The Poky Little Pundit


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Down to business and stuff

Rather than let the downward momentum of the end of the election pull me back into my usual stultifyingly apathetic self, I am hoping to use it like a slingshot to propel myself towards two clear goals: 1. to actually do something about a problem that concerns me and 2. to find a position that interests me in politics and run for it.

But before I get to that, I have to briefly segue to an alarming article on foxnews.com called “The war on men.” I mean, I am trying hard to develop some bipartisan skills here, but c’mon! This is shooting fish in a barrel. According to author Suzanne Venker, women are now to blame for the demise of men. We need to stop competing with men and just let them love us. Dang, Suzanne. I hate that I am even drawing attention to your terrible argument, but it is an example of just why my decision to enter politics is so important. So let’s get to that.

This girl really looks a lot like me. Love that I still think of myself as a girl.

Last week’s post concerned the first of my goals. This week, I tackle the terrifying second one. Make no mistake: I am not necessarily going to run for office – I’m going to try. Just as teachers do not fully understand a text until they have stood up in front of a room full of bored teenagers hoping to catch them looking stupid and actually taught said text, my purpose here is to understand the system – and what better way than to infiltrate it! Lest naysayers consider my choice to run a trifle forward, I want to emphasize that my goal here is to learn new stuff and make changes to stuff I don’t like. This should be a collective, society-wide goal for all of us, right?

But I have way more questions than answers. For what am I qualified to run? What do I want to spend my time doing? How do I find out what each position does? And what is a reliable source to find out all of this information?

This image, while initially not appearing to relate to my post at all, actually does! It references an article on Huff Post discussing women’s reluctance to enter politics.

So far, one of my best sources of information has been a 19-year-old ex student currently attending the University of Chicago. No joke! Whoever despairs of young people and their so-called apathy haven’t met any lately. Today’s post, therefore, also concerns how I go about obtaining information. So here’s where I will need some help from you, dear reader. (Bonus points for anyone who just thought ‘Jane Eyre’ in their heads.)

What websites do you rely on for your news? How do you avoid the blatant partisanship of most media enterprises? If you want to know what is going on locally, how do you find out without relying solely on The Seattle Times? Are there local blogs I don’t know about?

So far, I have spent time on the following:  The Secretary of State’s website, www.sos.wa.gov; The Women’s Political Caucus of Washington, www.wpcnet.org; The  Women’s Campaign Fund, www.wcffoundation.org, and Jill Miller Zimon on  www.writeslikeshetalks.com,  I have also sent emails to Representatives Reuven Carlyle and Gael Tarleton as well as WA state Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (BTW, so chuffed I know who all these people are!) What else should I be doing?

Though I despise the word ‘wordle,’ I may even make one out of all of your responses, so write in now! And think hard about how women really need to be supportive of men, because they are so, like, underprivileged and stuff.


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Can we please surpass Swaziland?

One issue that led me to start this blog is America’s lack of paid family leave (people without kids – don’t tune out yet! This issue concerns anyone who knows any parents or children…in other words, all of us). By now, I think most of us know that America is one of four countries in the world that do not offer paid family leave – the others being Swaziland, Papua New Guinea and Liberia. What I don’t know, and what I aim to find out, is how to change this.

So now comes the sticky-icky part of my idea – I actually have to follow through. So hhhaaaaarrrrrd – mainly because I know there are many wonderful people out there already fighting this battle, and I am not sure how to get involved (which is my theory about why so many of us don’t get involved – the bystander apathy argument. My other theory is that the main people affected by America’s shitty leave policy are new moms – and they are too bloody tired to care).

In Washington State, the Family and Medical Leave Insurance program  (or FLI) exists in state law, but will not be implemented until 2015, due to the recession. FLI will allow women five weeks’ paid leave at a rate of $250 a week (yes, you read that right). I think we can do better. So while I figure out how to jump into this whirlwind, I’d like to tell my own story. (Don’t worry – I leave out the labor part.)

Look at that smile! The basketball bump! Yeah, I had NO idea what was coming.

Four years ago, when I was six months pregnant, I was teaching high school English and running the school newspaper. George was due in April, and I assumed I would take time off until September and resume teaching. I went to talk to HR about my maternity leave and was informed that, since I worked part-time (3 out of 5 classes a day), I did not qualify for FMLA (the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows you to take 3 months off, unpaid). I also had only accrued 15 sick days. Which meant that I would receive the requisite six weeks off, with only three of those weeks ‘paid’ (they weren’t really paid – they were days in which I was ‘sick’ – meaning I could not be sick again that year as I had exhausted my leave. Cause, y’know, newborn babies never get sick).

