Geraldine A Ferraro

The Future of Women in Politics - Feb. 20, 1991

Geraldine A Ferraro
February 20, 1991— New York City
Print friendly

ADDIE GUTTAG: Hello. My name is Addie Guttag, and I'm a member of the board at the 92nd Street Y. It is my pleasure to welcome you to the sixth annual Goldberg lecture, which was endowed in memory of Monica Dennis Goldberg and provides an annual forum for women of achievement.

It is hard to imagine a woman who has achieved more than our guest this evening, a woman who single-handedly has redefined the possibilities for women in American politics.

That woman, of course, is Geraldine Ferraro.

Introducing Gerry tonight is actually coming full circle for me. The first time I came to the Y was with her, when she stood on the stage in October 1985 to speak about the two-week trip we had just completed to the Soviet Union and Israel.

I first met Gerry in March of 1984. When I told friends that I'd met and was going to work for this terrific congresswoman, they all said pretty much the same thing: Geraldine who?

But within three months they knew a lot about this feisty congresswoman from Queens because now, all of a sudden, she was on the cover of “Time” magazine.

A couple weeks after that the whole world knew Geraldine Ferraro. I know I will never forget the feeling in my heart as I stood at the Democratic National Convention and watched this dynamic, smart woman get up in front of 60 million American viewers and say, “My name is Geraldine Ferraro.”

It was the kind of moment you hold onto for a lifetime. The kind of vision, like landing on the moon, that tells you it really is OK to imagine the unimaginable.

That the world is perhaps a fairer and more hopeful place than you had ever imagined. That was six and a half years and an eternity ago.

In the time since, I've had the privilege of spending time working with and getting to know Gerry and her family. One of the things I find to be most remarkable is that she is the same woman no matter what the circumstances. For example, during the heavy days of the ‘84 campaign, many members of our staff became very impressed with who they were and what they were doing. For them, losing the election was everything. Not for Jerry. She managed to keep a perspective on who she was. She was able to separate the candidacy from the individual.

When it was over, she picked up her life and moved on. Having known Gerry as a boss, a colleague and now a friend, I know the toll that being in the public eye has taken on her and her family. And know too the strength and resilience it takes to keep your bearings when the times get rough.

In good times and bad, I've never cease to be amazed at how she has always been able to keep her compass set on what was important to her and, to a larger sense, what is important for all women. She has been busy. Gerry has been a teaching fellow at the Kennedy School at Harvard and at Cornell University. She helped to create the International Institute for Women in Political Leadership. She also founded Americans’ Concern for Tomorrow, a political action committee dedicated to helping elect Democrats in the Senate and women to Congress, helping some 25 people who are now serving in Washington.

Through it all, Gerry has proven herself to be one of our nation's most articulate spokespeople for a range of issues. She has made a career out of confounding expectations and broadening our notions of what women can do. She proved that a woman could be a credible, competitive candidate for national office. I doubt that I am alone in hoping that we will all get the opportunity once again to vote for Geraldine Ferraro.

It is an honor to share with you tonight this woman who has shaped not only my life, but the lives of all of us.

Ladies and gentlemen is with a great deal of pleasure that I give you the honorable, the incomparable, Geraldine Ferraro.

FERRARO: Thank you. Thank you very much.

You know I usually start off by saying thank you for that very kind introduction. That’s much more than kind.

I've heard Addie speak publicly on one other occasion.

It was in delivering a eulogy for a friend of hers.

I like this better, Addie. I am delighted to be here this evening to have an opportunity to discuss with you the future of women in politics.

I find a particularly timely subject now when there's so much happening in the world in which women elected officials could have significant impact.

Before I start, however, let me first thank Bernard Goldberg for giving me this opportunity to meet with you. I happen to think the 92nd Street Y puts on some other most interesting programs available in the city. I like to be in this kind of company. It makes me look good.

But I also like the idea of being able to exchange views with well-informed people and looking around the audience, I see quite a few of those here. What I'm going to do is give you about 20 minutes of prepared brilliance, and then I'll take your questions.

Let me start by saying that the election of 1984 was a wonderful learning experience for me.

In running for national office, you have a chance to practice politics on the highest level. And for all the differences I had and I still have with Ronald Reagan, I can only admire his skills as a politician. So, in a bipartisan spirit, I thought I would borrow one of Mr. Reagan's techniques and talk about the movies.

Now if you recall several years ago, a marvelous film won the Academy Award. It was called “Chariots of Fire,” and it told the story of Harold Abrahams, a member the British Olympic team in 1920. After losing a race to his arch-rival, a dispirited Abrahams turned, as movies here usually do, to the woman is his life. Feeling sorry for himself he said, if I can't win I won't run. To which she responded, if you don't run you can't win. But he whined. I've worked so hard, what will I aim for? Again she had the answer: Go out and beat them the next time.

In that scene are the principles that go to the heart of women's opportunity in politics and set the guidelines for our future successes. If you don't run you can't win, and if you go out and you work as hard as you can and you aren't successful, go out, and do it again, and beat them the next time. I just want to assure you that that is not an announcement.

