Q&A With Patricia Ireland
Good afternoon and welcome to "Levey Live." I'm Washington Post columnist Bob Levey, your host.
"Levey Live" appears each Tuesday from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time. It's a live, moderated discussion offering washingtonpost.com users the chance to talk directly to major newsmakers and key Washington Post reporters and editors.
My guest today is Patricia Ireland, the president of NOW, the largest feminist organization in the United States. As leader of the National Organization for Women, Ireland has focused NOW's energies on electing women to political office, creating coalitions with civil rights and social justice groups, and defending women's access to abortion. Ireland has also been a prime mover in the creation of NOW's Global Feminist Program, which has been working to stop the genital mutilation of women and girls in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. A lawyer, Ireland was elected as NOW's president in December, 1991. Her term runs until 2001.
You may submit your questions for Patricia Ireland now.
Annandale, VA: While I applaud your efforts to encourage more women into politics and stop mutilation of third world women, I disagree with your stance regarding last year's "Promise Keepers" rally at the Mall. A year later, do you still feel that this Christian men's movement is a cleverly disguised attempt to enslave women?
Patricia Ireland: Of course, PK's are not all bad. But it does make me nervous when we're told not only that women must submit to male authority, but we must do it graciously.
Great Falls, Montana: What is the difference between your recent support of President Clinton, in the Lewinsky matter, and your organization's indifference when Senator Bob Packwood, was forced out of the Senate for similar activities? Could it be a matter of Party affiliation?
Patricia Ireland: Big difference. Dozens of women charged Packwood had physically harrassed them against their will, forcing his tongue in unwilling women's mouths. Monica's not complained that anything was against her will except Ken Starr's thugs holding her in communicado at the Radison and threatening her and her "mommy" with jail.
Bob Levey: You have predicted that the most noticeable result of the Clinton-Lewinsky brouhaha will be poor turnout for the November elections. Do you think women will avoid turning out more than men?
Patricia Ireland: Women put Clinton in office. If only men had voted, Dole would be there now. Women approve Clinton's job performance as president by 2 to 1. Women also disapprove of the Gingrich/Starr railroad. I'm afraid women may be so turned off they'll say "a pox on both their houses." They may feel even more disconnected from what goes on in Washington. They clearly care more about what's happening to their own families than to the first family. And some women may be disillusioned about the prospect of making progress through electoral politics. A congress that's still nearly 9 to 1 men to women is threatening to overturn women's votes in the 1996 election.
Madison, WI: Through my years of college, I have always noticed that National Organization of Women constantly pushes for the high-speed business/career oriented women. Has NOW ever supported women who have decided to be mothers as a career?....Especially now when the children of our society seems so lost in drugs and violence, shouldn't an organization which is meant to cultivate respect for women help the women who are seen by our society as having the least important job, the upbringing of our children?
Patricia Ireland: We're the ones who coined slogans like, "every mother's a working mother" and descriptive phrases like, "women who work outside the home." It's our society not our movement that devalues women's traditional work caring for our families and if we could get the attention of this sex-and-scandal obsessed congress, perhaps we could get some policies to improve the lives of all women and our families.
WinterPark Fl: After being so vocal during the Clarence Thomas hearings and so quiet as far as Clintons behavior is concerned,do you think your organization has any credibility.
Patricia Ireland: If you think we've been quiet about Clinton's behavior, you just haven't been listening. Check out our website at www.now.org to see what all we've said. I'm the one who went on national television and said, if what Kathleen Willey alledged actually happened it wasn't just sexual harrassment, it was sexual assault. I think Clinton's behavior reflects an unfortunate cultural view that divides women between those who must be respected like Madeline Albright, Janet Reno, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and those who can be used like tissue paper and tossed aside. That is a different issue than whether those who have been trying to hound Clinton out of office since he was first elected are going to be allowed to succeed in overturning the election and whether Gingrich and company are going to increase their stranglehold on congress and continue rolling back women's rights. Sexist acts are a serious problem but not an impeachable offense.
Rockville, MD: What is your position on partial birth abortions? How could such a grotesque procedure be justified?
Patricia Ireland: The U.S. Senate voted against making an exception to the abortion procedure ban even if continued pregnancy threatened serious adverse consequences to a woman's physical health. NOW thinks women's health counts. The language of these bans is so broad and vague it could cover any abortion procedure at any stage. And the grotesque rhetoric covers a congress that has not only voted not to allow the FDA to approve RU486, which provides safer medical abortions at the earliest possible time, but also voted to cut family planning funding. The procedures ban is also another election year wedge issue.
Half an hour remaining with today's guest, Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women.
Takoma Park, MD: How do you predict the upcoming elections will affect the balance of women vs. men in the Congress? I know 2 Senators are at risk (Moseley-BRaun and Boxer) but lots of seats in the HOuse may be won by women.
