Episode 54: I'm Every Woman
Published June 17, 2016.
Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend.
Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere.
Aminatou: I'm Aminatou Sow.
Ann: And I'm Ann Friedman.
Aminatou: We are live today from Washington, D.C. where we are attending the United State of Women Summit.
Ann: Yeah, we spent a long and interesting day at the summit thanks to the generosity of the Harnisch Foundation.
Aminatou: Yeah, thanks to the Harnisch Foundation for getting us here. It was a very packed and exciting day. This week on our agenda we'll discuss the summit that we're attending and we'll highlight some key conversations with some pretty rad people like . . .
Ann: Ugh, well, Valerie Jarrett who is a senior advisor to President Barack Obama and a long-term BFF of the president. She is also chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls. We're also going to talk to Renee Bracey-Sherman who is an advocate for destigmatizing abortion and who was at the summit.
Aminatou: And just like a top babe.
Ann: Also a top babe. And also at the summit in a really earth-shattering piece of clothing. And also Kim Gandy who is the president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence and some other awesome advocates from that organization.
Ann: Okay, so what was the summit all about?
Aminatou: Man, the summit was a lot. [Laughs] You know, I guess at its core it's this summit that was convened by the White House and specifically the office that Valerie Jarrett heads which is the White House Council on Women and Girls. I guess maybe she explains it to us in a way that just made more sense to me as part of the White House legacy building in this space but also a way to convene people from both government and the civil sector into aligning specific policy and communication goals for the kind of work that affects women and girls in all different spheres. Ann, can you describe the . . . I have not been to many things like this. I need you to describe for people who are not there the vibe of the women's summit.
Ann: I have not been to many of these things either. It was in some ways one of those things you see on the Internet with a bunch of big-name capital F feminists gathered in a room to make speeches but it was also, you know, a big convention center of 5,000 mostly women advocates and government folks and, I don't know, private sector people who were and are engaged in all this stuff that the Council on Women and Girls cares about, namely women and girls.
Aminatou: I know, but you know, it's like the crowd was very diverse. That was really amazing to me to see so many women of color just everywhere running the show, and all ages of women also. I thought the intergenerational component of this was really interesting. And also everybody is so fired up. I am not in many rooms where I feel like I am the least energetic person there and this was definitely one of those things.
Ann: Yes, so many joiners, so many active people who are dedicating their lives to the stuff that they care about and not just talking about it but actively doing it and starting organizations.
Aminatou: Yeah, right? And just at like every level, right? It's like everywhere you turn oh, here's a conversation about health. Here's a conversation about economic violence. You know, it's like how many people discussed female genital mutilation today? I was like oh, man, if you care about issues that surround women this was the place to be today. There are all these different pillars like violence against women, health and wellness, economic issues, and it's probably best for you to listen to Valerie Jarrett tell it in her own words.
Valerie: I'm Valerie Jarrett, I am a senior advisor to President Obama, and I chair the White House Council on Women and Girls.
Aminatou: Great. I guess our first question for you is why hold the summit now? And kind of if you want to tell us what part of your legacy in the White House this fulfills.
Valerie: Well we're holding the summit now because we're seven-and-a-half years in. The president created the White House Council on Women and Girls in March of his first year and so we've had time to make progress in six of the key areas that we're focusing on here today and it's everything from education to sexual assault, entrepreneurship and innovation, healthcare. A whole range of issues that are important to women and girls. So we want to put forth the progress that we've made in all of those areas and then we also want to put the spotlight on the work that lies ahead. So we figure we still have over seven months left, and as the president says, really big things happen in that fourth quarter. So it's a really good time to take stock and then charge for the work ahead.
Ann: So there are a lot of women here, a lot of people here.
Valerie: There are a whole lot of women here, over 5,000 folks. We have a party and everybody came. [Laughs]
Ann: Oh my god, and also you just named a whole bunch of really big issues.
Ann: And when you guys thought about what you wanted to happen going forward coming out of this summit is there a concrete thing that you're hoping to happen?
Valerie: Yes, well what I think we're hoping is -- and in many of the areas that I've described -- that people have a chance to take stock of where we are and then have a road map for the work to go. So I'll give you a good example. There's a whole basket of issues we call working family issues whether it's raising the minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, childcare that's affordable, workplace flexibility, paid leave, paid sick leave. These are the kinds of issues that are so important to working families, not just women, and we are beginning to move the needle in those areas.
So for example over 48 cities and counties have raised their minimum wage. That's a big deal since the president called for it. We have 24 cities and towns that have put in place paid sick days. The United States has 43 million people that don't have a single sick day and that affects women disproportionately because they're the ones that stay home with the kids when the kids are sick. We have 21 cities and counties that now have paid leave. Again, another four states that have passed these. So when you look at these metrics you see that we're really moving the needle and we want to continue to build that momentum. And frankly in all those areas we need the federal government and we need Congress to act. But in their failure to act we're moving our efforts to the private sector who's also stepped up in a big way and cities and states around the country. So it's a good example of where you can see where we are, you see the cities and states that haven't taken action, and then we can launch campaigns and figure out where to go from there.
