Liz Abzug, professor of urban studies at Barnard College Columbia University and daughter of congresswoman and feminist icon Bella Abzug, led a discussion on women and the current political scene during Oct. 22’s Women and the Legislative Process class.
Abzug compared the media’s treatment of Sen. Hillary Clinton to that of her mother’s when she ran for office. She argued that misogyny in the press is “outrageous” and wondered why it is allowed to happen, but did not solely blame sexism for Clinton’s loss of the presidential nomination.
“I do know, as a person, as a candidate, you really have to know who you are on the inside and the right time and place to run for office. And for women, you have to double that, triple that,” Abzug said.
Following her experience as a delegate-at-large at this year’s Democratic National convention and a current worker for the Obama/Biden campaign, Abzug analyzed how the politics of gender are utilized by the candidates and the media. Regarding how the press viewed Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama during their battle for the nomination, Abzug observed that, “It’s easier to be (a) misogynist than it is to be racist.”
Abzug felt “both campaigns played it too safe,” and needed to “reflect who you are and what we’re about.”
Calling the pick of Gov. Sarah Palin for the vice presidency “insulting,” Abzug argued “she was picked for a campaign that was sinking.”
She also observed that while Palin is viewed as conservative and traditional, she also possesses “some very masculine traits,” such as an interest in hunting. Students and Abzug discussed differences between the portrayal of Clinton and Palin in the media.
Abzug also discussed young women and leadership.
“You, we must demand our seats at the table,” she said. “We have a lot of unfinished business.”
Abzug provided the class with statistics illustrating the lack of female presence in both the political and business spheres. Two percent of CEOs are women and 16 percent of Congress is female, even though women make up more than half of the country’s population and 54 percent of voters, she said.
“We, as women, are not recognized in the Constitution because there is no equal rights amendment,” Abzug said. “It never passed.”
She also stressed the importance of role models for young women and respect among generations.
“I had an amazing role model and I’m sure you do, too,” Abzug said. “I love to talk to young women, like yourselves, about their role models. So you can see that it wasn’t (that) you clicked your fingers and it was done. We’re only halfway done. But we also want to put a fire into you girls.”
“You have to talk to your boyfriends, male friends, brothers, fathers and even your girlfriends who think that everything is, you know, okey-dokey,” she said.
Following her discussion, she welcomed questions from the students, many focusing on careers.
“I believe that if you are really very able, very industrious in your profession, whatever it is, ultimately, you will be a leader if you want to be,” she told the students. She added, “Leadership is about people, about connecting with people at a level that is dynamic.”
“It was very inspiring,” Kelly Rossiter, sophomore political science major, said. “I’m interested in running for office, and Bella (Abzug) is a huge inspiration for me. It’s great to have these things. We really need to press the strong female. You don’t just have to be the traditional hockey mom. Just be the strong female and get out there.”
“I think a lot of us left the room feeling inspired,” Michele Calvo, junior women’s and gender studies and international studies major, said. “A big theme of her talk was being true to yourself. She comes from a legacy of social change, activism and powerful women. She’s so real and true to herself.”
Abzug was invited to the College by Mary Lynn Hopps, professor of women’s and gender studies and the director of Women in Learning and Leadership. Hopps felt it would be beneficial for the Women and the Legislative Process class and other students “to have a dialogue with a woman of Liz’s background,” particularly during an election year.
“There’s something quite extraordinary to sit in a room with a woman who grew up with politics, whose mother was a huge part of the second wave of feminism,” Hopps said. “You cannot be around Liz and not be inspired.”