EqualiSea

The Pulse on Gender Equity in Seattle & Beyond

overton window

Where is RooshV’s opposite?

Gender Equality OverallMartha BurwellComment

I’m sure many of you saw the headlines last week.  “Pro-rape blogger organizes meetings for men across U.S.—Including Seattle, Everett” “Pro-Rape International Meetup Day” “RooshV Plans ‘Rape Should Be Legal’ Meetups”.  If you haven’t heard, this was a day of meetups around the world planned by Roosh Valizadeh, the owner of the misogynistic blog “Return of Kings.

RooshV is second from right.     IMG_0423   by  Joe Loong  is  licensed under   CC BY 2.0.

RooshV is second from right.  IMG_0423 by Joe Loong is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Thankfully, the meetups did not happen, at least officially, because there was an uproar on social media protesting them. 

This uproar was inspiring, and overall, effective.  But it made me think: where is the radical feminism pulling our culture in the opposite direction, to counterbalance the RooshVs of the world? 

First, I’m happy that there are no direct equivalents to RooshV in the feminist world.  His hate-filled doctrines are of a tone and intention that do not belong in any movement. 

But the point stands: when it comes to certain aspects of gender, particularly with women’s sexuality and reproductive health, the scales seem to be tipping in a conservative direction over the past few years.   And those radical voices, as much as we try to discount them, matter a lot

You might be thinking, instead of more radical feminism, wouldn’t it be better to have an increase in more moderates? 

I would love an increase there too, but we can’t do without our radical feminists.

This is because of something called the Overton Window.  This fancy term basically just refers to the range of ideas around a topic that the public will accept.  It changes constantly, being pulled in one direction or another.   

Let me explain. If you’ve seen the movie Selma (which I highly recommend), there’s a scene that portrays this concept well.  Martin Luther King Junior is planning a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, demanding equal voting rights for black Americans.  He has been treading extremely carefully, because he knows this action has the potential to influence national law, and supporters have been facing severe violence.

A few days before the march, Malcolm X shows up.  He wants to give a speech in favor of MLJK’s march.  But Malcolm X does not exactly have a reputation for treading carefully, so when he meets with Coretta Scott King, the decision maker in this case, she initially denies his proposition, because of the risk of damaging their movement. 

But she changes her mind when Malcolm X says one thing.

“I thought that if the white people understood what the alternative was that they would be more inclined to listen to your husband. And so that’s why I came.”

In other words, Malcolm X was offering to use his radical reputation to pull the Overton Window --what the public would accept--in the direction of civil rights.  This would move MLKJ’s more moderate views towards the center of the window, garnering him more public support.  

A more local example of this concept is Dan Savage, Seattle LGBTQ activist, who explained his role in moving the Overton Window for LGBTQ rights in an interview with Seattle Met last year.  As he put it, “When you’re trying to move the center, you need people at the edges screaming and yelling.  You need the unreasonable people for the reasonable people to move in.  This is my life.”

When it comes to gender in the past few years, particularly with women’s reproductive health, the Overton Window has had a lot of weight put on the conservative end. 

Ted Cruz, presidential candidate who opposes abortion in all cases, even incest and rape.        03072015_TedCruz_001_3x2_1080   by  iprimages  is  licensed under   CC BY 2.0.

Ted Cruz, presidential candidate who opposes abortion in all cases, even incest and rape. 03072015_TedCruz_001_3x2_1080 by iprimages is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Women’s health clinics being violently attacked and intimidated.  Politicians making misogynist comments with little consequence to their career. False Planned Parenthood smear campaigns (which have been disproved).  Leading 2016 presidential candidates demanding to ban abortion in all cases, even rape and incest. Our government threatening to defund women’s health services.

These actions are extreme.  What’s worrying is that they seem mainstream.  A sure sign that the Overton Window has been pulled sharply in a conservative direction, and away from gender equity.

Can you think of any actions on the other side that are this extreme? Any individuals or groups that are as radical?  It’s quite difficult to draw many to mind. Though the radical feminist movement had quite a large participation rate in the 1960s and 70s, with explicit goals to achieve personal and political equity, that movement has dwindled. This can be seen as a success in some regard, because the things they were fighting for have become normalized.  But certainly not everything. 

We cannot ignore the fact that we're slipping back.  Rights we thought we had firmly won have become eroded.   We’re starting to think that restricting women’s sexuality and reproductive health is normal.

So yes, we need radical feminism.  We need those people at the edges to drag the center forward.  Though we may not always agree with everything they do, as feminists, we cannot, we must not, dismiss them.  Even if we don’t agree with each other 100% of the time, we still must respect and acknowledge their role in the movement towards gender equity.    

What’s the call to action?  I’m not sure yet.  I was hoping you would help me out with that one. 

In part, it’s a call to the media to cover more radical feminism stories.  In fact, to make women’s voices heard more overall. There is much more action around gender equity than we are aware of, because our media chooses not to cover those stories.  And that, in itself, is an act of misogyny.

In part, it’s a call to our political representatives to actually represent us women—not represent what they think we should be. 

In part, it’s a call to us, feminists, to be radical, and to support radical feminism.  We tend to be hard on ourselves, and each other, in the feminist movement, and I think we can work on that. 

In part, it's a call to everyone, to be politically active and demand change that actually works for us. We tend to think we're powerless when it comes to politics and determining laws.  We're not. 

Let’s get our window back, bitches. 

Why I'm voting for Kshama Sawant

SeattleMartha BurwellComment

The posters are everywhere.

On lamp posts, windows and trees. The volunteers are knocking on doors, the signs are stuck into neighbor’s lawns, flower beds and any spare patch of grass.  Gonzales! O’Brien! Weatbrook! Sawant! Juarez! Maddux! They scream, demanding our attention.

