January 28th, 2009
03:47 PM ET

A president sets the right tone

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Faye Wattleton
President, Center for the Advancement of Women

Rhetoric frames action. President Barack Obama has corrected Bill Clinton’s framework to define White House reproductive policy. This explicitly opens the conversation for the common ground that so many have longingly envisioned and which, in the past, anti-choice advocates have assiduously avoided.

A day after the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, President Obama lifted the International Gag Rule, an executive order with the force of law first imposed by Ronald Reagan. It extended the prohibition of U.S. funds for assistance to family-planning groups that, with their own resources, provide abortion counseling, referral or direct services. Thirteen percent of maternal deaths worldwide are due to complications due to unsafe abortion procedures, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Restoring funding for international family-planning groups was only the beginning of a broader conversation on family planning.


Filed under: Barack Obama • Faye Wattleton • Women's Issues • Women's Rights
September 10th, 2008
06:31 PM ET

Too perfect to be dismissed & The Sarah Palin Show

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Editor's Note: This is a joint mother/daughter blog: Faye Wattleton is an AC360° contributor and President of the Center for the Advancement of Women; Felicia Gordon is Faye's daughter.

Too perfect to be dismissed
Faye Wattleton |
President, Center for the Advancement of Women

The 30-year campaign by occupants in the White House, a re-structured Federal judiciary and Congressional hostility has eroded women’s fundamental Constitutional protections, most notably Roe v. Wade. After the 1976 presidential campaign, the take-over of the Republican Party by a confluence of unlikely partners, known as the religious right, led to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and delivery of two future presidencies. Recently, analysts have pronounced this constituency to be in a state of disarray, if not all but dead; it seems that all it needed was a jump-start in a candidate who stirred the passions for their “100-year war” against affirmative action, equal pay for equal work, reproductive rights and gay rights, and for abstinence-only sexuality education.

Last year, the 5-4 Court, in Gonzalez v. Carhart, disregarded a woman’s health in allowing prohibition of a type of abortion procedure in the second trimester, which may be the best option to preserving a woman’s future fertility. In another decision, the Court ruled that Lilly Ledbetter, the only female supervisor at a Goodyear Tire & Rubber plant, could not seek justice, under Title VII, for 19 years of discrimination. In Long Island Home Care v. Coke, home care workers, 90 percent of whom are women, were declared unworthy of minimum wages and overtime compensation.


August 27th, 2008
06:47 PM ET

The ball is in Obama’s court

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Faye Wattleton
AC360° Contributor
President, Center for the Advancement of Women

What if, throughout her campaign for the party’s nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton had made speeches like the one she gave last night at the Democratic National Convention? It’s possible that she’d be the candidate accepting the party’s nomination tomorrow at Invesco Field. What type of presidency would she have led, had she become the first woman president of the United States? We’ll have to leave that question unanswered, at least for now.

The expectations that were placed on Sen. Clinton to mend the great divide that emerged from the Democratic primaries were both unprecedented and unrealistic. Yet, she delivered beyond our imagination last night. She repeatedly endorsed Sen. Barack Obama. She covered all of the points the party could have wished for. She asked the delegates –and all Democrats watching at home– to re-assess the values and motivations that brought them to Denver and will now determine their chances for putting a Democrat in the White House.

In the same way she rose gracefully from the Lewinsky affair and from a defeated campaign to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system, Sen. Clinton emerged last night as a polished diamond. She surfaced as an unalloyed leader out of the adversities and the unaddressed sexism endured during her campaign and, for that matter, during her entire political career. Her journey is emblematic of the way American women overcome the challenges posed by a society where full-equality is yet to be attained.

Sen. Clinton raised the bar to the “what if, and every decision the Obama campaign makes from now on will be measured against it. Regardless of whether she united the party last night, Sen. Obama will have to show voters how their lives will be better if they vote, in unity, for him. How he chooses to translate the rhetoric of change into the policy of change will be essential as he aims at locking the support of independents and die-hard Clinton supporters, especially the women in the 25 percent who now plan to support Sen. John McCain.

