The trouble with the “isms”

March 21, 2016

“Failure is impossible.” Susan B. Anthony

It’s been 110 years since abolitionist and women’s rights advocate Susan B. Anthony died in my hometown of Rochester, NY and 168 years since the suffrage movement began. I reflect on what’s happened in those years more than you might think –and certainly more than I mention here.

A couple of big things come to mind: Women and black people got the vote. A white southern president got a sweeping civil rights bill passed.

Now, say what you will about LBJ (and there is plenty to say), but the guy knew how to get things done and was far more of a leader on the civil rights act than anyone else, including the sainted JFK. LBJ actually SAVED the civil rights act.  Yes. Crude, rude, white and southern. He did. You can read about that here.  If you’re interested in political history, it’s a good read.

eraNo one stepped up with that kind of leadership on the Equal Rights Amendment, which would protect women’s rights under the Constitution. The ERA was introduced in Congress in 1923 and never ratified.  I was in my early 20s when I marched in a pro-ERA parade in Tallahassee Florida, wearing an ERA button I still have somewhere. I certainly felt I was the equal of any man and, like Susan B., that failure was impossible. Then, I couldn’t figure out why it was never ratified.  Seriously? How would an amendment guaranteeing women’s rights be wrong? Oh, all the usual excuses, like an amendment to the Constitution was “unnecessary” as those rights were protected elsewhere.


I think those were formative years for me, and I kept a watchful eye as I finished grad school and entered the workforce. A very watchful eye as I built my business career, progressing up through the ranks. An eye that saw everything. Every. Thing.

Here’s some history that, given today’s political climate, you might find interesting:

The Republican Party included support of the ERA in its platform starting in 1940 and continuing until 1980.  Yep. REPUBLICANS.

It was liberals who fought ERA

Big labor unions, though,  exercised muscle against the ERA, thinking it would invalidate protective labor legislation for women.  Eleanor Roosevelt and most New Deal supporters opposed it, too, thinking it was designed for middle class women, but that working class women needed government protection instead. They were afraid the ERA would undercut the male-dominated labor unions that were a core component of the New Deal coalition, according to Wikipedia.

sexismMost northern Democrats were aligned with the anti-ERA unions, so they also opposed it. However, the ERA was supported by southern Democrats and almost all Republicans. Think of THAT.  Still, Dems did not unite in favor of ERA until it passed Congress in 1972.  Middle class Republican women were the primary support for the ERA until the late Sixties. No kidding! Interestingly, opposition by the League of Women Voters (which, ironically, began as the National American Woman Suffrage Association) stuck until 1972.

See, here’s the problem: the ERA needed 38 states to ratify it by March 22, 1979. We got 35. You might be interested in these little tidbits:

“Oops! We changed our minds!”

Legislators in these states rescinded prior ratification: Nebraska, Tennessee, Idaho, Kentucky and South Dakota.  States that only had one house approval were: Florida (where I lived at the time), Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, both Carolinas, Oklahoma, Virginia.  Defeats were clear in Mississippi, Arkansas and Arizona.

Hmm.  Could these states have something in common? They do. They’re mostly the Old South.

It turns out that failure was entirely possible and in fact, ERA failed. Sorry, Susan B.  I know, not fair.


Tallahassee, Fla. 1975: I marched in this parade and am in this crowd.

Now, here’s a question I’ve heard my entire life: is it possible to legislate morality? As a student in social psych (the behavior of groups) I was curious.

I think we would all agree that change takes time. Big change takes a long time. Still,  it certainly looked to me like by forcing behavior change, the Civil Rights Act did change some attitudes. Not all attitudes. Some.

Under the surface, though, the “isms” lurk, popping out from time to time. More now, it seems.


It’s possible to succeed despite racism. Despite sexism.


But possible. Look at women like Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Meyer, who were smart enough to get STEM degrees (science, technology, engineering or math). They’re major forces in what I know first hand to be a man’s game. Meg Whitman. Oprah. I could go on, but I won’t. Put your head down, work hard and smart, make a few good decisions, catch a few lucky breaks and yes, success is possible, despite isms. Oh, we aren’t going to all be Oprah. But success is possible.

