Political power was the password for the women’s rights movement at the beginning of 1993. Having closed 1992 pushing Clinton to honor his campaign promise of making his cabinet look like America, feminist leaders remained determined to shatter the political glass ceiling to regain the ground lost during the 1980’s under the Reagan-Bush Administrations and the influence of the Radical Right.
The President lashed out at women’s groups who were pressing him to appoint a historic Cabinet. At a year-end press conference naming Hazel 0’Leary, an African-American woman to Secretary of Energy, Clinton called the women leaders “bean counters” and chastised them for promoting “quotas,” not competence.
The Feminist Majority and Ms. Magazine immediately ordered buttons declaring, “Feminist Bean Counter and Proud of It,” and feminist leaders continued to press for a woman attorney general.
The push for women in the Cabinet paid off. Clinton completed his Cabinet early in 1993 with the naming of veteran state prosecutor from Miami, Janet Reno, as the nation’s first woman Attorney General. With Reno’s confirmation, Clinton’s Cabinet numbered five women for the highest of any presidential cabinet in United States history – Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services; Hazel O’Leary, Secretary of the Department of Energy; Madeleine Albright, Ambassador to the United Nations; Carol Browner, Director of the Environmental Protection Agency; and Janet Reno, Attorney General. These women, together with Laura D’Andrea Tyson, Chair of the National Council of Economic Advisors, clearly represented a political breakthrough at the top for women. Feminists were quick to point out, however, that the President’s inner circle of advisers still remained primarily white and male.
Moreover, the struggle for a woman attorney general revealed that the double standard in appointments for women was still alive and well. The withdrawal of first Zoe Baird and then Kimba Wood as possible nominees for Attorney General signaled that the arrangements women appointees made for domestic workers are considered more crucial than for men appointees. In fact, Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown was permitted to quietly pay back taxes on Social Security for his domestic employees during the height of the controversy over Baird’s late payment of Social Security taxes. Though Kimba Wood had followed the letter of the existing law on the employment of an undocumented immigrant worker, it did not spare her from the same fate of Zoe Baird, who improperly hired an undocumented worker.
The struggle for Cabinet appointments, behind the scenes and in the media, showed the depth and maturity of the feminist movement. Inside the White House, feminist Hillary Rodham Clinton and her colleague, Susan Thomases, also an attorney, were front-and center advisors. Outside the White House, agitating for the appointment of more women were Judith Lichtman and Marcia Greenberg, both attorneys and Executive Directors of the Women’s Legal Defense Fund and the National Women’s Law Center, respectively. The National Women’s Political Caucus Chair, Harriet Woods, released a daily score of Clinton appointments entitled “the mirror.” Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority, pushed with a high-visibility strategy in the media with the assistance of Jeanne Clark, Operating Officer of Anthony, Stanton & Gage, and coordinated a fax campaign to Little Rock from women activists. Patricia Ireland, attorney and President of NOW, Helen Neuborne, attorney and Executive Director of NOW LDEF, Ann Bryant, Executive Director of American Association of University Women, Gwendolyn Baker, Executive Director of the YWCA – all weighed in along with countless other women across the country invoking the ever-present power of the gender gap in voting.
The President’s appointments broke another historical barrier with the naming of the second woman and the first self-described feminist to the United States Supreme Court, Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ginsburg, depicted widely as a moderate, was nevertheless not only the general counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union but also a board member of the National Organization for Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund in the 1970s. In that decade, Ginsburg won five landmark women’s rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and mapped a course for the inclusion of women in the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. During her confirmation hearings, she became the first Supreme Court appointee to clearly state to the Senate Judiciary Committee her position that the right to abortion is essential to women’s equality. She condemned discrimination against homosexuals. She stated she believed that the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote and full political citizenship, coupled with the 14th Amendment, already provided women with the basis for full legal equality under the law. But she said, in light of the long history of discrimination against women, the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution should be ratified in order to send a clarion call to the nation and to the world that women were full equal citizens in every respect.
