Category Archives: women

The XX factor in Obama’s transition

On my way to New York today, where I plan on seeing Jeffrey Renard Allen give a reading in my old ‘hood and cover tomorrow’s hearing for the Iraq vets that make up the Hempstead 15. But to wrap up the election thread for this week, here’s the news blog I wrote for WVFC, since I really do think that the presence of women in Obama’s team has the capacity to be quietly transformational. (For video for all of the women below, you have to click on my original post.)

It’s been eight years since we has such a new slate of advisors to look at, and ponder what their role will be in the changes afoot. The women below come from a range of backgrounds, from corporate boardrooms (several on the Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women) to California classrooms and governor’s mansions.) It would be foolish to make generalizations about a government with so many representatives of The New Menopause in key positions.

But we can dream — that our concerns will certainly not be left behind, and that midlife’s particular mix of idealism, sense of humor, deep worry, and renewed energy can both add power to the new policies being developed and ensure that they’re grounded by real-world, physical realities.

More details later, but here’s an initial honor roll, with as much video as felt appropriate:

At the helm: One of the transition team’s three co-chairs is Chicago attorney Valerie Jarrett, 51, CEO of The Habitat Company (seen above(.  A Newsweek profile in May noted: “Jarrett got her start working for Harold Washington, the city’s first black mayor. Her grandfather ran the Chicago Housing Authority in the 1940s. Obama has long turned to her for advice. When he wanted to run for the U.S. Senate, he first had to convince Michelle and Jarrett that it was a good idea. He’s been seeking her counsel ever since.”

Show him the money:  Speaking of the governor’s mansion, Michigan’s Jennifer Granholm, 49, (above with First Lady Michelle Obama) is a core member of  the newly-announced team of economic advisers. Granholm joins not just Warren Buffet but
Laura D’Andrea Tyson, dean of the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley and former chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors;  Anne Mulcahy, 57, Chairman and CEO, Xerox;
and Hyatt exec Penny Pritzker. 49.

    In the boardroom:

    Granholm, who was mentioned as a dark-horse vice-presidential candidate, is also on the transition team’s Advisory Board, which also includes Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, 51,  who was profiled by Newsmix in July as a veep prospect; Susan Rice (above), 43, Brookings Institution fellow and former assistant secretary of state for African Affairs; and former EPA chair Carol Browner (below), the longest-serving administrator in the
    history of the agency, staying through both terms of the Clinton

    The long arms of the law: Women helping power the transition’s legal team include  general counsel (and Harvard Law school classmate) Cassandra Butts, former senior vice president for domestic policy at the Center for American
    Progress and senior adviser to Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.);  Lisa Brown, the Executive Director of the American Constitution Society, and Melody Barnes, 43, of the Center for American Progress as co-directors of agency review; and Clinton adviser Christine A. Varney, 52, as counsel for personnel.

    That different voice: Get used to another face next to the familiar Obama spokespersons Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod:  Michelle Obama’s chief of staff, 40-year-old Stephanie Cutter (seen above dueling with Chris Matthews during the campaign). During the Clinton Administration, Cutter worked as deputy communications director in both the White House and U.S. EPA.

    We at WVFC now know we have to get busy deciding who on this list we should try to interview and profile. We’d welcome readers’ comments — both about who we should talk to, and what questions you want to ask them when we do!

    — Chris L.

    A couple mornings after

    Given what I’ve posted here, you were likely expecting me to be exultant tonight. And I remain heartened, thrilled cautiously hopeful, and glad for the national results. In case you were curious about my little corner of the swing state, Ward 58 went with the wave, 69 percent for Obama — though not precinct 26, where I voted, with its Russian immigrants and many retired cops and firefighters who went for their fellow veteran.

    But I also suddenly want a T-shirt that says “We Are All Harvey Milk.”  Dan Savage, on Salon yesterday, encapsulated what Rachel and I felt:

    Tuesday night I was overjoyed.

    But Wednesday morning, reading the papers and listening to the news on the radio, my boyfriend and I — we’re boyfriends in the USA, husbands in Canada — sat at our kitchen table and had the exact same discussion we had the morning after the 2004 election: When the hell are we moving to Canada?

    The anti-gay politicking that goes on in this country is a bit like a dog whistle: Straight people can’t hear it, but it drives gay people absolutely around the bend. The importance of Obama’s victory can’t be overstated; I’m as moved as anyone else. But the passage of anti-gay marriage amendments in Arizona, Florida and, most heartbreakingly of all, California (and with overwhelming support from African-American voters), along with the passage of an anti-gay adoption amendment in Arkansas, left us both feeling shell-shocked, betrayed and angry.