Please note that while this scene came from a movie about the athletic exploits of men, the political wisdom came from a woman. Unfortunately like the Olympics, what's happening politically is of interest to most people only every four years.

It’d be much better for the country if voters had a longer span of public attention, and women and blacks and other underrepresented groups especially have the most to gain.

In this past election cycle, Carol Bellamy lost the race for controller because voter turnout in New York City was outrageously low. Voter apathy smiles on those who wish to preserve the status quo and the status quo is not committed to dramatic progress in electing more women.

Today women are by any objective measure grossly under-represented in elective office. I would say shockingly under-represented, but nobody seems to be shocked. That’s simply the way it is.

In 1974 Jeane Kirkpatrick wrote a book called “Political Woman.” It was published by the Center for the American Woman in Politics at Rutgers University as a study of female state legislators from around the country. One of the jacket blurbs loading the book was written by Bella Abzug, and I would bet that was probably the last time that Bella praised Professor Kirkpatrick’s views.

In her book, Kirkpatrick wrote that she found the most important and interesting thing about women's political role was that was so insignificant. Sure women have always been active and enthusiastic campaign volunteers, but she wrote, and I quote, “half a century after the ratification of the 19th amendment, no woman has been appointed to the Supreme Court, no woman has been nominated to be president or vice president, no woman has served in the cabinet of the president of the United States.”

At that time there was no woman in the cabinet, no woman in United States Senate, no woman serving as a governor of a major state, and no woman mayor of a major city.

To be sure in the 17 years since, we have made some progress. Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor sits on the Supreme Court. Women have been represented in every cabinet since President Nixon's. Barb Mikulski, Nancy Kassebaum sit in the United States Senate.

And women like Ann Richards, Barbara Roberts and Joan Finney sit in the governor's office in states as diverse as Texas, Oregon and Kansas. Now how did all of that come about?

Well I can tell you that someone like Barb Mikulski did not win election to the Senate because the people of Maryland decided it was time to elect a woman to the senate. No groundswell erupted demanding that history's gender injustices be righted.

She won because she built a record of achievement and distinction. First in a neighborhood in Baltimore then in the City Council and finally in the House of Representatives. It happened because she's an outstanding politician and because she has an excellent record of accomplishment. It happened because she inspires people and it happened –well, it just so happened- that she is a woman.

We are making our presence felt in local elections as well. According to the National Women's Political Caucus, there are now 140 women serving as mayors of major cities with a population of 30,000 or more, and when someday Mayor Dinkins decides not to seek reelection, I wouldn't be surprised if at least one, and perhaps two, women challenge to succeed him.

It's also interesting to note that we now have 57 women elected to statewide office nationally, many to high-profile jobs that can serve as a springboard for a run for governor or the senate in the near future. What particularly pleased me in this election cycle that just passed is that both parties in Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa had gender-balanced slates.

The trick now is reversing the male-female positions on those slates. And the numbers I've given you are good news, but not good enough. We have to put them in context. We are still only two percent of the senate, 6.4 percent at the house representatives and 17 percent of statewide elective offices. Remember we are 51 percent of the population.

It's interesting to note that despite the activity, though, no woman has been nominated to the vice presidency, no woman has been nominated or even seriously contested for the nomination of her party for president of the United States.

What's going on? Well in 1987 Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, who I know has spoken here, considered the race, and her travels around the country generated the only real political enthusiasm that summer. Pat brought some tremendous strengths to her campaign. At the time she had 15 years in Congress behind her, she's a Harvard-educated attorney who is extremely articulate, and she's an acknowledged national authority on defense strategy and policy, but a decision not to run was based in large part on her conclusion that presidential politics requires more expertise in counting delegates than counting warheads. After careful thought, Pat decided it wouldn't work, and I must tell you, this morning as I was on my treadmill I thought of Pat Schroeder, and I'll tell you why.

There is the old double standard at work and I watched it as the sports news came on, and there was Marty Lyons standing there with his checked shirt in his hands, crying as he hung it up and walked away from football. No one in the papers or in any commentary said, my God is he making it hard for the 250-pound white men who follow him in football. Instead they said he was a real human being.

On the Republican side, Professor Kirkpatrick was urged by many to make the race for president. She declined, citing what she called the mean male-ness of presidential politics, which she said, and I quote, “shares a number of characteristics with some purely male competitive sports.”

Interestingly enough the debate over women as presidential and vice presidential candidates is termed chiefly on the question of qualifications. We are constantly asked, is there a qualified woman? To which women have rightly responded, compared to whom?

The fact is that the American electorate is accustomed to expect certain types of experience in candidates for national office. It really doesn't hurt to be governor of a large state, to be vice president or to be a senator of long experience. In fact, in the last 50 years no one except Dwight Eisenhower made it to the oval office without having held one of those jobs.

Like it or not, at this point in the country's political development, very few women hold those requisite positions.

Now I'm not suggesting that every woman who wins election to the Senate or to a governor’s mansion or retains some seniority in the House of Representatives can or should run for president. That must be a personal decision. But we must put ourselves in a position to make that run if we choose. Every time a woman runs for elective office, it's like throwing a stone in a lake. The ripples spread far beyond the point of immediate impact. In the lake of U.S. politics, the presidency is no mere stone. It is a boulder.