The ball is in Sen. Obama’s court.

July 17th, 2008
12:49 PM ET

Michelle Obama: Armed and dangerous

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Faye Wattleton
AC360° Contributor
President, Center for the Advancement of Women

Last week my daughter Felicia and I attended the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. As usual, Chris Rock brought his profound comedic talent to sharply insightful social commentary. “It’s going to be hard for a sister to be first lady … because a black woman can’t play the back role of a relationship,” he said.

Mr. Rock alluded to the common racial stereotype that burdens African-American women: by virtue of our well-documented historical role as the strength of the family, we’re characterized as domineering and aggressive. The latest cruelty, extreme even for political satire, was cast in a cartoon of a kinky-haired, armed and dangerous Michelle Obama, on the cover of The New Yorker.

Filed under: Faye Wattleton • Raw Politics
July 14th, 2008
09:20 AM ET

Jesse Jackson’s truth

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Faye Wattleton
President, Center for the Advancement of Women

There is a lengthy legacy of politician striking the wrong tone on the role of African-American men in the family. There tends to be more you-shoulds and not enough I-wills. The question remains whether politicians have the will to change the paradigm by which black men are viewed (or not) and judged. Save the unnecessary vulgar references to presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama, Jesse Jackson’s “off-the-mike” comments Wednesday weren’t so off-the-mark.

Rather than attacking only the personal responsibility of African-American fathers, it is essential to continue to address the systemic changes needed to eliminate the conditions sustaining the epidemic of absentee fathers, which isn’t exclusively a “black” phenomenon.


June 19th, 2008
05:01 PM ET

Unaddressed sexism now shifts focus to Michelle Obama

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Faye Wattleton
President, Center for the Advancement of Women

The dissection of the mainstream media’s role in the downfall of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign is not yet exhausted. The power of the print, electronic and cyber press to reflect society’s values and reinforce or influence change is indisputable. While the media washing cites isolated incidents of gender bias and overblown reactions, the debate revealed an often unspoken truth: sexism is not dead. In fact, it is broadly tolerated, beyond the candidates, crushing in various ways the lives of more than half of the electorate. Each of us must take responsibility for making sexism as unacceptable as racism.

Mrs. Clinton’s run for the Democratic nomination taught us that today’s sexism is cast at the individual, not at a system that’s capable of supporting a woman conduct a credible and competitive campaign for the presidency. She emerged from the fabric of our society’s sexist stereotypes as a lightning rod aspiring to the highest male bastion of arguably the most powerful political position in the world. However, her ascent was laced with shockingly open and often unspoken intolerance and hatred, not unlike the challenges women encounter in their daily lives. Gender bias is often insidiously subtle, sitting on the fence between humor and questionable behavior, and pernicious to the advancement of our country.

Filed under: Faye Wattleton • Hillary Clinton • Raw Politics
May 5th, 2008
02:58 PM ET

Eyes on Miley’s bare back, not on the big picture

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Faye Wattleton
President, Center for the Advancement of Women

The Miley Cyrus debate was bare in more than one way. Arguing over whether the 15-year-old’s Vanity Fair photo spread constitutes a blight on wholesomeness or a publicity stunt competed with Rev. Wright as last week’s hot topic.

Celebrity pundits vented their shock on the airwaves, and in newsprint and blogs, while “experts” offered parents tips on how to discuss the consequences of bad decisions, in this case resulting from Miley’s nude back. 

Missing from the commotion was the glaring opportunity to confront the double standard for girls’ sexuality with a healthy discussion about responsible sexual development among our adolescents.

Britney Spears caused a similar controversy with even more revealing photos during her early teen years. Americans reacted in collective horror when Brandi Chastain, in exuberant victory after scoring the winning goal against China in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final, removed her shirt to reveal her sports bra to a worldwide Olympic audience.


