New York, Welcome to Your War on Women

Jeff Klein isn’t the first man to sacrifice women on the altar of self-interest. But he should be the last man to do it in New York State.

The Women’s Equality Act was supposed to be the crowning achievement of last year’s legislative session in Albany. Governor Cuomo vowed to make New York State canstockphoto10637081the “equality capital of the nation” and spent five months promoting it, only to have the legislation quashed at the eleventh hour by members of his own party. The four-person coalition gumming up the works call themselves the Independent Democratic Conference, but they are neither independent–they caucus with the Republicans–nor Democrats–did I mention they caucus with Republicans?

Their about face on abortion rights was enough to convince this women’s rights advocate that the IDC has no interest in gender equality, since I tend to believe equality includes the right to bodily autonomy.

But IDC leader Jeffrey D. Klein insists that his capitulation to the Republicans was a tactical decision, not a renunciation of a woman’s right to determine her reproductive future, going so far as to say he had ceded no ground: “The IDC would like nothing more than to bring this provision to the floor, but the votes just are not there.”

What he didn’t say was that he could have brought the vote to floor regardless–he just couldn’t do it without endangering his power-sharing agreement with the Republican minority.

Now Klein has tipped his hand. Taking a page from Tea Party Republicans, he announced plans to run his own candidates against Democratic incumbents, presumably those who like him, are willing to deny women the right to choose in exchange for political influence.

New York, welcome to your war on women.

Klein isn’t the first man to sacrifice women on the altar of self-interest. But he should be the last man to do it in New York State.  Back when he broke away from the Democratic caucus proper in 2011, he could claim he took issue with leader John Sampson. He could even say, “This isn’t a power grab,” with a straight face, though it was that exactly.

Now the Democratic leader he is threatening is Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and the issue he is leveraging his stature on is a woman’s right to choose. (The one woman in the IDC, Diane Savino, has already seen supporters of the WEA run ads calling her out on the issue in local newspapers.) Though Klein is already playing the victim, it’s going to be a hard sell.

It was one thing for the IDC to caucus with Republicans when the Democrats were led by Sampson. It is quite another to reject the leadership of an African-American woman, particularly when “co-leadership” of the Senate, committee assignments, and an office on the Capitol’s fifth floor, are part of the deal. Whether Klein is truly anti-woman or simply pro-himself, the optics, as they say, of a white man challenging the authority of an African-American woman, are not good. Only one of them will look like a bully.

Klein is having a tough time convincing anyone to challenge Stewart-Cousins. (Perhaps he ought to start by looking further than the next white male.) He will have a tougher time once women’s rights advocates turn their attention back towards passage of the Women’s Equality Act this session.

After a mayoral primary that put women on the defensive–whether they were proclaiming  their reasons for supporting Chris Quinn or explaining why they were not–women will welcome the opportunity to rally behind a common cause. And while I am loathe to suggest that Klein’s fishing expedition rises to the level of “scorn,” he might remember what Shakespeare said of women on the receiving end of it.  If he has any questions about the consequences. he can always ask misters Spitzer, Weiner, and Lopez. They have a lot of time on their hands these days.

Albany insiders don’t expect the legislature to reintroduce the Women’s Equality Act until the new year and doubt it can pass without a major push from Governor Cuomo. Until then, there is plenty of time to let your representatives know how you feel about the Senate’s failure to pass all ten points of the bill last session. The governor can be contacted here.


Why Women Can’t Win (the Woman Question)

Katie Roiphe yawned about it. Susan Sarandon chanted vagina over it. And Maureen Dowd invoked it to school us all on catfight politics.Vote

The Woman Question, #NYC2013 edition.

Why aren’t (more) women voting for Christine Quinn?

Let’s overlook the fact that women voters are characteristically late deciders, making the data on women from polls taken before Labor Day, when most non-political junkies tune in, a boon to reporters looking for a new filly to jazz up this horse race–and not much else.

But the biggest problem with the Woman Question is the question itself. Its underlying presumptions are practically outlying, and predictably, they ignite a full blown feminine bitchfest. Shall I list them?

1) Asking why women aren’t voting for Quinn implies that women should vote for women.

2) Asking why women aren’t voting for Quinn implies that women have voted for women in the past.

3) Asking why women aren’t voting for Quinn implies that New York women would vote for women if not for some uniquely unfortunate Quinnian aspect of this particular woman.

If you wonder how well women take to these presumptions, take a look at the comments following any article on the dust-ups I mention above. Men come out to lecture women about fairness and the true nature of feminism. (No, I’m not making that up.) Women come out to lecture men about how they’d never ever base their vote on gender alone. Then men and women come out to lecture us all on how we’re in a post-racial, post-feminist, post-identity politics moment, and the only thing that matters are the issues, and [insert candidate of choice here] is the only person who’s right on the issues that matter.

What should be clear is that the question prompts a discussion (and defense) of voting habits almost to the exclusion of everything else, including an actual investigation of the candidates running for election. While I would never dissuade any voter from thinking about their process, no amount of thinking will change the fact that for most people, voting is an emotional decision, and many emotions simply are not experienced on a conscious level.

Emotions are tricky. For instance, I’d never presume to say that some of the most rabid Quinn-hating women are protesting too much to prove how much they don’t consider gender when voting. Or that women judge Quinn more harshly because they see themselves in her and want to believe they are less imperfect.

What’s the saying? Emotions aren’t good or bad, they just are. But for argument’s sake, between now and Primary Day, why don’t we all take time to figure out how we feel about our candidates and why? Our next mayor may thank you for it. I know I will.