    We’ll see what happens. Personally, I’m in favor of abolishing civil marriage entirely: everyone gets a legal civil union, and leave the multiple definitions of  marriage to the multiple churches.

    bayard1But it all feels like a dream deferred, as Bayard noticed 20 years ago. That video above is of the new President dancing with a woman whose wedding, seen below, may have just been invalidated. Here’s to dancing with the future, but only if all of us get to do it.

    Debate liveblog tonight, from my other life

    Tonight: Live Blog of Final Debate, WVFC Style

    It’s 20 or so days until Election Day. Tonight, at Hofstra University, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain face off one last time.  And this time, WVFC plans to do more than we’ve done before. Rather than analyze media coverage or report after the fact , often sadly when the debates don’t address our concerns, Women’s Voices for Change is watching this last one closely.

    Tonight, if you’re not justly distracted by the baseball playoffs, make this page one of your markers through the evening. Dr. Patricia Yarberry, Elizabeth Hemmerdinger, and some other of my board  members will be chiming in through the night. We’ll also point to the savvy observations of our peers in the blogosphere.

    Both candidates have a lot to answer for. We’ll be watching the questioners just as closely.

    we are all elizabeth edwards

    Elizabeth_edwards_nhGood for Hofstra University for telling the Associated Press yesterday that they still expect Elizabeth Edwards to speak there next month, as a start to the school’s fall lecture series. Even if she does have to bring the husband who famously admitted last week on Nightline that after her cancer went into remission, he got involved with a New Age blonde who’d already told Newsweek that Edwards was an “old soul” who could change the world, “If he could only tap into his heart more, and use his head less.”

    Thanks to the National Enquirer, we are all painfully aware that Edwards’ heart was not the only part of his anatomy that interested Hunter, who went on to work for the campaign making “webisodes” and also became involved with Edwards fundraiser Andrew Young. And for at least this midlife woman, when the Enquirer broke that story last year, it also broke our hearts.

    Not because of John, whose politics you can choose to find appealing or not. But because of Elizabeth, the unflinching cancer survivor who had just told the world that her cancer’s recurrence should not prevent her husband’s presidential campaign from going forward. As Sarah Hepola said last week on, in a discussion among Broadsheet contributors worth reading in full:

    I believed deeply in the Elizabeth-John love story, even as I distrusted Edwards as a politician (shifty trial lawyer that he seemed to be). When the Enquirer story broke, I shot back at others’ knee-jerk judgments, choosing to believe that a couple staring down a bleak future, wrestling with a grim prognosis (a couple who knows the agony of losing a son, no less), might make an unconventional sexual arrangement. And yet, what strikes me about today’s revelation is how conventional it seems to be: just another hotel bump-and-grind, another thirsty ego desperate to be slaked.

    The first question, for many of us, upon hearing about Edwards’ infidelity was: does Elizabeth know? And if so, why is it anyone’s business but theirs? The first question was answered by Elizabeth herself, the day of the Nightline interview:

    John made a terrible mistake in 2006.  The fact that it is a mistake that many others have made before him did not make it any easier for me to hear when he told me what he had done. But he did tell me. And we began a long and painful process in 2006, a process oddly made somewhat easier with my diagnosis in March of 2007.  This was our private matter, and I frankly wanted it to be private because as painful as it was I did not want to have to play it out on a public stage as well.

    Yesterday, we learned from her family what most of us guessed last year: that she made exactly the sort of agonized choice to save her marriage that many of us have done, in her case exacerbated by her cancer.

    “She couldn’t say, ‘Well, maybe we’ll work through this for years, or maybe we should separate for two years,'” said Hargrave McElroy, a friend, told the magazine for its Aug. 25 issue. “(The cancer) forced her to choose whether to move forward.”….

    Edwards has said he both ended the affair and told Elizabeth about his infidelity in 2006. He kicked off his second bid for the White House in New Orleans a few days after Christmas, at an event that Hunter attended and Elizabeth did not.

    But Elizabeth was out campaigning soon thereafter, and continued to do so after the couple disclosed in March that her breast cancer has spread to her bone and could not be cured. In July of that year, the Edwards renewed their vows to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in the presence of a small group of friends and family, including their three children.

    “There was anguish — excruciating anguish — for her in dealing with this,” McElroy said. “She was angry and furious and everything, but at one point she had to make a choice: Do I kick him out, or do we have a 30-year marriage that can be rebuilt.”

