April 7, 2010

Women Should be Seen and Not Heard


Originally posted at NPR entitled No, We’re Not going to Sit Down and Shut Up by Michele Martin.

Don Imus and Chris Wallace are mad at us — or rather they are mad at my colleague Cokie Roberts, for something she said on Tell Me More last week. We were talking about women in politics at the conclusion of Women’s History Month, and Cokie made the point that women in public life are still spoken about in a demeaning way that men rarely are.

She was responding to a point I raised, about an exchange on Imus’ radio program. Imus asked Fox News host Chris Wallace, who was looking forward to interviewing former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, if he would conduct the interview with Palin while she sat on his lap. Wallace replied, “One can only hope.”

I made the point that Palin is also a Fox contributor and a member of the “Fox family” as it were, but that didn’t spare her from being subjected to this sexist palaver, and Cokie made the point that the lure of the boy’s club often trumps ideology.

It seems that Imus and Wallace did not appreciate our remarks: Imus accused Cokie of being “hysterical,” and Wallace — whose office was next door to mine and down the hall from Cokie’s when we all worked at ABC News together — pretended not to remember who she was.

So why talk about it at all? Because they just made Cokie’s point and mine. Thanks, fellows.

Evidently, women are supposed to — to paraphrase Palin’s words in another context — just sit down and shut up. Isn’t it funny how people who bully people for a living get really annoyed when somebody takes issue with it? You’re not only supposed to let them push you around; you’re supposed to like it.

Well, can I just tell you? The great thing about America today is that Don Imus and Chris Wallace get to have their say, but so do Cokie and I. The worrisome thing is who is not being heard. We keep hearing these days from members of certain groups that they are forced to scream at public officials at hearings — and even spit and name-call — because these officials aren’t listening to them on matters like the deficit and health care reform and immigration.

But who was listening to the millions of people who didn’t have health insurance all these years, and who were one heart attack or car accident or flu season away from bankruptcy? Who was listening as millions of people got risky mortgages they shouldn’t have had instead of safer ones for which they were actually eligible? Who was listening when millions of people came into this country without authorization and then got jobs and houses and furniture, and got married and had kids and enrolled those kids in school, and the entire country looked the other way, until, of course the economy turned sour and the country decided their services were no longer needed and is now disrupting those lives and ties in a brutal way?

It seems odd to me that the fury erupts now that there is an aggressive effort to face these problems head-on. I cannot help but think that what the fury is really about is the loss of entitlement. It used to be that men with a shred of power could say whatever they wanted about women and women had to put up with it, or get a man to duel for them or something. Well now women get to rock the mike too.

It used to be, and often still is, that one set of values or perspectives dominates the way we look at issues and talk about them. You can see where the people who share that particular perspective begin to feel they are entitled to shape the conversation for all time. But things change — new voices rise, different people win elections, or dare we say it, get on the radio. Maybe some people have a problem with that. Tough. Because we’re not going anywhere.

October 3, 2008

NPR fact checks the debate

Read here.

Listen here.