Patricia Ireland: Only 3 votes in the Senate stand against laws to restrict and ultimately eliminate women's right to abortion. The three women senators elected in the so-called "year of the women" (like we'd settle for one year and one woman), Boxer Moseley-Braun, and Murray, are all at risk and are targeted by ultra-conservatives. We want more women in office because as a generalization women are more likely to support women's rights issues, anti-discrimination laws, public health and education, and reproductive freedom. In other words, we're playing the odds to advance our issues. But in a given race, I'd choose a man over a woman if he is a better feminist. So while the balance of women to men is important it does make a difference if Patty Murray is defeated by Linda Smith, for example, and I'd rather see Governor Glendening over Ellen Sauerbrey. To answer your question (finally, you say to yourself), I think women will stay even or perhaps slide back a little so congress will remain nearly 90% male. And still Dick Armey will think it's too femcentric as he said after the '92 elections.
Bob Levey: You haven't said much about Bill Clinton putting his top female cabinet members "out front" for seven months to deny any affair with Lewinsky. What's your view of this?
Patricia Ireland: I think Clinton has betrayed the women who have supported him--cabinet members and voters alike. We need better options for presidents in the future. That's why I want many more feminist women in the senate and in the governor's mansions, which have served as a springboard to the White House. Clinton was the best option in '92 and '96, but I never thought he was the answer to our dreams of equality for women. That doesn't negate his strong record on appointing good women (and men) to the cabinet and the courts.
Minneapolis, MN: Don't you think it's a bit outrageous that your group supports a president who uses women as sexual objects. How do you justify this?
Patricia Ireland: We don't support the President. We support women's rights and the empowerment of women. So, why would we want to join forces with people who want to bring down Clinton and the democrats as well as our movement and the laws we've won?
Palm Harbor: Why not just admit that your support for the President is just because he is a Democrat? If a Republican had exhibited the very same behavior or even less borish behavior you would hound him from office. And if you say no to this then name a single Republican that you have supported?
Patricia Ireland: Women weren't born Democrat, we weren't born Republican, but we weren't born yesterday.
Washington, DC: I have a strong background in working with different areas of the women's movement. One of the impressions I have always gotten from NOW is the lack of inclusion of women of color and the disorganization of your group on the state and local levels. I attended your recent Women of Color conference and was sorely disappointed. I know that this impression is shared widely throughout communities of color. Does NOW have any direct plans of addressing this issue?
Patricia Ireland: I'm sorry you were disappointed by the Women of Color and Allies Summit. It was conceived, planned, and implemented overwhelmingly by women of color on NOW's national board, national committee against racism, and executive committee. I felt we achieved a new level of honesty with each other, moving beyond a wary, polite exchange. But clearly, racism remains a serious problem and our efforts must continue. Among our 500 chapters and state organizations, some are stronger than others, for sure, and some are a lot further along than others in working across race, class, and ethnic lines. Working against racism is a priority based on principle and also pragmatism. If we don't learn to stand together, we will never be strong enough to succeed. We continue to build stronger ties with the civil rights and poverty rights movements and continue with a strong affirmative action program internally to broaden our agenda and make our organization more effective in addressing the concerns of all women.
Raliegh NC: Through my daughter, 17, I'm thrilled to see the progress we started back in the 60's. She EXPECTS equality. Doesn't have to demand it. And while I applaud the efforts on behalf of the women of the rest of the world, what do you see as the most important thing we can do on a daily basis here at home?
Patricia Ireland: I'm delighted with how many light-years ahead of where I was at their age these young women and men are. We had 11-year-old delegates from South Carolina and Pennsylvania at our Vision Summit in Rochester this year. There is hope for the future. Perhaps the most important thing we can do is to realize how much power we have in shaping our communities and our country by our everyday actions. For some women it is making sure their daughter's school gives the same practice time, equipment, and coaching to the girls' soccer team as to the boys'. For some it is keeping a straight face when someone tells a story they think is a joke, but it's racist or makes fun of people with disabilities. All of us have voices and most of us have votes. We need to use them and not be intimidated by people who call every woman who speaks out on her own behalf or on behalf of other women a lesbian, a communist, a hag, an ugly hairy, humorless man-hater. And not lady-like besides.
Bob Levey: Hillary Rodham Clinton is the big question mark in the Clinton-Lewinsky business. Do you think she will continue to "stand by her man?" Do you think American women want her to?
Patricia Ireland: There's a 15 point gender gap of women supporting Hillary. She has gained respect by the dignity with which she's conducted herself under such great pressure. Some women have told me they hope she's kicked his backside behind closed doors and they hope they don't have to hear any more about it. Many women feel strongly that marriages and families are worth fighting for and know that happy ever after is for fairy tales. Many have had to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of their own marriages and they continue to weigh the strenghts and weaknesses of the President and, on balance, they support him as president and her personally. I want a strong feminist in the White House someday, who gets there by election. Right now, we have one who got there by marriage. Feminism empowers women to make their own decisions and that includes Hillary. So it doesn't matter what I think of their relationship.
That's it for today. Our thanks to NOW president Patricia Ireland. Be sure to join us next Tuesday when our guest will be Maryland's Democratic Governor and candidate for re-election, Parris Glendening.