Aminatou: You know, one thing that's been amazing sitting here is there are so many women that are here. There's such a huge international contingent. There are women that have come from all over the country. I guess for those of us that are just civilians attending this, what can we leave with and what are concrete points of action that we can take?
Valerie: that's such a good question. It is, because I want you to feel empowered. Everybody can do something, and so find out what's the issue that you care passionately about and then in your community go back and make a difference. So it can be whatever you find interesting. If you find it's -- you know, help a young woman aspire to go to college. So many of our young people need mentors, so go to your local public school and talk to the senior girls and tell them what you do and tell them how your life evolved.
People can't be what they can't see, and every woman has the ability to go and give back and be a mentor to somebody younger. That's just a simple thing anyone can do. Add your voice to issues like sexual assault on college campuses. So many people who are living in communities where there are colleges and universities, get involved on that campus. Help highlight the devastating impact that sexual assault, when one in five women are sexually assaulted, has on the lives of our young people. So just pick an area that you care about and spread the word. So many women don't know, for example, that under the Affordable Care Act you're now eligible for preventive services without any copay. It can be screening, it can be contraception, it can be counseling for domestic violence. Every woman now has that ability under the Affordable Care Act to have those services. Help get the word out about that. So I want every girl and woman who's tuning in or being here today to leave with a lift in her step, with a sense that I have agency to go and affect change not only in my own life but in the lives of others.
Ann: Do you think that some of these messages are more important for men to be hearing than women in some cases?
Valerie: I think we need both men and women focusing on this and I'm so glad you brought up men because we need their engagement. Still we have the vast majority of businesses that are run by men, and so if we talk about the importance of a working family agenda we need men to appreciate that. So I was doing an interview earlier with the CEO of Johnson and Johnson. Now Johnson and Johnson is a household name. Anyone with a baby knows about Johnson and Johnson. You use their products. But what he said is I have to not just advertise what I'm producing; I have to have policies that indicate I understand how important families are. So he's greatly expanded his paternity and maternity policies. He gets it. And we need to have men who are in positions of power who appreciate that by creating an environment where the 21st century worker can thrive in this 21st century workplace then that's going to be good for everybody.
Aminatou: On our show we talk a lot about female role models and kind of the space that friendship holds and the bonds that a lot of women have. Can you tell us about some inspiring women in your life?
Valerie: Oh my gosh, I have so many. I begin with my mom who always worked when I was young but she always made it clear that I was her first priority and when I would call her when she was working they would always go and find her. And that sense that I was a priority and that she valued me and took care of me and in addition to being a busy, professional woman was a great role model for me to have. And so today my daughter is here with me and I'm trying to do the same for her. So she's now a young lawyer and she took the day off, though I think she's multitasking over there, but I really . . . I feel like it starts at home. So the mentors we have most proximately are the people we love the most and so for me it's been my mom and now my daughter.
I've also had the benefit of having women mentors who took an interest in me when I was practicing law. I was at a law firm and I was able to have four months paid maternity leave because a couple of the partners who were women before me had had children and so they insisted that the policies be changed and I just benefited greatly from having that. And I think of so many women around our country and the world who can't take off a single day after they've had a baby. That's not good for our society. So that's again what we have to get men and women to understand is these are investments in people that will translate into strengthening our economy. So it's not just the nice thing to do; it's a must-do.
Ann: Do we have time for one more?
Valerie: Yeah, sure.
Ann: Okay. So also we say that we're a podcast for long-distance besties everywhere but you work with and for one of your best friends.
Valerie: I do!
Ann: The president.
Valerie: I do.
Ann: So I guess what is it like to work for someone who is also a very close friend?
Valerie: It's such a pleasure. It's such a pleasure because I trust him completely. He knows I'm only looking out for him and I know he looks out for me. And I mean I've known both the president and the first lady for 25 years this summer, I think this month actually. And so before they were married. And so that legacy just gives you a sense of confidence in one another that makes it so rewarding and we share the same values and the same priorities for our country. This White House Council on Women and Girls is something that the president has supported since day one. He was raised by a single mom and I'm a single mom, so he knows what it's like to see someone struggling and trying to make everything balanced. And I had resources, and again there are so many women out there who don't. So the issues that we've been able to work on together, it's just been so rewarding to really not just trust but to love the person that you work with. And I say the culture we have in the White House, the hardest thing about leaving here will be really the people that I've just grown to love over our time together where we've shared highs and lows and that's when you really find out what people are made of. And I will tell you on a personal note to end it in the last seven-and-a-half years there hasn't been a single day when I have not been proud -- so proud -- to work for this president, and I'll miss that a lot too.
Ann: Thank you.
Valerie: About to make myself cry. [Laughs]
Ann: Aw, thank you.
Aminatou: Thank you so much for joining us.
Valerie: You're welcome.
Aminatou: And thank you for all your hard work over the past eight years. It's been a pleasure.
Valerie: Thank you. Thank you. I'll give you a hug. You guys are great. Thank you.
Ann: I mean I do . . . maybe this is not the place for it but I do want to have a conversation about the sort of inherent weirdness of being at a really big empowerment conference that clearly we were able to attend . . .
Aminatou: Yeah, let's talk about it.