Filed under: Faye Wattleton
April 30th, 2008
03:04 PM ET

Candidates have let surrogates define them - and damage them

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Faye Wattleton
President, Center for the Advancement of Women

Presidential politics is a rough game, intensified by the instantaneousness of the information age. Not for the faint-hearted. Thus, it’s hard to understand why Sen. Barack Obama didn’t unequivocally disavow Rev. Jeremiah Wright a month ago,leaving ambiguous the lines along which this minister influenced his perspective on race in America.

Mr. Obama had the perfect opportunity to make a clean break with the incendiary “black liberation” theologian, when he gave his widely-televised speech at Constitution Hall on the state of race relations. Instead, he chose to explain him and even grant him kinship as a cantankerous “uncle.”

Mr. Obama finally renounced his pastor, after the commotion triggered by Rev. Wright’s bizarre and stereotype-reinforcing minstrel performance. Sen. Obama’s belated outrage will likely generate public skepticism and add credence to the reverend’s characterization that he says, “what he has to say as a politician.”

Perplexingly, Mr. Obama missed another opportunity. While he emphatically declared that Rev. Wright’s messages are “antithetical to our campaign,” Americans are still awaiting to know what his presidency will be about on the issues of our daily lives, if he wins the nomination.

Sens. Obama and Clinton have failed to harness the distractions of their surrogates, allowing them to fill in the gaps on sensitive social issues they're not addressing.

In Ms. Clinton’s case - most prominently, strategist Mark Penn and her husband. Instead of a constructive, beyond-the-slogans debate about race, gender and class and how their presidencies will to lead to greater unity - which Americans want to hear - valuable campaign time is given to damage control, undermining their credibility and stoking the fires of cynicism about all politicians. 
All Americans and the future direction of our nation are shortchanged. Especially shortchanged are the issues about which women want answers -  pay equality, domestic violence, affordable healthcare, educational opportunities, reproductive rights - not on their websites, but spoken as plainly and directly as they do when they defend threats to their political ambitions.

April 25th, 2008
02:01 PM ET

Stop complaining, start explaining

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Faye Wattleton
President, Center for the Advancement of Women

Running for president of the United States isn’t the same as running for Sunday School principal. As the stakes are the highest for the most powerful position on the planet, the contest will only grow hotter in intensity. This is, after all, the run for the presidency, the closest thing we have to royalty. The presidential candidates are crying foul with every attack ad that’s launched on them. Complaining about one another’s ads is a waste of valuable air time in an electorate with a short attention span and awaiting clarity on vital issues.

Frankly, the tone at this point has been relatively civilized. Willie Horton and Swift boat ads, which were patent distortions of the candidates’ actions, have not yet appeared on the campaigns. Many fear the current attacks will weaken the Democratic Party’s chances of winning the general election. They may be right, not because of the ads, but because of the vagueness of the candidate’s positions.

The exhilarating phase of the campaign is coming to an end, and the scrutiny is tightening on the candidate’s character and ability to lead a nation with many challenges. If the candidates and their surrogates are genuinely concerned about how attack ads might be distracting voters, they should stop complaining and use them as a backdrop to give Americans more substantial issues to think about. Rather than disparaging, dismissing or brushing off their attacker, the candidates should explain their positions on specific issues. Failure to do so is an injustice of the democratic process.

Filed under: Faye Wattleton • Raw Politics
April 8th, 2008
03:26 PM ET

Mark Penn's fall is about women, not a meeting

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Mark Penn’s resignation as chief strategist for Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign was a long time coming. A meeting with the Colombian government to discuss a free trade pact by the head of a major PR firm is, in and of itself, not sufficient to warrant the resignation of the campaign chief.  The simple reality is that Mark Penn has led Ms. Clinton’s campaign with a losing strategy.

Perhaps the primary omission is the candidate’s attack mode and her failure to mobilize and excite half the electorate – women. Week after week, in spite of the fact that Sen. Barack Obama did not speak to women either, Ms. Clinton's polls have been in free fall. While blacks and new entrants to the world of politics, young people, were excited by the rhetoric and yes, even the racial controversy in Mr. Obama’s candidacy, Ms. Clinton can’t seem to find her stride.

 – Faye Wattleton, 360° Contributor/President of the Center for the Advancement of Women

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