    Perhaps too much has been said about the levels of self-delusion required to think that such privacy was possible, 24 years after Gary Hart’s campaign was torpedoed by photos of his fling with Donna Rice. I’ll leave such issues to the likes of male pundits, from the disappointed Walter Shapiro on the left to the never-disappointing Rush Limbaugh to the right. And not having had the privilege of interviewing her, like many of the journos talking about it last week on, I can only ponder why, with that first question answered, it still felt like the answer to the second was still that I needed to care.

    It’s because many of us, from across the political spectrum, applauded as the couple renewed their wedding vows in their backyard. Melinda Henneburger, who profiled the couple in a 2005 Slate piece, wailed the week the story broke in “Just a Couple More Questions for John Edwards“:

    Was all this going on when you renewed your wedding vows last summer at that intimate backyard ceremony where you wrote your own vows and there was not a dry eye in the house? (The one your wife of 30 years lost weight for, because she wanted to look pretty for you and fit into her wedding dress?)

    Full disclosure: I’m not a cancer survivor, but I’ve been dancing with a chronic illness (multiple sclerosis) since 1984, and think it played a subtle role in the collapse of my much-shorter marriage a few years later. More recently, when asked how my partner of 11 years and I have stayed together, I’ve told friends that “The first thing you do at the sign of trouble is to STOP looking for the exit door.” All of which may influence how I respond to the question about the wedding,given the rest of what we now know.  I can only admire both parties trying to salvage something they’d organized their lives around. And even her quixotic, it seems, decision to continue the campaign may have felt like something close to her core: the natural next step in a series of decisions that began when the far-more-political Elizabeth agreed with  the”pretty boy” she married in 1986 that he, not she, was best suited to pursue elected office.

    Having spent hundreds of words talking about it, I’m no longer in a position to say that we shouldn’t be thinking about Edwards’ involvement with Rielle Hunter (which he said, incorrectly, was  a departure from “that North Carolina boy from the mill town.” Begging your pardon, sir, but who else would have stayed a minute with a crystal-wielding girl he meets in a bar, whose thinking smacks of Scientology?) And I won’t even insist that equal time be given to Carol McCain, whose husband John tossed her after she no longer looked like a swimsuit model after her car accident. Because he could.

    Still, I think the title works. We all could be Elizabeth: we all could see something we’ve fought for splintered in a second, because of others’ stupidity or our own. As midlife women, we curse what our bodies can no longer do or be or look like, even as we celebrate the power of this new stage. And we can work as hard as we can to defend Elizabeth’s, and Carol’s, right to privacy as the political scene begins rightly to focus on issues bigger than all of us.

    (Cross-posted at Women’s Voices for Change. Though without the Scientology reference, likely for legal reasons…)

    diving into the wreck

    A post of re-entry: the task of moving while doing the newsblog for Women’s Voices and finishing up my responsibilities at Chelsea Now was pretty punishing, and pushed me almost entirely away from the book. Now I sit on the back porch of my in-laws’ house in northeast Philadelphia, birds chatting away about the unexpected cool weather, the occasional visiting bunny rabbit not yet making his confused appearance. (Think of it as Bread Loaf w/o the fellow writers, or the alcohol.)

    And after some necessary re-immersion, I may be finally ready to commence my necessary 20-week writing marathon, treating this place as an enforced writers’ colony. At least mostly. (I do still want to see if I can find someone to hire me to write about   IVAW at one of the political conventions at the end of this month.)

    When I thought of writing this post, I knew the title, and found the Adrienne Rich poem a bigger gift than I’d thought. Though her quarry was patriarchy, the psychological/creative task feels the same:

    First having read the book of myths,
    and loaded the camera,
    and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
    I put on
    the body-armor of black rubber
    the absurd flippers
    the grave and awkward mask.
    I am having to do this
    not like Cousteau with his
    assiduous team
    aboard the sun-flooded schooner
    but here alone….

    I came to explore the wreck.
    The words are purposes.
    The words are maps.
    I came to see the damage that was done
    and the treasures that prevail.
    I stroke the beam of my lamp
    slowly along the flank
    of something more permanent
    than fish or weed

    the thing I came for:
    the wreck and not the story of the wreck
    the thing itself and not the myth
    the drowned face always staring
    toward the sun
    the evidence of damage
    worn by salt and away into this threadbare beauty
    the ribs of the disaster
    curving their assertion
    among the tentative haunters.