Ann: Yeah, we were able to attend because we have the support of a really awesome foundation but obviously not everyone can attend and that's by nature what a lot of these conferences are. Yeah. We talked a lot about how we felt kind of weird about that.
Aminatou: Yeah, you're right. Like it was weird because, one, how many times the word empowerment was bandied around.
Ann: So many times.
Aminatou: And we're woke so to us there is a very distinct difference between feminism and empowerment and this is one of those events that really blurs the lines in many ways. But, you know, we discussed during the day kind of our running meta commentary of this. I feel really uncomfortable being in spaces that are very just cis-hat spaces. For something that is supposed to be very radical, some of it felt very business as usual. You know, I'm like to get vulnerable, that's a hard space for me. I want to make more room in my life for queerness and different kinds of expressions of family and just what it means to be a woman in the world today. And in some ways this conference was really radical in the sense there are women from all over the world and it was like that's cool and a thing that would've been really hard to do years ago. And in other ways it's like yay, straight women patting ourselves on the back again! You know, like straight, privileged women patting ourselves on the back. And that's something I feel like I need to reflect on for a couple days.
Ann: Yeah, and it's also a thing where . . . I mean I struggle with the fact that obviously very powerful people who care about women and girls who have access to lawmakers and all of the power of the White House and some of the biggest corporations can effect great positive change. Like I believe that is true. But I also believe that those are kinds of places where you're not likely to find the voices that have been most traditionally marginalized within feminism and in the word full-stop. And so it's this interesting thing of saying like can -- and what is . . . let's be real, can kind of just an empowerment conference actually do great things and inspire the people who are there and people who maybe aren't there to do great things, or is it just propping up power structures that already exist?
Aminatou: Right. And I think that it's a little bit of both, right? And that's the tension that's there. It's like even for us being confronted with the privilege of being able to attend and the kind of access that we have, that was possible because of this generous gift from the Harnisch Foundation and us being able to take time off of work and also the connections over the years we've built. But not everybody can be in that room. You know, there are 5,000 people there and I was like we need five million people here. And that was something that was, for me at least, it's like I'm going to have to think about this a lot, like the spaces I have access to, and how to in a thoughtful way have more people at the table and represent a diversity of ideas as well.
Ann: Yeah. I think it can be hard to show up and feel really, really enthusiastic about what's possible at a summit like that while at the same time remaining really critical about what perspectives you aren't hearing and what things you are hearing reinforced over and over again. Like that's a really delicate balance.
Aminatou: No, totally. And I think one thing too though that was interesting is so much of the messages we heard today were like "Yes, I know this. I'm not the person who needs to hear this." [Laughs]
Ann: Totally. Totally.
Aminatou: You know? I'm like man, I would love to hear Joe Biden -- I almost called him John Biden, evil twin -- like Joe Biden talk to a room of 5,000 men about why it's not okay to rape women. I'm like that's what I want to hear. I want to hear the president tell a room full of men CEOs that maybe they should pay women the same. I'm like you don't have to yell this stuff at me; I agree with all of this.
Ann: Or I would love to hear -- yes, or I would love to hear the conversation about paid leave and things to enable working families without the assumption being it's like a man and a woman and 2.5 kids and a dog, you know what I mean? Those issues are obviously different in families that do not look like that.
Aminatou: Yeah. Yeah, but it's also a sobering . . . because I think that sometimes in my own cynicism of like "Ugh, why are we not making enough progress in the world?" Our grandmas marched for this. Well, not my grandma.
Ann: My grandmas did not march. Yeah. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Not my grandma but some very progressive lady's grandma.
Ann: Somebody's grandma marched.
Aminatou: And fought for this. But I'm just like ugh, how many years has it been and we haven't passed the ERA? Sometimes I get so bogged down in it. And just like a thing Michelle Obama said when she was speaking to Oprah, and Oprah was like "What do you want people to walk away with here?" And Michelle went straight to the ugh, young people today, no patience, and said the work always continues. And I was like, you know, in a weird way this continuum of issues is never going to go away. And I realize that some of it for me, it's like how young I am and my own impatience. But why haven't we fixed this? And also realizing that yeah, some of these things actually never will be fixed completely and we have to work at them. But I think that in tandem there are also nuanced conversations that we can have and I think that a lot of times that's a frustration that I have.
Aminatou: I'm like this is also 101. There's so many other deeper issues that we need to get to and we can't get to them until these very basic needs are met.
Ann: Right. You're like the 40 years ago goal of passing the ERA, it's still there but then also we have all of these new ideas about who should be centered in our activism.
Ann: And it's like how do you reconcile those when the old work isn't done either?
Aminatou: Yeah. You know, but also to be clear there were some incredibly powerful feminist moments. Like I realized that all of my pride -- American pride jingoistic feels for me -- all rise up when I see Nancy Pelosi. I'm like "That's my congress woman!" [Laughs] I just never feel that about anyone, but every time I see her it's just like my heart swells with pride. I'm like "I live in your district. You're the best."
Ann: Yeah, there was a moment when all these women members of Congress filled the stage and kind of filed in.
Ann: And they look . . . I mean they're a diverse group of women. They look like the kind of people I want representing me in Congress. I also got very emotional at that moment.
