You may or may not remember that election. It's nearly thirty years ago, but to me, it remains the day before yesterday. Like so many things, the label came primarily from California, which had two US Senate seats up that year – and chose two women, Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. Although a few other states had elected two female senators over time, none had elected women to serve simultaneously, so that was a huge historical milestone. In addition, Illinois elected the first African-American woman to the Senate, and Washington chose Patty Murray. Pundits mocked her as "a mom in tennis shoes" whose average donor gave a lowly $35, but she's still in the Senate today.
All four women were Democrats, and all won at least in part because of the Senate's sexist treatment of Dr. Anita Hill, the Oklahoma law professor who testified against the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. She, not he, was dragged through the mud, and today's "Me, Too" movement against sexual harassment began then. Women across the country were outraged by the all-male committee's public sneering at Dr. Hill, and many of us sent money to women in other states to help them take on these repugnant men.
We slowly are winning that battle. Young men no longer feel free to make catcalls at women, and old men such as movie producer Harvey Weinstein are learning that their "casting couch" mentality is in fact illegal. African-American men, too, see that the rules also apply to them. I loved Bill Cosby since his first comedy routine – about the kid who covered his bedroom floor with jelly to trip up monsters – and I was deeply disappointed that this TV model of fatherhood turned out to have so little respect for womanhood.
The Senate committee that scorned Anita Hill was led by Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, and Democrat Lynn Yeakel was one of the women to whom I and other Tampa feminists sent checks. She lost by a whisker, and Pennsylvania never has elected a woman as US senator. Nor a woman as governor nor very many women to the US House: indeed, our record here in Florida is significantly better than this so-called "liberal" state.
ADAGES AND ADVICE
Failure to elect women to high office also is true of Pennsylvania's neighbors, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, and more -- but we aren't going into the whys of that right now. Instead, I want to talk about Lynn Hardy Yeakel's book, A Will and a Way. Published in 2010, it is a retrospective of her Senate race and her life before and after that.
She grew up in politics as the daughter of a Virginia congressman, but didn't really understood how difficult a political life can be – especially for a woman -- until this campaign. She never ran again, and instead returned to the world of non-profit fundraising and mentoring for women, which is the main topic of this book. Here are a few good lines:
· A reporter asked me, "Are you running like a woman?" I paused, and then replied, "I didn't know I had a choice."
· In the self-help section of any bookstore, it doesn't take long to locate…recommendations for how to live a successful life. They say, "Be yourself." That's probably good advice. You ought to be good at being you. No one is more qualified.
· Most progress for women has depended on a certain number of us being unreasonable.
· Anything, to be perfectly spontaneous, must be carefully rehearsed.
· It is easy to confuse responsibility with power.
· The bumblebee analogy should be required reading. Engineering calculations conclude that the bumblebee cannot possibly fly… Fortunately, the bumblebee does not understand its technical limitations.
Yeakel is like me in having a long and happy marriage, but I nonetheless like her quote from George Bernard Shaw: "When two people are under the influence of the most violent, the most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that…condition until death do them part."
It's an inspiring book. You should read it.
One of the last chapters of Yeakel's book is titled "Dick and Jane, Jack and Jill, Romeo and Juliet. Does First Billing Matter?" I mused on that for a long time, trying to come up with exceptions, but a week later, still haven't. Instead I added:
· Bogart and Becall
· Burns and Allen
· Ike and Tina
· Sonny and Cher
· And even Donnie and Marie
George Burns, to his credit, always gave full credit for his success to his wife, Gracie Allen, but that was much less true of other men. Indeed, Ike Turner and Sonny Bono made a point of mistreating the women who made them famous. I'm not sure about billing for Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, but I suspect his name usually came first. They never married, though, because no state law at the time would allow it. Tracy's wife, an ardent Catholic, refused to agree to a divorce.
The only exception I can think of re billing is Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher – but they did not work together and, more important, she had so many husbands that naming her first made sense. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz are similar. Millions of Americans loved Lucy before they ever heard of Desi – and yet when they created their production company, it was called DesiLu. The habit of putting male names first may be changing, but it's another point worth pondering.
I want to thank to those of you who inquire about Hubby's health. Although he still is on a breathing tube and a feeding tube, he is getting visibly better. Physical therapists are using a ceiling mechanism to lift him out of bed for exercises – a literal pain, but essential. The respiratory therapists come every few hours and steadily decrease the amount of oxygen to force his lungs to work on their own.
These therapists, nurses, pharmacists, and doctors really do work together as a team. It's true that I remain unhappy about many non-medical aspects of the VA – especially employees who park in disabled spaces, confident that the cops are too busy watching TV to bother with issuing tickets – but the medical staff is professional and kind.
They showed me how to (briefly) hear Hubby's voice by covering an aperture. His most likely comment: "I want to go home." He is still somewhat deluded and asked me today if the Vietnam War was over – which, it occurs to me now, may be a more profound question than it appears. We went through a six-month ordeal back then at Valley Forge Army Hospital, and I've since learned a lot more about living one day at a time. But I'll never forgive the warmongers for Vietnam. Or Korea or any war of our time. It's all about money.