises. I was disappointed. I wanted something more. I wanted her to talk about the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. I wanted her to talk about women entrepreneurs and women in the boardroom. She didn’t.
Later that evening I thought about a conversation I had had earlier in the week. One of my learners is a former General in a branch of the French military. He told me a story that has haunted me all week. He said that at one time he worked on a Peacekeeping Mission in an unnamed country in Africa. They were preparing for the dangerous task of taking ground troops into a village where very young boys were armed and trained to kill. It was his job to prepare the soldiers for this emotionally dynamic situation. It was also his job to tell the soldiers that if a child drew a weapon they had no choice but to shoot the child and that neglecting to do so would not only risk the lives of fellow soldiers but of the success of their mission. He concluded his story by saying that giving the soldiers permission to shoot eliminated all questions. Lack of clarity, he said, would weaken the self-confidence they needed to do their job efficiently. He said that in the end no weapons were fired, no lives were lost. He attributed this fact to the confidence with which the soldiers were armed.
I think that I can relate the story that the General told me to the advice that Claire offered, although I didn’t think about it at the time. I think that what Claire said was simple but true. Women need to ask for more and they need to expect more. Women need to identify what it is they want for themselves and create a mission. They need to empower themselves with facts and knowledge. Self-doubt and minimizing jeopardizes opportunity for others around them and puts the entire mission at risk. Arming themselves with the confidence is the trailhead to equality.
Senator McCaskill’s comment about watching Dancing With the Stars hit home. It was easy for me to point the finger at women who I think should be more focused on how politics effects their lives. Meanwhile I had become so fixated on big pictures that I’d overlooked the details. I can’t really stop the epidemic of violence against women in countries like Indonesia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh without acknowledging the problem in my own backyard.
For more information about the National Women’s Political Caucus please visit: http://www.nwpc.org/
To learn more about violence against women in the US, please visit the following:
US Department of Justice Information on Violence Against Women: http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/
The National Organization of Women: http://www.now.org/issues/violence/stats.html
US Department of Health and Human Services: http://womenshealth.gov/violence-against-women/