Aminatou: Yeah, it's like Nancy rolls deep with all the ladies of Congress.
Aminatou: And you know I'm not kidding. I was like ugh, on one hand I'm so cynical about all this stuff and I'm like full-body chills. There is Donna Edwards and everybody onstage. But also who knew the most famous maybe moment of the day would come from Barack Obama? His speech was incredible and there are so many moments where it's just like heart swells with pride, like maybe the future will be okay. And he did touch on some really deep, nuanced themes like bringing up single ladies. I'm like when else has a president ever quoted Shirley Chisholm and Audre Lorde in the same speech? Never happened before.
Ann: The Audre Lorde quote, I was like stop me dead, I need to hang on to something.
Aminatou: Oh yeah, I'm like definitely next tattoo. [Laughs] I was like ooh, which wrist is it going on? Yeah, you know, where there's just these really incredible, powerful moments and it's so affirming to have a president who says "Yes, this is really messed up and look at all the progress we're making, and also this is going to be better for my daughters." And so I thought that was interesting too. It was like hearing his frame around progress for women, like seeing through the lens of watching his daughters grow up, which is such an incredibly, I'm sure very powerful moment as a parent. And then there are also the places where I stop myself and go well, this generation of women, or previous generations, it's not like we didn't want it as bad as these women that are coming after us; it's that there are real obstacles.
Aminatou: And unless you lift the obstacles it doesn't matter how hard you want it, right? And so that's always the tension. It's like how much is it your personal empowerment and how hard you lean in versus no, there's an actual wage gap? [Laughs]
Ann: I was also struck by how many of the things that Obama listed in his speech were identical to a lot of the things on his to-do list when he was inaugurated eight years ago. It's pretty depressing. I know there's a lot. Yeah, Congress is pretty terrible and he has not had a lot of easy stuff to work with and there have also been a lot of really big victories. But yeah, there are certain things that I'm just like I don't want to spend the rest of my life listening to a president be like "And we need paid family leave!" Like I'm sorry, I'm not that old and I feel like I've just been hearing that forever.
Aminatou: Yeah. Or even just look back at the Affordable Care Act, right? And be like oh my god, this was monumental legislation but also why should we be so thankful that we finally have a human basic right?
Aminatou: That's given to us, right? And it's like that's the thing that is very jarring. Yeah, we have a lot of friends who fought for the ACA and all these things.
Ann: It's not even a right. You've still got to pay for it.
Aminatou: No, exactly, right? But it's like here's one tangible, very progressive victory but look at the price that it came at and how hard that was to do.
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Aminatou: It's like one thing that we definitely noticed is something that's an important value system for us, I guess, is access to contraceptives and safe abortion care.
Ann: Yeah, what word didn't we hear at the summit?
Aminatou: Right. And it's crazy. It's like you can be in a room of very progressive, liberal, rah-rah -- you know, people who are no longer afraid to talk about genital mutilation and rape in very real ways and abortion is still the ugly stepsibling that we cannot bring up.
Ann: Oh yeah. So to that end we noticed a woman at the summit who was wearing a dress printed with the word that none of the people there wanted to say and so we had to talk to her.
Renee: My name is Renee Bracey-Sherman and I'm a reproductive justice activist and I'm a professional abortion haver.
Ann: We both wanted to talk to you because we love the work that you do, however you're very visible today because of what you're wearing. Maybe you can describe for people who are listening what you're wearing?
Renee: Well, I'm wearing a white shift dress with pockets that says "Abortion" and has hearts all over it. So I'm pretty excited about it.
Ann: And not . . .
Renee: Like a step-and-repeat abortion pattern.
Ann: Yeah, like the word abortion all over.
Renee: All over. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Which is really refreshing and rad so, you know, it's like even at a conference like this where there are 5,000 women here and everybody is so rah-rah empowered it's very rare to find somebody who is excited about talking about abortion. And, you know, I think that for us that's why we also want to talk to you today.
Renee: I wake up very excited to talk about abortion every single day and I'm glad that you all like my dress because everybody looks so fly here. It's really awesome.
Ann: So is there a reason that you specifically wanted to wear this address to this event?
Renee: Yeah, so when I looked at the agenda for the summit I was really excited because there were some amazing speakers on it and some great topics that we're talking about. But the one that's most near and dear to my heart and that one in three women will experience before they're 45 is left off of it and that's abortion. There's definitely a section on economics and healthcare and we just heard Cecille Richards speak and talk about reproductive healthcare but there's not an actual panel or anything specifically in the agenda about abortion. And as someone who's had an abortion that's really frustrating to me because I truly believe that my abortion was core to me being able to make the decisions in my future, my economic opportunity, and my ability to just do so much whether it is finish school or to in the future have a family the way I want to, when I want to.
Ann: So I'm curious about whether you . . . I mean obviously this is probably a pretty pro-choice crowd, a pretty pro-abortion rights crowd. Why do you think it was not loud and front and center?