The feminist euphoria on appointments for women continued with the announcement of Dr. Joycelyn Elders as Surgeon General of the United States. Dr. Elders, an unabashed supporter of abortion rights, sex education, family planning, AIDS prevention, school-based clinics, and preventive health care measures, was the first African-American woman named to the post.
Meanwhile, as Dr. Elders’ confirmation moved forward, feminists and civil rights leaders decried the withdrawal by the President of Lani Guinier’s nomination as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. Guinier, considered by many to be the leading civil rights litigator in the nation, won 41 of 43 cases argued before the Supreme Court for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and was a member of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund board. Her nomination was withdrawn because her writings advocated a new look at the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. Labeled by the right wing as a “quota queen” with views threatening to democracy, she was not even given a chance to defend her ideas and record before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Her withdrawal, under a vicious attack by the radical right wing and lacking strong support from moderate Democrats in the Senate, provided a splash of cold water on feminist euphoria. It showed the power of the use of the word “quota” to stop any affirmative action proposal and the power of negative stereotyping of African-American women (“quota queen” as in “welfare queen”). Ironically, she fell victim to a post-Communist form of McCarthyism, which questioned her loyalty to democracy because she dared to vigorously enforce the Voting Rights Act and suggest new ways of solving the problem of underrepresentation of African-Americans and Latinos.
At the same time as the Ginsburg nomination was moving forward and Lani Guinier was being dropped, the backlash to affirmative action and the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act continued to be manifested in Supreme Court decisions. Early in 1993, the Supreme Court handed down two adverse decisions that sent the feminist and civil rights communities reeling.
In Shaw v. Reno, the Supreme Court ruled that a long, narrow North Carolina political district, designed to sufficiently represent blacks, could very well be considered unconstitutional. The district, created to comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, was challenged by five white North Carolina voters who claimed it amounted to racial gerrymandering. In Shaw, the Court claimed the new district was irregular and served to further segregate the races. Civil rights advocates feared the decision would cost racial minorities seats in Congress. Feminists feared the decision would cost the seats of the newly elected women of color. In 1993, 12 of the 48 women in the House of Representatives, or 25%, were women of color. U.S. Representative Eva Clayton (D-NC), elected president of the 1993 class of the House, was one of the two Blacks elected from North Carolina to seats created by enforcement of the Voting Rights Acts.
In a second case, the Court dramatically undermined Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination in employment. In a 5-to-4 decision in St. Mary’s Honor Center v. Hicks, the Supreme Court increased a worker’s burden to prove employment discrimination. The Court said it was not enough for employees to show that their employer lied in dismissing the employee, but rather that the employee may also have to prove the real reason they were dismissed or denied a job or a promotion. In the past, if an employee could show that an employer’s reasons were simply a pretense, they could win the case. Now, they must not only show that it was a pretense but also demonstrate the intent of the employer.
Meanwhile, the women in Congress, having been sworn in as the largest freshwoman class in Congress, departed from the tradition of being seen but not heard in their first year. The four newly-elected Democratic women of the Senate, led by incumbent Senator Barbara Mikulski, served notice that they would carry the flag of reproductive choice onto the floor of the senate, and that they would no longer permit poor women and federal employees to be denied abortion funding without a fierce fight. The day after this declaration, abortion rights supporters won their first Medicaid-funding vote in 10 years by a narrow l5-l4 in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Senator Carol Moseley-Braun, the first African-American woman to be elected to the Senate, interrupted Senator Orrin Hatch in committee on a point of personal privilege and told him that she could not tolerate the comparison of the Dred Scott decision with Roe v. Wade. In the same week, Senator Braun notified the entire Senate that the Daughters of the Confederacy symbol, which contained the Confederate flag, could not be provided the imprimatur of the United States Senate. In a shocking reversal, the Senate, which had previously indicated it would approve the symbol, actually defeated the proposal overwhelmingly. Senator Joseph Biden, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, said that he had rarely seen one speech on the Senate floor that so dramatically changed the outcome of a vote.