For many of us it is uncomfortable to contemplate the amount of political muscle it takes to make anything happen in public policy. Both civil rights and women’s rights required one boat load of influence.  It worked for civil rights because LBJ knew how to play the game.  And as much as we complain about the game, there is no alternative. The game must be played.

sexismWe women weren’t as lucky. No one as savvy as LBJ stepped up.

So I suppose it would be accurate to say that I felt a great deal of rage when Hillary did not get the Democratic nomination in 2008.

She was clearly better qualified than Barack Obama.  She was better prepared.  She was more experienced. As Senator (and to the surprise of many), Hillary earned the respect of both sides of the aisle in Congress, so her ability to get things done in Washington seemed likely. She EARNED that respect.

It’s not that he wasn’t a good guy

Barack Obama had a long career as an activist doing work I consider positive and significant. He became an Illinois state senator in 1997 and served three terms. He was defeated in the Illinois primary in 2000 when he tried to get the nomination for a run for the U.S. House of Representatives. He finally was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004 but by 2007 was running hard for president. That’s three years of Beltway experience.

If experience and credentials were lined up side by side, it’s my opinion that Hillary would rank higher.

But Hillary is not a man.

I burned with rage and frustration that a woman did not get the opportunity she earned. The kindling for that rage was set when the ERA failed but it lit with a big whooosh in 2008 and it’s been burning since.

Now listen. I’m a Dem. For real. But I see clearly that President Obama couldn’t play the game. He didn’t know how, or if he did, he hadn’t had enough practice. Because make no mistake: he came out of the Chicago political system, which has a history of being, dare I say it? Corrupt as it can be.   At least his inexperience didn’t destroy us, and for that I’m grateful.  As much as we want to pretend it’s not true, the game must be played. And it’s harder than ever to play the game. Just ask John Boehner, who pretty much sacrificed his career because his fellow party members were way crazier than he.

The game must be played. Our president must be able to play it.

Hillary knows how.

Not a rhetorical question

So here’s what I wonder: We are Americans! In the country of opportunity!

Where are our women presidents?

Let’s look around the world. Women in power who actually got STEM degrees, too include Polish President Kopacz and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. What? you ask. Poland and Chile have women presidents? Women presidents who are also techies?

They do. And women lead the following countries:  Lithuania, Latvia, Croatia, Liberia, Central African Republic, Kosovo, Bangledesh, Argentina, Brazil, Denmark, South Korea (whaat?), Senegal, Trinidad/Tobago, Germany, Norway, Malta–shall I keep going?

How many of these are “developed” nations? Just asking. Are we beginning to see that maybe we aren’t all that, after all?

Hillary isn’t perfect but she is the Democrat best prepared to be president. She’s worked for it. She should have had it in 2008.

Yeah, yeah, her flaws. They all have flaws. No candidate is perfect.

 sexismGiven the cluster-fu k going on in the Republican party, it’s more important than ever that we elect someone competent and who can actually make things happen.  Short of bringing LBJ back from the afterlife or Bill back for a fifth term, Hillary is that person.  If you’re waiting for the perfect candidate, you’ll be waiting a damn long time, because that candidate does not exist. If you think Bernie Sanders is that person you should do a bit more digging, because he is a) not a bridge-builder and b) not what we need right now.

I began this talking about how the hopes and dreams of women who started the suffrage movement 168 years ago have still not come true. While they fervently believed failure was impossible, I have seen failure and it is the source of resentment and rage for me.

If I were a Republican, I might also feel rage, rage at the stupidity on parade on that side.

But I’m a Democrat and a progressive, and woman who thinks we should just get over ourselves and our bias against women long enough to make sure the country is in competent hands for the next four years. If not eight.

So pay no attention to those other fools:


22 comments on “The trouble with the “isms”
  1. Very interesting, Carol. I recently read about how the Republicans and the Democrats ‘switched’ on a lot of issues. Now it seems that the Republicans have just lost their way.
    It amazes me that a developing country like India, with such a strong patriarchal system, had a woman Prime Minister over 40 years ago.