    “The wreck and not the story of the wreck.” Multiple meanings in my project, since so many of my characters are also storytellers. Not to get distracted even by Ambrose Bierce’s powerful description of Shiloh, or Fred Marchant’s incredible Vietnam poems — though all are useful, even essential in undercutting the predominant story of gung-ho, mindless soldiering.

    My task here is that weird combination of journalist, historian (not one but try, like my role model Adam Hochschild, to play one on TV) and novelist. To look closely at my characters, at where their lives fit into the shape of their wars (the ones they fought in, the ones they dissented about, not always the same). And now, the trickiest part: to be Dante’s Virgil. To tell their stories, and the overall story, smoothly enough so that it goes down now like hard medicine but like whipped cream. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

    We circle silently
    about the wreck
    we dive into the hold.

    we are the half-destroyed instruments
    that once held to a course
    the water-eaten log
    the fouled compass

    We are, I am, you are
    by cowardice or courage
    the one who find our way
    back to this scene
    carrying a knife, a camera
    a book of myths
    in which
    our names do not appear.

    paralyzed by constant motion

    Those who know me best know one of the reasons I’ve not posted in a week: this new gig I’ve taken on, on top of everything else, is making my already-overcrowded brain call out: APPROACHING MAXIMUM CAPACITY — even as it brings me back to my starting point as a NY journalist.

    Now, before moving ahead to the travails of New York City or diving into centuries of military dissent, I’m pulling together a handful of headlines that mean something to my, ahem, demographic.

    You’ll notice a healthy percentage of celebrity women over 40, from Debra Winger to Katie Couric. (I did have to restrain myself from throwing in a discussion of the Christie Brinkley divorce mess, though it may represent most heterosexual women’s nightmare: even if you’re a supermodel, turn 40 and the cad will find a teenager to mess around with. Though the more snarky among us may wonder at her daughter with Billy Joel daughter getting involved, since Joel’s “I Love You Just the Way You Are” was written shortly before he left the “you” in question for the then-younger Brinkley).

    It all feels a little back-to-the-future at times, given my past with Women’s Enews. But I’m guessing there’s already more mention of the war in Iraq in the newsblog than there might be with someone else writing it; I was also thrilled to be able to embed video of both Dr. Who and Cyndi Lauper (as well as more sober video on Darfur).  Stop by if you like (the first link) and leave a comment.

    Meanwhile, I’m supposed to be packing up my NY life, still working the Chelsea gig, and actually finishing a freelance piece about the woes of that high school I’ve been covering for the latter. Thank god for the recent news about caffeine and MS, since I’m gonna need all available crutches for  while. (That news only confirmed something I’d felt for years; I suspect anyone who saw me in the 1990s jumping around San Francisco’s Barefoot Boogie on newly popped Vivarin wouldn’t have been surprised either.)And if by the end of the month I end up dissolved into one of the boxes I’m  packing, please add water when the box arrives in Philly.

    my cousin, my doppelganger

    Warning: this one’s personal, mostly.

    It’s as if time had collapsed.

    Thirty years ago, I was finishing up 10th grade at this strange school, where  my cousin and I were both on staff at its literary magazine, Argus. We also lived in the same two-family house in the Bronx, and I was the classic younger cousin, anxious — not so much to compete, but to prove that I was as smart, good, et cetera as she was. I even graduated a year earlier than I had to, in a fruitless effort to catch up.

    Fast-forward 15 years, and we couldn’t be more different. I was working at CCCO, and stayed with her the week the short-lived but influential STAAMP was launched in 1997; I was entirely focused on GI rights (and still under the delusion that eventually I’d be “discovered” for my long klugey novels). She was a tenured professor of linguistics, a leader in her sub-field, on leave for  year to work at the Washington Zoo. A few years later, when I was teaching composition as a crazy adjunct at CUNY, I thought – she was the one who’d done it right.

    Fast-forward again, and look at her website (the first link). Like me, she’s thrown it all over (including the zoo) “to concentrate on writing.” Like me, she works off her own specialization (animals for her, soldiers for me) while moving in the wilds of local reporting, as well as those fiction dreams.

    Did those brothers, Americo and Benito, actually birth the same person in alternate universes? Actually, we’re quite different in many ways, though I bet we still speak at the same pace.

    What it does demonstrate: this wordsmithing bug is an even stranger illness than I thought. It can twist your life back to where it began, almost.

    shapeshifting that essential self – now on video!

    I’ve mentioned my Bay Area buddy and sensei Ericka before: her terrific writing, her fusion of narrative style with solid and quite personal fact, her matter-of-fact exemplification of the Emma Goldman line about dancing the revolution.