On the House side, the women reinforcements did not succeed in changing the vote on Medicaid funding for abortion. The House defeated that measure by a resounding 255 to 178. If only the women in the House had been able to vote on the Medicaid funding provision, it would have passed overwhelmingly. Seventy-five percent of the women voted for Medicaid funding, but 56% of the men voted against it, for a whopping 41% gender gap. Although the women of the House did not prevail, they were heard- as veteran Congresswoman Cardiss Collins (D-IL) and first-year Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), together with Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY), led the floor fight to provide abortion funding for poor women.
The outlook for abortion rights, however, improved dramatically in 1993 with President Clinton beginning the new year on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade (January 22nd) by announcing the repeal of the Mexico City policy that denied United States foreign aid to countries providing abortion funding to women; announcing a repeal of the Reagan-Bush Gag Rule that prohibited doctors in federally-funded clinics from providing abortion counseling; lifting the ban on fetal tissue research; and encouraging the research and development of RU-486 in this country.
Despite the political victories, the violence at abortion clinics continued. Americans were shocked to hear that Dr. David Gunn was murdered – shot three times in the back at close range – by a fanatic anti-abortion demonstrator outside an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Florida. While Gunn, at the rear of the clinic, was being shot, Rescue America demonstrators led by former Ku Klux Klan member John Burt demonstrated out front.
Throughout the spring of 1993, Operation Rescue trained an “Impact Team” in Central Florida to harass and intimidate abortion providers, health care workers and patients. Neither the State of Florida nor the federal government entered to protect the Florida clinics. The Feminist Majority Clinic Defense Project, in conjunction with the local NOW chapters and the Florida Abortion Council, trained hundreds of volunteer clinic defenders. In May, NOW led a Mother’s Day March for Abortion Rights in Pensacola numbering some 3,000 participants to show the strong support for choice throughout the state.
At mid-year, feminists successfully defended abortion clinics against a “Seven Cities of Refuge” attack by Operation Rescue, which fizzled as pro-choice activists everywhere outnumbered and outmaneuvered Operation Rescue. Shortly after, feminists braced for Pope John Paul II’s visit to Colorado amidst his railing that the ideology of some Catholic feminists led to “forms of nature worship and the celebration of myths and symbols.
“The Catholic Church, under siege by charges of pedophilia against its priests and the attendant lawsuits, continued to grasp at the mantle of moral authority by preaching no abortion, no artificial contraception, and no sterilization. The Pope, looking desperately for an excuse in his first public statement on pedophilia, blamed an atmosphere of promiscuous sex in the United States, even though some charges dated back forty years. The worst case was in Canada – a one billion dollar lawsuit in Quebec against priests and nuns for sexual abuse and torture of children over a twenty-five year period.
The violence and intimidation at the abortion clinics continued: shots rang out from a drive-by shooting into abortion clinic windows and even, in one case, into the home of a physician who performed abortions. The number of butyric acid attacks on clinics increased and the death threats to physicians and health care providers continued to climb.
At the same time, the response of Congress, despite the 1992 election wins, was slow. At mid-year, the Freedom of Access to Clinics Act had only passed out of Senate and House committees. To date, the FBI has classified clinic violence not as domestic terrorism but simply as a “local” problem.
And the fight continued on other issues. The constitutionality of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” compromise on gay men and lesbians in the military was instantly challenged in court.
Feminists pushed the Violence Against Women Act in Congress. On the local and state levels, women initiated sex bias and sexual harassment cases in unprecedented numbers. Gender-balance bills mandating governors to appoint equal numbers of women and men to boards and commissions were introduced in some 16 states in 1993.
The stronger the forward advance by feminism, the more the backlash grew. Rush Limbaugh’s book, The Way Things Ought To Be, was high on the best-seller list throughout much of 1992 and was among the top ten books in 1993.
