I must have heard that line 500 times during the summer and autumn of 1994.
It was delivered by then freshman congresswoman Carolyn Maloney at every debate and Manhattan subway whistle stop in her first House re-election campaign, and it always drew applause.
I secretly hated it — as I clapped, obligatorily, each time she used it. I was working for Maloney’s challenger, a talented liberal Republican Council Member named Charles Millard, and the overuse of Maloney’s chromosome card, as we called it, seemed cheap. She expected — and received — credit just because of her gender, although I suppose we would have used it too if Millard had been baptised a Charlene instead of a Charlie.
I disliked Maloney’s smart mailpiece even more, the one later picked up by other campaigns, which featured a cover photo showing five sets of legs, four in charcoal gray suit trousers and one in a bright red skirt. It read something along the lines of, “Who would you trust to fight for women?” Pure genius.
Since that time, Congresswoman Maloney has enjoyed a good run; she’s built a career positioning herself as a clarion female voice in a cacophony of Washington baritones. In 2008, she penned a book, Rumors of Our Progress Have Been Greatly Exaggerated: Why Women’s Lives Aren’t Getting Any Easier—and How We Can Make Real Progress for Ourselves and Our Daughters.
During the 2012 election season, Maloney became a short-lived YouTube sensation by ridiculing an all-male House panel gathered to discuss birth control by demanding to know, “Where are the women? When I look at this panel, I don’t see one single woman representing the tens of millions of women across the country…”, she said.
It’s all the more disappointing, then, that Congresswoman Maloney has remained silent when her feminist voice is most needed in New York. State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver should be forced to step down after repeatedly protecting male colleagues who sexually assaulted junior female staff members, but Maloney’s conviction seems to peter out when it’s the bad actions of a political colleague she needs to address. Maloney even joined a standing ovation for Silver at a Democratic National Convention breakfast for New York delegates after the sex harrassment coverup story first broke.
Where are the women?, indeed.
Where is New York’s junior senator Kirsten Gillibrand? I somehow found myself on her email list and I get bombarded with notes from her all the time demanding proper treatment of women. But not a peep from her on Shelly Silver.
Just this month, On CBS’s “Face the Nation” Gillibrand blasted sexual harassment and assaults in the military: “What we have here is a crisis,” she said. “This is a cultural problem from top to bottom.”
Is the senator sure she wasn’t referring to Albany?
State Senator Liz Kruger from Manhattan, a respected feminist in her own right, attended a news conference in Albany Monday to criticize Senate leaders for not voting on a women’s bill that, among other things, would supposedly stop sexual harassment “in all workplaces,” presumably including the state legislature.
When given the opportunity by reporters at the news conference to join the call for Silver’s resignation, she balked, too. That’s up to the members of the Assembly she said, which is exactly the talking point feminist groups have been sticking to. And what of those members, particularly female democrats in the Assembly? All but one have apparently caught Spring laryngitis.
The Maloneys, Gillibrands and Kruegers of the world have an extraordinary opportunity right now to show bravery — and to prove that their years of feminist remonstrances have been genuine, not electioneering stunts. But if they continue to do nothing, they will be causing irreparable harm to a cause they have long purported to lead.
It’s gut check time.