When a woman finally does run for that office, the ripple effects will create a wave of change that will be felt everywhere. We all know that women have not yet achieved equal opportunity with men. We still have to work harder to be given a chance to prove ourselves, and voters still need to be taught that women are equally capable of handling the tough issues that face this nation from its neighborhoods to statehouses. But the voters are learning.

And why is that important? In a book called “In a Different Voice,” Harvard Professor Carol Gilligan argues that women's voices are essential to good government, and that's not necessarily because we are more caring or effective, but because we bring another dimension to the political process.

According to Dr. Gilligan, instead of engaging in confrontation, women are more apt to negotiate. Instead of thinking in short-term solutions to problems, women are more apt to think in terms of generations to come, instead of thinking in win-lose terms, women are more apt to see the gray area in between. And from my experience, I see that it is the elected women officials who are more sensitive to the needs of women. Now I'm not putting down male legislators when I say that. It’s as expected. And when I was speaking to the high school students who were here before, we talked about whether or not there such a thing as a women's political agenda.

If you take a look at what happens when a person gets elected to office, what that person does is bring their own experiences to that job. Who do you know was the loudest voice in the congress, now in the senate, on Agent Orange legislation? Tom Daschle, who was a Vietnam veteran. Who do you think introduced the legislation to give recompense to Japanese-Americans for their internment during the Second World War? Two Japanese-Americans: Bob Matsui and

Norman Mineta of California. Who do you think speaks loudest on civil rights issues? Who do you think were the people who put in place the sanctions? It really did lead to the movement and the freedom of Mandela and the movement now toward -and a government- that will recognize the horrors of apartheid. It was the black caucus that took the leadership in that. Who are the people who speak loudest on Israel? Steve Solarz, Tom Lantos, Mel Levine to name a few.

So it's expected that women legislators would be the ones who would pick up on issues that affect women particularly. Their voices are the ones we hear loudest on daycare comparable working flex time. They're the ones who speak up on issues like nutrition programs for poor pregnant women, prenatal health care immunization programs, and Head Start.

Women legislators are the ones that insist that something be done to help the aging population which is predominantly poor and predominantly female. It may be because each one of us can picture ourselves in that same very vulnerable position. Again students I spoke to before I came in here tonight asked if we do, if we're elected don’t we represent all the people? And we do. But we've got to get voices heard to recognize specific issues. And that's what the women legislators do.

Every member of the house who is female really considers herself almost a congresswoman at-large for the country, and they are treated as congressman at large by people from across the nation. More often than not, it is also the voices of women political leaders that you hear in opposition to war. We are living through critical times. Para balances are being tested in the

Middle East, alliances we never imagined a year ago are tenuously holding together. We are [unintelligible] and though our women have always served bravely in the armed services, in the Persian Gulf we're seeing more women in military action than ever before.

You know, after the 1984 election, when I gave a woman’s speech, I’d go through all the firsts we have experienced. First one in space. The first one on the Supreme Court. First woman on a national ticket of a major party. The first woman Conservative rabbi; I'm still waiting for the first woman Catholic priest. The first woman to win the 18-day dog sled race in Alaska. And now I can add the first woman deserter and unfortunately the first woman prisoner of war in 50 years.

The expertise these women soldiers bring to the jobs is evident: Running the gamut, from operating our amazingly sophisticated technological systems, to repairing trucks, to designing strategy, of course, to providing medical care. But as we see the increased involvement of women in the military, I can't help but wonder if things might not be different if women had a wider voice in the decision-making of this country.

The eighties were a time of great excitement politically. There are so many women getting involved. So many historical firsts. Reading through the directory of women in congress, one is overwhelmed by the number of firsts. That’s terrific. Because it says we are doing better. We have to remember that when we have fewer women making history, we will have more women making policy. How fast can that happen? Well one study pessimistically concluded that 40 years from now we'll still have only 53 women in the congress, unless of course the president gets lucky and gets term limitation legislation passed.

But we've got to get more women involved, and we need to persuade more women to run. Remember the movie: If you don't run, you can't win. And while we're at it, we're also going to have to develop the concept that politics is an honorable profession.

That was not meant to be a joke.

We also have to start paying attention to the kind of goals we should be setting for ourselves. Half the House of Representatives, half the governors, one president perhaps. When will it happen? In this century, in our lifetimes? I don’t know, but I do know this: It will happen in time,

I'm sure of it. But I'm also sure that it's not just a matter of time. It is a matter of work, of faith and confidence. Of the commitment to an idea that some leaders are born women.

And that's how a woman will one day be elected president. She'll be elected not primarily because she is a woman, or in spite of being a woman, but because she has won the confidence of the American people that she can lead. She will have proven herself as a senator or governor.

She will have shown she has the rare combination of qualities the American people look for in a president and then it will be time and history will be made. And tears will be cried like you wouldn't believe.

I'm really looking forward to it. Thank you. Thank you.