And that can only mean one thing: It’s that time again, it’s election time!

(c) Martha Burwell

(c) Martha Burwell

Throughout the year, to help us get to know our candidates better, I have spoken with several councilmembers and candidates on gender equity in Seattle.  Earlier this summer, I had a chance to talk to Kshama Sawant, who’s running for reelection in District 3 (East Central Seattle).

We began with a status update—how is Seattle doing currently?  She responded with a theme I’ve heard from quite a few leaders: Though we view ourselves as progressive, it’s clear “how much of a challenge Seattle still has to rise to in order to make this a city where women are treated equal to men.”   In other words, “there’s a gap between what we want or expect Seattle to be, and (…) the reality.”  And a part of the solution, she urged, is to have Seattle City Council members “who are genuinely going to be beholden to the needs of women, people of color, and everyone who’s marginalized, rather than (…) big businesses.”

“If you’re elected again,” I asked, “What’s one issue related to gender equality that you would address?”

“I don’t think any one thing by itself will address the social issues that we are discussing,” she started.  “When you have a city like Seattle which is extremely wealthy, and at the same time has this stunning wealth and income inequality (…) it hits women the hardest.  It hits single mom households the hardest. It hits people of color the hardest.  It hits women of color, the trans community, the LGBTQ community the hardest.”

Kshama Sawant , used with permission

Kshama Sawant, used with permission

So, there's no silver bullet, no magic panacea, rather we will have to see dramatic and sweeping changes before Seattle comes anywhere close to achieving true gender equity.

She gave an example, however, of how we have recently made some first tentative steps in this direction: earlier this year Seattle passed a 4 week paid parental leave policy for public city employees.  In Sawant’s words, this is a start, but “In 2015, we’re just implementing basic rights for parents to care for their children (….) and if you talk to anyone raising children, they’ll tell you that four weeks is nowhere near close enough.”

What would she do about this in her second term?

Twelve weeks of paid parental leave for all of Seattle’s workers,” she stated without hesitation. “I don’t care whether you are CEO or a cashier at QFC.  You should have all those basic human rights.  And paid parental leave of a sizable number of days is absolutely a human right.”

And the key term here is “parental leave,” because “we don’t want to have a future vision of society which pushes all the burden of raising a family only on women.  We want to have a cultural reawakening of our society where we view familial responsibilities and the organization of society itself in an equal way.”

Zoom that example out to the big-scale picture.  If we’re talking seriously about gender equity, she argued, then we need “a larger support structure for all the families in Seattle, all the people in Seattle.”  We need a “socializing of the burden that falls on individual families,” she explained. 

A socializing of the burden What does this mean? One thing it means is “full funding of all social services and mental health services (…) a social safety net for those who are on the brink of homelessness, those who are experiencing sudden job loss, those who have other financial setbacks.” 

She continued: “This would also encompass services for women who might be experiencing violence (…) and are looking for a way out of that. (…) Research has shown that women remain in relationships they should be free of because they are concerned about the lack of financial support structure, especially if they have children. So it’s absolutely critical that our society provides that network of support structure.”

I agree, nodding my head. Our safety nets are sorely lacking for women, especially those women who are most vulnerable, women who are the victims of domestic violence or who are pushed to homelessness after losing their already low-paying jobs.   But how would we pay for this, I wondered. How would we pay for all of these services that we need so badly? “Progressive taxation,’ replied Sawant, immediately.  “This is a state that has the most regressive tax system.  That hits women the hardest.  Women-headed households are some of the most poverty stricken, some of the lowest income households, partly as a consequence of the gender pay gap, partly because of other issues.  There’s systemic, intergenerational poverty.”  To combat this, “we need to tax the super-wealthy and big businesses to fund these social services.”  

Used with permission

Used with permission

And it was hard not to see the sense of Sawant’s points; tech-heavy Seattle has a few people who could probably afford to pay a little more to the taxman.

Throughout our conversation, and indeed most times that I’ve seen Sawant speak, she always returned to how all our social movements are, and must be, intrinsically connected.  She put it well when I asked her my final question, “what would you say to a young boy, and a young girl, who wants to become a city leader when they grow up?” 

“I would say the same thing to both, which is that regardless of your gender (…) we have to fight for the rights of all workers, together in solidarity,” you can’t just fight for yourself.  Yet at the same time, “you also have to realize that we have to fight against specific oppressions. For example, said Sawant, “if you’re committed to social justice, whether you’re a man or a woman, you have to be committed to fighting against sexism.”

After my conversation with Sawant, it was hard not to be impressed. She seemed to be saying the right things – and that’s important. Because by putting these issues on the table, in her loud, impossible to ignore manner, she is forcing everyone else to look at them too. In what is known as the overton window, or the “range of ideas that the public will accept,” she pushes the entire conversation towards the things that she cares about, which tend to be toward creating a more fair Seattle.

More importantly than saying the right things, during her time in office she has also seemed to be doing the right things, consistently pursuing policies related to social equity, many of which directly or indirectly improve gender equity.  One recent example is when she decided to annoy several rather high profile Seattleites by skipping a scheduled Rotary Club debate.  Instead, she attended a Columbia City protest against a profiteering landlord, standing up for the tenants, many of whom were low-income women and people of color, who are the most vulnerable to negative effects of rent increases.

Somehow I can’t imagine Pamela Banks doing the same…

And the conclusion?  Care about gender equity: Vote Kshama Sawant.


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For more opinions on Seattle City leaders, see my posts on Catherine Weatbrook, and Mike O'Brien (part 1 and part 2).