Renee: Well, you know, even in spaces that are super supportive of abortion abortion stigma still exists. Sometimes people are afraid to talk about it. Sometimes folks are just kind of leave it off the agenda because it's that fringe issue and they want to try to reach the masses, but the masses are having abortions. The masses are talking about abortion, especially in a political year. And as much as I love -- I love me some Obama, I really do, but he has kept the Hyde Amendment in place and the Helms Amendment in place every single year. And if he's pro-choice he's not really being pro-choice because he's actually denying access to abortion to a lot of folks both around the world with the Helms Amendment and to folks who are on Medicaid with the Hyde Amendment. And that's not what we should be working towards here. We should be making sure that everyone has access to abortion when they need it.
I think one of the things that we can do is to talk about it openly, and for me as someone who's had an abortion to be extremely visible and in particular to be visible for other women of color, that's something that when I was young I didn't see a lot of folks who'd had abortions much less folks of color. And so I want to talk about it and I want to be open and you just won't stop me from talking about my abortion, especially in a place like this. [Laughs]
Ann: For people who are listening and aren't 100% familiar with the Hyde and Helms Amendments do you have a quick and dirty on what those are?
Renee: Yeah, so they're federal bans that prevent folks from accessing abortion with their insurance because federal dollars are not allowed to be used to pay for abortions. So domestically anyone who's enrolled in Medicaid, on the Indian Health Services, who's incarcerated, in the military service, they have health insurance but they actually cannot use it to cover abortions which is horrible because people need them. The Helms Amendment, its sister, is the international version and so federal funds cannot be used for abortion internationally. And we actually know that abortion is extremely safe when done correctly but one of the reasons a lot of women die is maternal health issues but also unsafe abortions. And so by restricting our funds from being used for safe abortion we're actually contributing to folks dying around the world.
Aminatou: So this morning there was a couple of activists here who were protesting the Helms Amendment specifically. Can you tell us a little bit more about what they're asking for from the federal government?
Renee: Yeah! There are some bad-ass folks outside, Reproaction, Erin Matson and Pamela Merritt lead that organization as well as Amnesty International and an organization called Change. And they were actually calling on the Obama administration that, you know, this is his last year and he could actually do something with the Helms Amendment, change the way that it's interpreted, because I think the administration and many administrations before are using a broad interpretation that is denying abortion access. So they're saying it's on him that he can make a change. And so you can see all their photos at #ItsOnHim. But yeah, the folks at Reproaction are doing some amazing stuff, calling out the abortion stigma within the pro-choice community and within the administration. There are things that they can do now that they're not doing.
And on the Democratic side are both presidential candidates that are still running have vowed to repeal Hyde and Helms when they get into office so hopefully this will be a thing of the past. September is the 40th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment and it's 40 years too long. It's got to go.
Renee: Very shameful.
Aminatou: I guess to go back to abortion stigma specifically which is something I think that you . . . that's kind of how I found out about you and the work that you're doing. But can you tell us more about beyond just attending events like this and talking about it what are really concrete things that we can do to support you and the work that you're doing?
Renee: Yeah, so I had my abortion when I was 19 but for six years after it I did not talk about it at all. I grew up in a family that was very pro-choice. We had the Planned Parenthood donation envelopes around the house so I knew that we supported Planned Parenthood and supported access to abortion and yet I still felt scared to talk about my family. And so one of the things I encourage people to talk about is their values around reproductive autonomy and decision-making. Be open about your values to make sure that everyone has access to abortion and adoption and parenting, especially for young parents. So really talk about it, and not just during . . . you know, when Donald Trump says something asinine, talk about it with the loved ones in your life about why you support someone's reproductive autonomy and why you support access to abortion. I think that's one of the easiest steps that folks can do.
And then I think the second quite easy step is when you're open about it and you talk about this someone will see that you're supportive and want to share their story with you so be there ready to listen and support them and give them an unconditional love and hug.
Ann: Is part of this too -- I mean when you were talking about your family being pro-choice I was thinking about women I know who have had abortions who have a really pro-choice community around them, whether it's friends or family, who say things like "Oh, I feel like I should've known better than to need an abortion," or have some stigma that's actually related to being pro-choice as opposed . . . and I'm wondering if that's something that you've encountered.
Renee: Absolutely. Yeah, I mean I think you kind of feel like oh, I should've known better. I shouldn't have let the condom break or shouldn't have missed those pills. But we're human. We make mistakes. Things happen.
Aminatou: Where are all the many places we can find you on the Internet and how can we support your work?
Renee: Awesome. Yeah, you can find me kind of all over the Internet at reneebraceysherman.com or where I work at the National Network of Abortion Funds which is fundabortionnow.org and of course on Twitter @rbraceysherman and Facebook, Renee Bracey Sherman. You can support my work -- that's great -- but also I think really just be open and talk about abortion and support the people in your life who've had an abortion because that was me many years ago.
Ann: And finally where did you procure this abortion print dress?
Renee: [Laughs] Yes. So Amelia Bonow who started Shout Your Abortion, she had them made and so I got mine at a conference but they're available online. The website is called Print All Over Me or if you just Google abortion dress, you know . . .
Renee: Martha Plimpton or Renee Bracey Sherman or Amelia Bonow, you'll see photos of it. You'll find a link. It'll be there.
Ann: Ugh, Renee, thank you so much.
Renee: Thank you for having me.