Conservative forces and neoconservatives attempted to discredit Anita Hill. David Brock’s The Real Anita Hill: The Untold Story also hit the best-seller list in 1993. Brock claimed that his “objective” and “unbiased” research and investigation uncovered evidence that Professor Hill had lied. But the real story revealed Brock had strong conservative credentials as a former fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a former editorial writer for The Washington Times, and a contributor to The American Spectator. But most importantly, both the Bradley Foundation and the Olin Foundation, organizations that promote right-wing causes, helped to bankroll Brock’s book. Perhaps most interesting, the head of the Olin Foundation, William Simon, also served as Finance Chair of the Citizens’ Committee to Confirm Clarence Thomas. So much for an “objective and unbiased” orchestration of the backlash.
Feminists were not to be outdone on the best seller list, however. Women Who Run With The Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes broke into the hard-cover best seller list in 1993, while Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand, Gloria Steinem’s Revolution from Within, and Susan Faludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared War on American Women, remained high on the paperback best-seller list in 1993.
And the victories continued. Anti-clinic-violence bills were passed in several states. The unpaid Family and Medical Leave Act was finally passed into law by Congress and signed by the President.
And the “first woman” phenomena continued. The first woman ever to command a military base took charge of a base her father once commanded. Ground was broken on the first war memorial dedicated to women – the Vietnam Women’s Memorial. The first woman jockey won the Belmont Stakes and was the first woman ever to win any of the Triple Crown races. Florence “Flo-Jo” Griffith Joyner replaced Arnold Schwarzenegger as head of the President’s Commission on Fitness. The first woman baseball-park announcer was hired in California.
And the struggle for political power continued. A woman, Kim Campbell, became Prime Minister of Canada; Hanna Suchocka was serving as Prime Minister of Poland; even more surprisingly, Turkey’s ruling party chose a woman, Tansu Ciller, as its leader, ensuring her designation as the nation’s first woman Prime Minister.
Worldwide, six countries had female prime ministers, three had female presidents and three female governors-general. However, the United Nations Human Development Report for 1993 concluded, “No country treats its women as well as it treats its men, a disappointing result after so many years of debate on gender equality, so many struggles by women and so many changes in national laws.”
“Women are the world’s largest excluded group,” the United Nations Report declared. “Even though they make up half the adult population. . . they make up just over 105 of the world’s parliamentary representatives and consistently less than 4% of Cabinet ministers or other positions of executive authority.”
Two-thirds of the world’s illiterates are women. While the number of women in the workplace has risen dramatically to 42% in industrialized countries and 34% world wide, the jobs they can hold continue to be of lower status and lower pay. And in Russia, the collapse of communism has not improved women’s lives but worsened them: over the past two years, some 70% of the layoffs have been of female workers; Soviet women, who once made about 70% of what men made, now make 40%.
Furthermore, barbaric customs continue to jeopardize the very lives of women: female infanticide in China, genital mutilation in Africa, forced prostitution in Thailand and Vietnam, and wife-burning in India.
On June 15 in Vienna, a coalition of about 950 women’s groups from around the world came together at the U.N. World Conference on Human Development and emerged as the strongest and most effective lobby. Their Global Campaign for Women’s Human Rights won major victories in several ways: in winning unusually strong wording in support of rights for women worldwide and in the call for the end of sexual harassment, exploitation, and gender-based violence. U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher pledged that Washington would press for the appointment of a U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and said the Clinton Administration would seek Senate approval of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
In the United States, the fight goes on: the largest number of women ever filed as candidates for the state legislatures of New Jersey and Virginia, the only states to have races in 1993. Feminists fanned out all over the country to recruit more women than ever before to run for political office in 1994.
The pace of the feminist chronicles intensifies, as does the backlash. The stakes grow higher as women get closer and closer to real power. In every way, nearly every day, the feminist struggles affect the daily lives of American women and men. Even the harshest critics of feminism would say that the feminist journey of the last 40 years has made a difference.
Perhaps the best report card earned by feminists so far is the fact that one public opinion poll after another in the past 20 years indicated that most women in the United States believe the feminist movement had improved their lives.