I tried to restrain my exclamations of horror – it wasn’t the HR woman’s fault, after all – but I didn’t know who else to talk to. My friends in England, in France, in Australia and in parts of Asia were taking a full year off, and receiving full pay (or a percentage of their salary). Friends in America laughed at me, saying things like, “How could you not know this?”

So I did the only thing I could do. I had George, and I took six weeks off. I received 15 days’ ‘sick leave’ pay. Six weeks later, I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I would be fired if I did not return. I hired an 18-year old former student to watch George and went back to work. My doctor, meanwhile, DID NOT okay my return – my body was still healing. I was also breastfeeding, and had to pump during a 30 minute lunch period in a break room where, on three occasions, fellow teachers wanting to get lunch out of the fridge walked in on me pumping. So embarrassing. I was also suffering from as yet undiagnosed post-partum depression, which meant that my cute little teenage students had to witness their teacher crying through virtually every lesson for a month. Beyond embarrassing. Summer break, and some fun medication, saved me from drowning in a pool of milk and tears and crushing anxiety.

George at six weeks old – clearly ready to be without his mother.

The first three months of my son’s life were, without a doubt, the hardest time of my life – and I have a supportive husband, a job and enough money to hire someone to help me. If I struggled, surely there are others enduring far worse hardships who are far less able to make the changes needed.

So let’s get to that. Here’s how I propose to fix this problem:

All parents should receive six months’ paid leave, to be divided however they see fit. In the case of single parents, they should receive the full six months’ leave because DAMN that’s one hard job. Paid leave would be given for the first child only. Then, if people wish to have more children, they receive six weeks’ paid leave, and save up for additional time off.

How do we pay for it? Um, I don’t know. But I do know that in order to further humanity, women must have children. And in order to keep those children alive, most of us must work. But we should not have to endure the consequences of our biology by being unfairly discriminated against in the workplace. Having a baby is not a sickness or a disability. We are creating life, and sustaining it with milk from our bodies. Most countries understand this and grant time to new parents to allow this life-giving to take place. Places like Germany or Sweden, where women are given 47 weeks fully-paid leave. It is time for America to join the developed world: Check out A Better Balance for more information.


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On your marks…

Apparently, the 2012 election was a ‘landmark’ victory for women, according to several reputable sources. I am non-plussed. I reckon headlines should read: “Women continue to trickle into politics” or “Men continue to overwhelmingly dominate politics.” 20 out of 100 spots in the Senate? LANDMARK? C’mon. I concede that we have made gains, but so have snails across a wet sidewalk.

Hanna Rosin’s thought-provoking text originally appeared, in part, in The Atlantic.

Which leads me to a book I read recently, called  “The End of Men and the Rise of Women” by Hanna Rosin. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever met me. And I know – it has been out for ages and it’s pretty much everywhere right now, so it’s not like I’m being original. But I may be unique in having reserved it four months ago. (Do keep in mind here that I have both a husband and a son whom I adore, so I am not necessarily excited about the end of men – just interested in the research she presents.)

Regardless of whether or not you believe Rosin, the numbers she presents are certainly eye-catching: The average American woman now contributes 42.2% of the family income verses 2 to 6% in 1970. Women earn almost 60% of all bachelor degrees and fully 60% of all masters degrees. Women also now hold 51.4% of managerial and professional positions. Rosin’s research is also mentioned, and debated, in an excellent article by Barnard College  President Debora Spar called “Why Women Should Stop Trying to be Perfect.”

The mission statement of wcfonline.org:
“The Women’s Campaign Fund, a nonpartisan organization, is dedicated to dramatically increasing the number of women in elected office who support reproductive health choices for all.”

My entirely empirical evidence from teaching confirms the thrust of Rosin’s argument: Assign a group project, put one girl in a group of boys, and watch her run rings around them. So why aren’t women entering politics? Are they too overwhelmed just keeping their heads above water while working and raising children? Are they not interested in the corresponding ego bloat that seems to be required? Rosin’s title, no doubt designed to be eye-catching, does not exactly hold true when it comes to women in major leadership positions.

I decided to do a bit of research, which led me to the Women’s Campaign Fund. This, in turn, led me to the organization, She Should Run, and I got so excited that I forgot all about men. Women supporting women! Women getting all political! Yay! I will be commenting in depth in later posts on other organizations, such as EMILY’s List and, my favorite, MomsRising.