Aminatou: Thanks for joining us.
Ann: Okay, so the whole day was way behind schedule because one of the first big keynote speakers was Vice President Joe Biden.
Aminatou: Who did not have a clock. He just went for it. There was no . . . and yeah, it was a very interesting speech, right? Where it's like parts of it I was like yes and the other parts were like cringe, what is happening here? Which are generally my Joe Biden feelings so I felt like that was fair.
Ann: I feel like that's generally the experience of someone, and I don't know what the age threshold is, and I don't know . . . I mean typically it's like a man who is of a certain age who is generally of the right political persuasion or in agreement about certain important issues, but something about the way he talks about them is just a little bit like ugh. That's the feeling that I had about part of that. Although fundamentally everything he is saying I agree with wholeheartedly.
Aminatou: You know, something that we have not discussed on the podcast is the Stanford rape case and the really powerful victim impact statement that the young woman involved in the case wrote that essentially broke the Internet. Reading that destroyed me for a day, but reading Joe Biden's response to her where he called her a warrior and spine of steel and all these things, that was a very powerful moment for me where it's like our vice president cares enough about rape victims that he will take a stand on this. And so that's generally my qualifying statement.
Aminatou: Where yes, heart in the right place, this is great. But there were some really disconcerting moments in his speech, you know, where it's just these very graphic retellings of sexual assaults which to me I was like this is very triggering. I don't know why we're going into details.
Ann: Right, for a room full of women who statistically have probably experienced a lot of violence, right.
Aminatou: Who have experienced a lot of violence. Yeah, and I was like sensitivity definitely could be worked on. That's true. But I think that you're right, I think some of it is a generational approach; some of it also, it's the bluntness that you have to use when you're talking to different kinds of people in the audience. And my preference is to always be there are definitely victims in this audience, so . . .
Ann: Well some of them definitely did speak too.
Ann: Like there were survivors who stood up and introduced him and who were speaking at other points in the day.
Aminatou: Yes, did I say victim instead of survivor? Okay. I'm like survivor, survivor, survivor.
Ann: One thing that I noticed, I was keeping a tally of the number of times he mentioned that he wrote the Violence Against Women Act which is the 1994 legislation that authorized a lot of funding for training for law enforcement and judges in how to handle abuse and assault cases.
Aminatou: I was like shout out omnibus bill. [Laughs]
Ann: Yeah, it was a deep omnibus bill.
Aminatou: The deepest omnibus. [Laughs]
Ann: Anyway, yeah, so all this funding. But then also I think it was pretty culturally important in signaling -- and Biden did talk about this in his speech, but pretty culturally important in signaling that these are not private matters within families or within relationships but big, cultural problems that our institutions need to know how to address. I understand that he sees this as core to his legacy and it's something that if I had Biden's legacy I would be bragging up for sure.
Aminatou: [Laughs] Yeah, I'm like great pivot from Anita Hill.
Ann: I mean never forget.
Aminatou: Yeah, the rebrand, I'm like can't touch that.
Ann: But at the same time it was just hard for me. He's sitting in a room of people who have been advocates on issues of violence against women for, let's be real, many of them decades before Joe Biden really clued into this issue and for him to sort of say over and over "The Violence Against Women Act that I wrote . . ."
Aminatou: Yeah, we're all channeling our Mitt Romney "You didn't write that."
Ann: For sure! And so which is sort of . . . it's not untrue. But anyway, we sought out a woman who was involved in organizing around these issues and involved in some of the big feminist groups that were involved in writing the Violence Against Women Act or providing the information that led to it being written for a little fact check.
Kim: I'm Kim Gandy. I'm president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
Ann: We sat in the audience today and listened to Vice President Biden's introductory speech in which he mentioned -- I counted five times -- "When I wrote the Violence Against Women Act." And I know he was heavily involved but I also have a suspicion that there were a lot of other people heavily involved and I'm wondering if you might tell us a little bit more about that process and how the legislation came about.
Kim: Sure. Well, he was certainly the . . . he was the senate sponsor and he was the driving force behind the Violence Against Women Act. It started out initially I would say in the late '80s or early '90s with then-Senator Biden talking about sexual assault and the idea kind of grew and grew and domestic violence was then added into it and it became a more broad-based Violence Against Women Act. And of course there were lots of fingers in it because then everybody started to say "Senator Biden, Senator Biden, is this in there? Is that in there? Well what about this? Let's put this in there." And so there were lots of organizations including the Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Feminist Majority, National Organization for Women, lots of groups that were involved in different pieces of the Violence Against Women Act which you might recall was a very, very large omnibus bill. It was many, many, many pages and one title of it was eventually stripped out by the US Supreme Court. It was the Civil Rights Remedy which many of us worked on and advocated for and was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court but the rest of the Violence Against Women Act stood. So there's no question that Joe Biden is the father of the Violence Against Women Act but like every piece of legislation I've ever known of there are always lots of cooks.
Ann: Ugh, thank you. Do you have any follow-up questions about it?
Aminatou: I have a question that's completely different. I notice that you're giving out the technology safety tips, and yeah, I think that technology has taken on this different sphere especially when you think about the violence against women and it's not something that's talked enough about in a practical way. So two things: 1) where can people find these safety tips online, and 2) can you talk to us about some of the work that's being done in that arena to make life a little easier for women around the web?