  2. Haralee says:

    AMEN! Aren’t the people of Norway and Denmark rated the happiest? Coincidence? Just saying, top down leadership…

  3. Ellen Dolgen says:

    Thanks for the walk back in the history of the ERA. I def needed that refresher course! It is quite interesting to compare today’s Republican party with that of 1940-1980. Wow….they sure have done an about face. The Republican’s premiere agenda is to take women’s rights away — put us back int he kitchen having babies, no voice and probably, eventually – no vote again! I hope women are listening and paying attention to the platforms of each party!

  4. Such great info on the ERA and the turnarounds of the Republicans and Democrats. It’s so frustrating watching the circus that is going on in the primaries. It’s time we have a woman in the White House. I’m in!

  5. I’m one of the very few Dems in South Carolina and it never fails to annoy me how women are treated in politics. Our Governor is female and has done amazing things to bring this backward, redneck state into the 21st century, but she never gets any respect or credit. It makes me crazy. To many of the Old Boys Club crazies like Mitch McConnell from KY, Lindsey Graham here in SC, and of course, loud mouth John Boehner who has finally been silenced thank goodness! Hillary definitely has my vote!

  6. Barbara says:

    Quite a History lesson, Carol. We are close to the same age and I, too, supported the ERA. Still do! I think many men fear powerful women more than anything. When you fight hard for the same rights as others it makes you stronger and more determined to see it done. I don’t have daughters but, my sons grew up understanding the importance of equality on all fronts. They married strong independent women who also carry the torch.

    What concerns me most is this walk back in time to the ignorant wanting to take over the country. When was the last time you saw the KKK in the news as much as we have lately? It has gotten close to 1968 again in hatred. That was not a good time. It scares me.

    It’s the white men’s fear of having a woman leader that has this race off the rails. Obama beat Hillary in ’08 because even old white men preferred a black MAN in the office, rather than any woman. All the years since have done nothing but give her more knowledge and strength to do the job even better. Does she have baggage? Oh yeah. But, who doesn’t? Her strengths far out weigh her weaknesses. I think Bernie has brought out the best in her and I see a place for him in the future administration.
    Didn’t mean to turn this into a blog post. 😉

  7. A phenomenal history lesson here with an important eye toward the future. Well done and I’m with Hillary right beside you. Not because she’s a woman but because she’s the right woman for the job.

  8. A great history lesson, Carol. And it stokes the flames of frustration most women of our generation feel (or SHOULD feel) at our lack of progress in terms of institutionalizing our equality. How the f*** can any reasonable human being disagree with equal rights? There are way too many fat old white men still calling the shots–and apparently quaking in their boxers that a woman might be in charge. It’s maddening. Hillary’s got my vote.

  9. A lot of history I did NOT know! Thank you! Such a scary political climate right now. And even more scary is the fact many people (mostly men) don’t even realize the rampant sexism. I had to ream my husband just the other night over what he thought was an innocent comment but I had to point out to him that he feels that way because he’s a man, with no concept or realization of what women put up with in comparison. Gah!

  10. Ruth Curran says:

    Oh I get this and share your frustration. Who would imagine that we would be here with no ERA ratification? Strong leadership. Yes.

  11. I am 100% for Hillary (although, yes, I will vote for Bernie if somehow he ends up the nominee). It’s time to get a woman in the White House and start fixing this crazy, messed up world.

  12. I too was full of rage when Hilary lost in 2008. I am not now, nor have I ever been a fan of President Obama’s.

  13. Jennifer says:

    I’m looking forward to Hilary as our next President. I do think that Obama has accomplished a lot in his 8 years, despite the Republicans making it clear that they would not work with him on anything. Obama’s biggest mistake was blinking first and allowing the Republicans to railroad him into having Van Jones step down and Shirley Sherrod to be fired without a full investigation. That showed his inexperience, not something we have to worry about with Hilary.

  14. I am not going to read other’s comments as it will influence what I have to say, which really isn’t that lengthy. I don’t want any of the candidates who look like they are going to win for their parties. All flawed. I really don’t want Hillary but I really don’t want Trump more. So what’s a voter to do…???? and I always vote. HMMM. No Ross Perot this time around either! Damn you Michael Bloomberg.

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