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Political Animal

She Was All That

By Brian Morton | Posted 1/5/2005

You’re a woman and you walk into a job today. And the first thing they ask you is, “Can you type?” And you know it’s less a question than a statement.

Maybe nowadays it might be “Can you do HTML?” or “Can you code?”—but really, in the end, it’s “Can you type?” Because you’re second class. Look at the boardrooms, look at the managers, look at the people getting the bonuses, look at the people reporting the big stories on television. Sure, Katie Couric pulls down the megabucks on Today, but who’s taking over Tom Brokaw’s job? Someone with the right mix of chromosomes, that’s who.

When your Political Animal was young and innocent, there was a woman from New York who had the stones to call them as she saw them. She helped found the Congressional Black Caucus. She knew enough in a time when many fledgling politicos were just wetting their feet to go and visit George Wallace—the man who ran for president on a ticket of pure divisiveness—in the hospital after he was gunned down in a Laurel shopping center, which set her own people against her. She knew the real political rule has always been: “no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.”

Shirley Chisholm, who died Jan. 1, said she wanted her epitaph to say, “That woman had guts.”

The first politician I ever took a paycheck from, Kweisi Mfume, first ran for the Baltimore City Council on a platform of “unbought and unbossed.” I had never heard those words before, but I soon learned that they were the campaign slogan of Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman ever elected to Congress, in 1968. I remember when she ran for president in 1972, and the TV networks ran grainy footage of her speech years before introducing the Equal Rights Amendment in the House of Representatives:

Prejudice against blacks is becoming unacceptable, although it will take years to eliminate it. But it is doomed because, slowly, white America is beginning to admit that it exists. Prejudice against women is still acceptable. There is very little understanding yet of the immorality involved in double pay scales and the classification of most of the better jobs as “for men only.”

More than half of the population of the United States is female. But women occupy only 2 percent of the managerial positions. They have not even reached the level of tokenism yet. No women sit on the AFL-CIO council or Supreme Court. There have been only two women who have held Cabinet rank, and at present there are none. Only two women now hold ambassadorial rank in the diplomatic corps. In Congress, we are down to one senator and 10 representatives.

Considering that there are about 3 1/2 million more women in the United States than men, this situation is outrageous.

It is true that part of the problem has been that women have not been aggressive in demanding their rights. This was also true of the black population for many years. They submitted to oppression and even cooperated with it. Women have done the same thing. But now there is an awareness of this situation particularly among the younger segment of the population. . . .

It is for this reason that I wish to introduce today a proposal that has been before every Congress for the last 40 years and that sooner or later must become part of the basic law of the land—the Equal Rights Amendment.

Let me note and try to refute two of the commonest arguments that are offered against this amendment. One is that women are already protected under the law and do not need legislation. Existing laws are not adequate to secure equal rights for women. Sufficient proof of this is the concentration of women in lower-paying, menial, unrewarding jobs and their incredible scarcity in the upper-level jobs. If women are already equal, why is it such an event whenever one happens to be elected to Congress?

It is obvious that discrimination exists. Women do not have the opportunities that men do. And women that do not conform to the system, who try to break with the accepted patterns, are stigmatized as ‘’odd’’ and “unfeminine.” The fact is that a woman who aspires to be chairman of the board, or a member of the House, does so for exactly the same reasons as any man. Basically, these are that she thinks she can do the job and she wants to try.

Shirley Chisholm, in this day and age, would be a radical, a liberal considered out of step with the times. She believed in equal pay for equal work, that a woman could do the same job as a man, and should be compensated for it. And the fact that women doing the same as men still isn’t the case, 35 years later, is an insult to her memory.

Remember the name: Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm. She spoke truth to power, she said the things we all know to be true no matter what the political realities were, and she truly ran “unbought and unbossed.” That woman had guts.

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