Kim: Your first question about where you can find safety tips for being online, particularly for victims of domestic violence, would be our blog which is techsafety.org. And it has pretty much everything you ever wanted to know about things like GPS tracking and keystroke logging and revenge porn and all of the different ways that stalkers or abusers can track and locate and injure online the people that they purport to love.
And so one of the things that is a mantra for us, if you go back a few years, advocates said "Get offline if you want to be safe, if he's stalking you, if you're being abused. Get offline. Close your Facebook account. You can't do any of these things because he'll find you." And that's exactly the wrong thing in my opinion to say to a victim of abuse that you have to be cut off from your source of strength and support and you have to be cut off from your family and your friends, especially if you flee to another state and that's a primary way of staying in touch with your circle.
So instead we talk about ways that abusers misuse technology but that you can use technology to overcome that. And so a lot of our focus is in training advocates who work for local domestic violence programs and state coalitions so that they can work with survivors on how to use technology safely.
Ann: Thank you so much.
Kim: Sure. I was looking around to see if anybody from our safety net team was here. Ah, and two of them have walked up.
Rachel: I'm Rachel Gibson and I'm with the safety net team.
Kristalyn: And I'm Kristalyn Berry and I'm with the safety net team.
Ann: So essentially if you're saying we don't expect you to not be online at all, right? Like your life happens on the Internet and your world is connected through social media. But at the same time those spaces can be dangerous if you're someone who is a survivor of abuse. So what do you tell people about continuing to be on Facebook or on social media but also being a little bit more self-protective? What are the things to be aware of? Do you have a checklist or something?
Rachel: I don't really know if there's a checklist but I think really people have to understand that unfortunately in this type of crime people have to do the work themselves. So they have to collect their own evidence. They have to secure their privacy. They have to do their security tips. Why are we not saying don't harass online? Don't abuse online. Don't do these things. Unfortunately that's not the case. But we tell people always to trust your instincts. If it doesn't feel safe, it's not safe. You're the expert in your situation so know it. And really, you know, know your security and your privacy settings. Do you really know all 25,000 of your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram friends? So be mindful of your friends. I always tell people to think before you post or you post about someone else. Get their permission.
I have tons of friends that have babies right now and I will ask them "Is it okay for me to post a photo of your child?" Because we don't really know if people want their digital information out there. We don't know what kind of privacy concerns people have. So if you are a friend of someone ask before you post.
Kristalyn: All of that and then of course changing your password, making sure that's up-to-date. If you think that's compromised, like she said, go into your security. Go into your privacy. Contact us. We will help you. Anything that you think will be helpful for your situation, do it.
Ann: Has working on this issue changed how you guys personally feel about your privacy or the way you handle your personal presence online?
Rachel: Yeah, I think so, unless you're BuzzFeed because I was like "Post me everywhere BuzzFeed!" But generally in life I go about thinking about my privacy settings, about my security settings, and I've educated all of my friends and my family and doing this work has really opened my eyes to thinking about my digital security. I mean you don't leave your keys laying around for your house or your car do you? No. And I don't do the same with my passwords or my accounts or my phone. So it's kind of looking at it like that.
Ann: Thank you.
Kristalyn: Yeah, thank you. Techsafety.org.
Rachel: Thank you so much.
Ann: Let's talk about the last thing we witnessed before we left the summit.
Aminatou: I mean I don't think I have fully recovered.
Michelle: We are here for the United State of Women! [Cheering]
Aminatou: Michelle Obama and Oprah are friends and they're collaborators and they're conspirators together.
Ann: And they were having a good time talking to each other.
Aminatou: They were having such a good time. Like yeah. Oprah has been on a very tight glasses game recently.
Ann: Oh my god, Oprah had a high pony and glasses.
Aminatou: Yeah, high pony and glasses, and I was like we see you, Oprah. This is great. And that conversation got so real. Like hearing Michelle Obama talk about knowing her own self-worth and her own importance and her value. You know, just being a really unshakable person. And so there were all these different themes about Oprah asked her if she thought things that she was doing were brave and she was like "No, they're not brave. They're standard this is what I do stuff."
Ann: Yeah, she was like life is hard.
Aminatou: Like life is hard. But also just hearing her say, you know, she's like if you don't know your value and you don't know your worth -- like mega paraphrasing at this point -- but that's when being faithful and authentic to yourself, that's when those acts feel like bravery, you know? As opposed to just like this is how I should be leading my life.
Ann: Right. As opposed to this is what I deserve and I'm just asking for what I deserve.
Aminatou: Yeah. I don't know, there's so much black girl magic happening onstage and it was just like full body chills. It was great.
Ann: I have to say that whole two young black women introducing a conversation between Michelle Obama and Oprah and it not being at a conference that's explicitly about black women I thought was really great. That's one of those things I always want to see happen. I want to see a full panel of women at a conference that's not a women's conference.
Ann: So that part of it. But then there's just like . . . I forget sometimes that Oprah just excels at an interviewer, you know? Because she's taken on so many other cultural roles. And obviously I have never seen -- not obviously, but I have never seen Oprah doing her thing IRL.