Their slogan: “Where moms and people who love them go to change the world”

If we are to get involved, and if we are to ‘rise’ as Rosin says we might, we must be informed. We must own our decisions. We must be part of the conversation, and we must have more female leaders.

Now that the election circus is over, take the time to look around at the women in your life. Encourage them to get involved. And if you have money, support the groups that support women!

Their mission statement: EMILY’s List is dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women to office.

Their mission statement: “She Should Run is dedicated to dramatically increasing the number of women in public leadership by eliminating and overcoming barriers to success.”


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A Foreigner Chimes In

With one day to go before Ben and I decide whether or not we are moving back to England, what better way to say ‘cheerio’ than turning over the keyboard to a Brit – and an atheist with a Jew-fro at that (yes, that would be Ben). Which leads me to one final thought before the big day: Several of my readers, very sweetly, have expressed concern that my candor could cost me a position in politics in the future. And if that isn’t a reason to keep writing the truth as I see it – as well as seeking to make a change politically or otherwise – I don’t know what is. The PLP is signing off until Nov. 13 – when I may well post from the UK. Stay tuned! 

Four More Years, or Real Change?

As the sun sets tomorrow night on the American empire, also known as Guam, the campaigning will finally be over. We will either have a 45th President of the United States and the Mormon Church will be helping themselves to an extra $40,000 a year, or the 44th President will get another four years to finally hand over his college records to Donald “nuttier than a squirrel’s shit” Trump and collect $5 million for a charity of his choice. If Obama wins, then things will carry on pretty much as usual. The epitome of never letting the truth get in the way of a good story that is Fox News will bemoan the fact that America will continue its downward spiral into a godless, penniless country that is unable to defend itself, let alone push the upstanding moral virtues that came over on the Mayflower on the rest of the world. If Romney wins, Fox News will start the campaign for a new national holiday while the rest of the world points and laughs. Whether it is “Four More Years” or “Real Change,” nothing of any consequence will be different.

I know it’s immature to further this kind of stuff – but, well, it’s funny.

The election is being fought on one topic alone: the economy. This is understandable as we are in one of the most difficult economic periods in history. For some reason, Fox News blames Obama for this, which is like replacing the captain of the Titanic after it had hit the iceberg and blaming him for sinking the ship. I am not saying that another President could not have done a better job, but there is also no guarantee that they would not have done worse either. However, the economy is not what I want to talk about. If there is someone who is not yet bored of talking about or listening to people talk about the economy, then they must have literally come out of a five year coma within the last few minutes or they are the sort of person who actually thinks their Facebook “friends” are interested in what airport they have just flown through.

What I want to talk about is the way Americans and especially American politicians are hung up on America having to be the best country in the world. It isn’t. England isn’t either – far from it in fact. Before someone resurrects McCarthy to kick me out the country, I am not Anti-American. I am not a Communist or a Jihadist. I am a realist. America is not the best country in the world because there is no such thing.  Every country does some things well and some terribly. Take Iran. It is pretty solid when it comes to producing oil, and some people actually like the climate. America also has many great things going for it. However, while every country has many faults, there are a couple in America that stick out like Ann Coulter at a gay wedding.

The first is the fact that there are about 80 million evangelical Christians in the U.S. They form the base of the Republican Party that pushes it further and further to the right every election cycle and makes relatively sane people like Mitt Romney (yes I said it) seem like the evil love child of Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Bachmann. You could take these 80 million people and form a new country (probably called something like The Reunited States of The Merica) and the rest of the world would look at them as we now look at countries like Saudi Arabia and The United Arab Emirates. The far right in the U.S. has been referred to by Richard Dawkins as the American Taliban and it is hard to disagree when you hear the views of people like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock when it comes to rape. While it is easy to laugh at the bigoted idiocy of people like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and the aforementioned Ann Coulter, when people with these ideals actually have a shot of becoming lawmakers, it is scarier than the prospect of having your teeth pulled by an amateur North Korean dentist while listening to Coldplay.

The Tea Party: Putting the ‘con’ in constitution since 2008!

