In these final days before the presidential election, pollsters have asserted it is the 55 million single women in this country who will carry the victor to the White House. I was party to a coincidental intersection of two American icons -- single women leaders who remind us all of the importance of standing up and saying what's true without apology, hesitation or regret.
The first was last Sunday in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when I heard a keynote by Gloria Steinem. The second was a speech by Gloria Allred last Tuesday in Chicago. They are both historic and contemporary influences on gender, culture, behavior and perception of women with messages as urgent today as in the nascent days of feminism a half century ago. And both of them begged their audiences to understand this election is about women.
At the Journalism & Women Symposium in Albuquerque, journalist and author Mary Kay Blakely introduced Steinem to the ballroom filled with 250 journalists.
"Is there anyone in the room who does not know who Gloria Steinem is?" she asked.
Only one person raised her hand: Steinem herself.
78 years old and sporting a casual glamor that speaks of self-confidence and an earned style, Steinem pronounced, "Equal pay for females for comparable work would alone be the single greatest economic stimulus this country could ever have."
The co-founder of Ms. Magazine, editor, author and humanitarian described herself as a "hopeaholic," and reiterated to the choir: "We are after a society where we are linked and not ranked."
She rallied for the urgency of this election and the need to understand women as an economic issue, not a social issue. A younger female journalist in the audience asked her about passing the torch to the next generation of feminists. Steinem quipped, "I'm using my torch until everyone else has one."
A report by The Center for American Women & Politics at Rutgers, State University of New Jersey, shows that historically, more women than men have voted in presidential elections since 1964. In 2008, when President Obama was elected, more than 70.4 million women voted, compared to 60.7 million men. In all age groups from 18 to 74 years old, more women voted than men. Only in the category of 75 years old and older do more men vote than women.
And of the 157 million women in this country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 66 percent of eligible citizens are registered to vote. In the last Congressional election in 2010, 46.2 percent of eligible women voted.
Apparently, most of the time, women understand that our votes matter. But why not all of us all of the time? Certainly, the two Glorias expect that we do.
The author, founder and president of Women's Equal Rights Legal Defense and Education Fund, and likely the best-known female attorney and defender of discrimination in the world, said, "Feminism is the only movement where participants become more radical as you get older."
The petite powerhouse was dressed in regal purple and spoke of having an illegal abortion in her 20s, and how her near-death experience is something no one should endure. "I never want my daughter, granddaughter or anyone else's daughter to risk their lives with illegal abortion," Allred said. She added that such a lack of choice is "mandatory motherhood," and that translates to the biggest economic impact on a woman's life.
Later in her speech, asking the audience to consider donations to the Personal PAC, Allred quoted Steinem, "Your checkbook does reflect your values."
Before closing with a standing ovation from the crowd, Allred referenced the critical vote this Tuesday for women's choices with a quote from the other Gloria: "As Gloria Steinem says, if we cannot choose what happens from the skin in, we will never be able to choose from the skin out."
Gloria, Gloria. Amen.
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