Aminatou: Right. Like I only see this on TV which is great but . . .
Ann: And it was incredible. [Laughs]
Oprah: This is the United State of Women. There are a lot of cool men out here. I love the . . .
Michelle: Let's give it up for the brothers.
Oprah: There's a lot of cool men out here.
Michelle: For the men out here.
Oprah: I love the president's speech saying you're looking at a feminist. What can men do leaving here?
Michelle: Be better. [Laughs] Be better at everything. Be better fathers. Good lord, just be good fathers who love your daughters and are providing a solid example of what it means to be a good man in the world and showing them what it feels like to be loved. The fact that I never experienced abuse at the hands of any man in my life -- and that's sad to say that that's a rare reality. So men can be better at that. Men can be better husbands, you know? Be a better employer. You know, when you're sitting at a seat of power at a table of any kind and you look around and you just see you, it's just you and a bunch of men around a table, on a golf course making deals, and you allow that to happen and you're okay with that, be better.
Oprah: Be better.
Michelle: Be better.
Oprah: Be better. I love that.
Michelle: Just be better.
Aminatou: Yeah, it was that thing where you could tell . . . you know sometimes people interview each other and you're like oh, you guys are friends. This is why this is going well. And I thought with them it was both of those things where you're like you obviously have a personal relationship but it's also the first time that I've seen Oprah interview someone and be self-effacing. She was mostly a vehicle for conversation.
Ann: That's true. There wasn't a ton of Oprah.
Aminatou: Right, as opposed to like "I'm Oprah and I'm the best!" Which for me was like a draw. I'm like I don't care who is interviewing who.
Aminatou: This is two amazing people. But I don't know, I thought that they were both very generous with their ideas and kind of their views about what it means to be a woman just going through life. And I don't know, like I love hearing that from power women and from not power women saying I know myself and you can't shake me. I just love women who are confident and secure.
Ann: Yeah. Obviously . . .
Aminatou: There's no room for imposter syndrome in this room. Like thank you. [Laughs]
Ann: We heard from so many women who are clearly really confident and rooted in themselves, but I think there was something great about hearing one of the women that we admire as a public figures and as an activist and everything else say directly a lot of my power comes from the fact that I know myself and I'm happy with myself and I feel good about myself.
Aminatou: Yeah, yeah.
Ann: It's so implied most of the time.
Aminatou: No, totally. It doesn't come from the fact that I'm married to a powerful man or that I have a powerful job. It's like I've always been this person.
Ann: Although there was a great objectifying Barack Obama moment.
Aminatou: I know, when she's like -- like the swagger moment, I couldn't handle.
Ann: She said something like "When I watch him walk off Air Force One . . ." Sorry, Marine One.
Aminatou: Yeah, into the Oval Office. I was like that's hot. [Laughs] Yeah, which I never thought Barack Obama was hot before and I'm like oh, thanks for painting that picture for me.
Ann: Also I love how she was like "Have you seen his walk?" [Laughs]
Aminatou: Yeah, it was great. But you know, I don't know, going back to this confidence thing, there were two other young women today who I thought were so young and were just like . . .
Aminatou: So incredible. Barack Obama and Valerie Jarrett always say you can't be what you can't see, and a lot of times I'm just like ugh, how many times are you guys going to say this? And then today was like no, I saw that in action today actually many times. And I don't know, I feel like some of my cynicism broken today where it was like sometimes you need some rah-rah empowerment in your life.
Ann: I think I want to be an eleven-year-old impresario. [Laughs]
Aminatou: I know, I want to be an eleven-year-old soda mogul.
Ann: Seriously. They were the most compelling.
Aminatou: Yeah, that little girl was introducing Barack Obama and she's like "Be fearless, dream like a kid." And I'm like what is happening here? [Laughs] I'm about to cry. This is amazing.
Aminatou: But yeah, I don't know. It was just like seeing all these women who are like "This is who I am. This is what I do. This is my lane. I have no fear and I will confidently speak to the things that are important to me," that's a value system I'm down for.
Aminatou: I was like I'm really glad that we come from long lines of women who do the same thing in our communities for people like that.
Ann: Totally. You can find us so many places on the Internet, on our website callyourgirlfriend.com, you can download this podcast anywhere you listen to your podcasts, or on iTunes where we would love it if you left us a review. You can tweet at us at @callyrgf or email us at email@example.com. You can find us on Facebook -- look it up yourself -- or on Instagram at callyrgf. You can even leave us a short and sweet voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF.
Aminatou: Thanks again to our friends at the Harnisch Foundation and all of the comms people at the White House who made the day a lot easier for us. This podcast is produced by Gina Delvac!
Ann: Gina Delvac who had so much equipment.
Aminatou: I know, Gina, did you have a good day today?
Gina: It was amazing.
Aminatou: [Laughs] See you on the . . .
Ann: Now we're going to all watch TV.
Aminatou: I know. See you on the Internet!
Ann: See you on the Internet.
Renee: I'm Renee Bracey-Sherman and I will see you on the Internet.
Ruth: Hi, I'm Ruth Ann Harnisch and see you on the Internet.