The other big problem America has that prevents it from even stepping on the podium of ‘great’ countries is its constitution – and I am not talking about the fact that a large portion of people in the U.S. are spherical. I mean THE constitution. The one that was written over 200 years ago – and yet politicians, political commentators and pig wrestling, moonshine drinking, gun-toting, teeth lacking rednecks seem to think it cannot be changed. Unsurprisingly, the irony seems to be lost on them that the right to free speech and firearms, amongst other things, are in fact amendments themselves. There have been 27 amendments – and yet the mere suggestion of amending something that was appropriate over two centuries ago is met with a look suggesting you have in fact pulled the pants down on democracy and shoved an oddly shaped root vegetable up her bottom. Other equally democratic countries have successfully managed to keep the idea of free speech while being able to do something about people who want to hide behind it in order to spread hatred. That is a great thing. Sticking to one’s guns (pun intended) in the face of a quickly changing world is not.

So what is my point? I am starting to question that myself, but I think it is this: The US is stuck in a rut the size of Bill O’Reilly’s ego. The two main parties are polarized on social issues, and as a result, think they have to be far apart on everything else. A victory for one side is no longer when a policy of theirs is successful. It is when a policy from the other side fails or is, in fact, blocked from even having a shot at success. In my very simplistic mind, two of the biggest factors causing this are the two listed above. The extreme far right (think Tea Party, although why they had to drag my national drink into this I have no idea) is pushing an agenda that would make any sane Republican (and there are a lot of them) blush. This then leads to the other factor. You tell someone in the Tea Party that they clearly have the intelligence of some water-based amoeba from which they claim not to have evolved and they will throw the constitution back in your face. How all they are doing is promoting the core values of your founding fathers etc. etc. Basically, they want to have their cake and eat it, and we all know how well that ended up the last time someone tried it. Perhaps the Tea Party and the French nobility have a lot in common: They are, after all, both stuck in the 18th century.


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Do your duty for Obama: Ovulate!

First came a study done by UCLA researchers saying that Republican women are more ‘feminine’ than Democratic women. Now a study done by University of Texas researchers claims that women are influenced by their hormones when voting. That we vote for liberals when we are ovulating. That we vote liberal because we “feel sexy.”   The study, published by CNN, was quickly quashed amid a tidal wave of justifiable anger. Both of these studies were led and authored by – wait for it – women.

So what can a woman do in the face of overt discrimination – furthered by her own kind?

Have a voting party for women, of course! On Tuesday night, I met up with some girlfriends, we ordered pizza, drank wine, and we worked our way through the ballot together. And for at least an hour, we set aside our ordinary life concerns to dedicate our brains to the task of filling in tiny, black bubbles on a white sheet. Not once did we talk about our periods, or how sexy we were feeling (though breastfeeding, boys and babies were certainly touched on – we are still women!).

Hosting a voting party is a perfect way to streamline cycles and thus encourage more women to vote for democrats this November.

Altogether, we represent the worlds of medicine, education, finance and law. We are a seriously educated, professionally astute group of women. And yet, even we struggled to make sense of the various initiatives, the cloudy language, the dry as dirt rhetoric. In between bites of pizza and gulps of red wine, we read from the Voter’s Pamphlet, we researched online, we discussed. But it wasn’t so much the issues at hand that interested me (unless it had to do with women’s reproductive rights or education) – but our collective thought process. I’m SO meta.

You see, we were all about sharing. Our ridiculous reasons for filling in one bubble verses another. What the candidates look like. How a friend of a friend knows that candidate and apparently he is pretty cool. Or ‘I read about this woman and she seemed smart.’ I admit to voting for one candidate because I like his wife. (Seriously – she is amazing! It shows good taste.)

We also talked about how some couples – even a few in our small group – do not even discuss politics with their partners. Perhaps it is because my own partner cannot vote that we discuss issues so openly, but is this like a thing? Can it be true that many of us are uncomfortable admitting to one another who they think should run our country?

So, in the interests of complete candor, I am admitting publicly some possibly stupid questions we all had when voting. If any readers would like to enlighten us, be my guest!

  • Do we HAVE to vote by mail in WA state? 
  • What happens if we don’t fill in every answer?
  • Why is it that two of the five women present did not receive Voter’s Pamphlets in the mail?
  • How do they decide which candidate is listed first? (It isn’t alphabetical or by party, in case you were wondering).
  • How does one decide on candidates for positions like Auditor without blatantly relying on someone else’s opinion?
  • Why do people go crazy calling people in WA state encouraging us to vote for Obama when we all know we are a hardcore blue state?

Oh yeah – I forgot to mention I’m ovulating. That must be why I voted for Obama!! Only that makes me unfeminine….what is a woman to do?

I guess women will just have to use our brains to decide.