    So I’m overdue in sending my few blogreaders her way at the Red Room, where she’s hoping to win a contest by being the best-viewed writer on the block. But now, i can send you to her funny and enticing  video.

    I’m  bemused that she kept it so writerly — especially given the title of one of her novels, “Showing Pink.” But you won’t regret seeing it, I promise. Time spent with Ms. Lutz is always that odd combination of bracing and deeply peaceful, no matter the topic.

    “the intervention that makes change possible is love”

    About two weeks ago, I offered a few thoughts on the latest work by Jeanette Winterson, offering one sideline smart passage while mostly urging you to seek out the book itself. Whether you did or not, I advise you to check out this review + interview in Gay City News. (One of the perks of my current job is that I sit next to GCN’s brilliant, singleminded editor, Paul Schindler.)  Michael Ehhardt’s smart review articulates the themes and more of the story than I did; I do feel gratified that one of the passages he chose to quote is the same one I did, which he calls typical of Winterson’s  “fierce Voltarian satire of future society.”

    Interestingly, though, the author herself sounds less like Voltaire (who was, after all, one of the literary world’s first human rights campaigners) than like a cross between Barack Obama and Harvey Milk:

    Everywhere I look, kids want to feel, want to care, want things to matter, but strength of feeling is frightening. One of the things that art can do is find a channel for strength of feeling at the same time as prompting thought – so the old split of head and heart is relieved.

    This is something I have always followed in my work, and in the repeating worlds and circular mistakes of “The Stone Gods,” the intervention that makes change possible is love. Love of all kinds is crucial, not least because it resolves the head/heart tension too, and when I listen to music or read a poem or go to the theater, I am opening myself up to difference and to change — the possibilities of love. I think the artist is someone who is always falling in love — with life itself, and with the creative playful spirit of human endeavour.

    Which means we get our hearts broken  every five minutes. Thank god the heart is muscle, and can lift far more than seems possible.

    a villanelle for betrayal

    I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to note this piece by the incredible Col. Ann Wright. Its title skittered over military history listservs, but in question form — Is There an Army Cover-Up of Rape and Murder of Women Soldiers? — that made it appear academic, and not the rigorous prosecutorial brief that it is.

    When you talk to military rape survivors, and their families, they are usually more anxious to describe not what their attacker did but what their command did or did not do. With the military mission top priority, commands often stint prosecutions (which require scarce investigative resources and the risk of losing soldiers esteemed by their peers). This was true in peacetime, when I wanted to write a book called “Twice Betrayed,” about the way victim/survivors felt about that fact. To them, the second betrayal cut longer than the first.

    More brilliant journalists than I have kept on that case throughout this war; Wright’s piece is a careful reminder not to look away. To me, to whom so much is painfully familiar, it reads like a villanelle: a poem whose themes resound more and more with each echo.

    I’ve reproduced below some of the villanelle-bits of Wright’s brief that highlight the double betrayal (go to the piece for the supporting facts)

    The Army attempted several explanations, but each was debunked by Mrs. Priest and by the 800 pages of materials provided by the Army itself. The Army now says Tina used her toe to pull the trigger of the weapon that killed her. The Army never investigated Tina’s death as a homicide, but only as a suicide.

    Rape charges against the soldier whose sperm was found on her sleeping bag were dropped a few weeks after her death. He was convicted of failure to obey an order and sentenced to forfeiture of $714 for two months, 30 days restriction to the base and 45 days of extra duty.

    The person identified in the diary as the rapist was charged by the Army with rape after her death. Many who knew her did not believe she shot herself, but there is no evidence of a homicide investigation by the Army.


    The sergeant pleaded guilty to drinking in a war zone, drunken driving and consensual sodomy with an underage, incapacitated junior soldier to whom he had supplied alcohol. A military judge ruled McKinney’s death was an accident and the sergeant was sentenced to 13 months imprisonment, demotion to private, but he would not be discharged from the Army.

    Peterson reportedly objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners and refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage. Members of her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Peterson objected to. The military says all records of those techniques have now been destroyed. … She was also sent to suicide-prevention training. On the night of September 15, 2003, Army investigators concluded she shot and killed herself with her service rifle. Family members challenge the Army’s conclusion.


    Col. Wright is a heroine in my book (literally), who gave up a lifetime career when the Iraq war made contined honorable service untenable. Her editorials should be being published by the Times (or at least the Huffington Post), not relegated to the essential but marginalized Truthout.