Kirsten Gillibrand: The women’s movement is stalled

I’ve got me a bone to pick with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

It was my mom who actually got pissed while watching Morning Joe last week and brought this conversation to my attention where Gillibrand, Tina Brown and others discuss the state of women in politics. No, it wasn’t the part where she talks about how women can be useful politicians because we’re better listeners than men — it was her contention that women don’t want their voices to be heard. Literally.

She says:

One of my biggest worries right now is too many women are sitting on the sidelines – they’re not engaged, they’re not interested, they don’t want their voices to be heard – they think their voices don’t matter, they think their vote doesn’t count. And  this is a pervasive problem – and one that really impacts elections. For example, in the last election, the democrats lost – 51% voted for republicans, the previous election 56% of women voted for President Obama. So women’s voices do matter, they do create an impact on the electoral results, but the reality is that we still have 17% women in the Senate, less than that in the House, and this was the first year the percentage of women in the House went down – and that is a terrible statistic.

And what I want to do is to work on getting women off the sidelines to at least engage in the issues – if they don’t even want to run for office, at least care and then weigh in, have your voice be heard so whether it’s equal pay, whether it’s access to capital for women-owned businesses, whether it’s national security and terrorism, whether it’s health care, affordability of daycare, affordability of college – those are an array of issues that women care about and letting them be heard on those issues, so we have to shake things up. I think your conference Tina was extraordinary, it was a discussion about women worldwide are facing and why they’re not engaging why their participation can make such a difference in a community or on the world stage.

So this is something that Nora, Tina, and Mika – all of us – we have to take responsibility as a nation to do something about this because the women’s movement is stalled. We are not moving forward, we are literally fighting the same battles of our mothers and our grandmothers and if we don’t wake up and we don’t start engaging, we will not like what we find and that’s exactly the kind of thing Tina and I were talking about at her conference…

Sigh. I’ve always been a huge fan of Gillibrand and her support for issues like LGBT and reproductive rights, but it’s statements like this that completely invisibilize the millions of women in this country who are out there pushing the movement forward. I can’t help thinking about the tons of women’s organizations who’ve helped her get elected. I also can’t help wondering how many women supporters and donors she has. And lastly, I won’t lie that it pisses me off she seems to imply that it’s just folks like herself and Tina Brown who are trying to engage women.

Let me be clear that I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with trying to mobilize women who aren’t politically active, because of course there are folks out there who aren’t. But how can you say they don’t want their voices heard when you’re the one speaking for them? Because that is one of the biggest lessons we here at Feministing have learned — young women do want their voices heard, they just need a platform to do it. We’re here, we’re engaged, and we sure as hell don’t have a stalled movement. Our hundreds of thousands of readers every month at this blog alone is proof of that.

Rant over.

(You can get full transcript on MSNBC.)

Join the Conversation

  • Kirsten Sherk

    I hear you — it makes me uncomfortable when pundits make grand generalizations about what women think or why women (often they mean young women) are as mobilized as they used to be. And so often they seem to place the blame on the women who aren’t tearing up the polling places rather asking why women aren’t marching in the street. Could it be that upper middle class women don’t feel disenfranchised? Or that middle class women don’t see a women’s movement that embraces their core concerns? When the only “women’s issue” in the news is focused on abortion, what does that say to women who might be concerned about paying for quality childcare?

  • Guybrush Threepwood

    That video: Elizabeth Warren steals the show. She’s such a badass.

    To be fair to the Senator, she was saying “women don’t want their voices heard” in the sense that women as a demographic group aren’t valuing their political voices enough… which I think is a fair point to make. And as for the “women’s movement is stalled,” she then said “we’re fighting the same battles as their mothers and our grandmothers” to mean we’re still fighting over abortion rights and the shadow of domesticity and women’s right to work unapologetically… which is also a fair point. Unfortunate wording perhaps, but she was more or less correct on those quotes.

    That said, holy frak that was a lot of gender essentialism in there. “Women are better listeners, women are more collaborative”… really… from a Senator. Ugh. When is the American electorate going to be ready for a female politician that can say without caveat that she deserves to wield the power she has, that she is a capable legislator and comes up with good ideas rather than feminine ideas, and that she is still a valid human being whether or not she is a “proud mother.” Someday.

    • leslie

      And I also wish women should take a step back before they undermine another woman. Yea, I get it that you’re upset that, Mrs. Gillibrand, marginalize some viewers by saying that they have stalled the feminist efforts but she’s not talking about YOU. She’s talking about the general (female) populace: the majority of young girls don’t. I go to an all girls-school and everyone isn’t interested in politics, I respect that, and it is also a problem. It does undermine the effort if we can’t get more girls interested in politics or just want more for themselves.

  • athenia

    Hey now, it took 70 years for the women to get the right to vote in the states–and that certainly took a lot of women who weren’t interested in “making her voices heard.”

  • Courtney

    I would agree with her statement that the “women’s movement is stalled” with respect to the ineffectiveness of third-wave feminism and its premise of individual action over collective action. We are disjointed in our struggle and I think it has slowed us down. It’s the old divide and conquer routine.

    • Derivative

      It’s not just the division, the goals are becoming more diffuse. As with anything that matters like this. The massive changes, like voting and a good step towards equal pay, have meant that the smaller inequalities which need more hard core attention are all that are really left.
      I.E I think the slutwalks, about raising awareness for rape victims and the victim blaming, will incure much needed changes but after that the finer details will become harder to change.

  • leslie

    @Guybrush: There’s nothing wrong with feminine ideas, those are what makes a woman a woman. Why should a woman abandon her feminine qualities just to play with the “boys”??? Then she’ll be just another “boy”. Someone they could call “dude’?? NO. We have our own very DIFFERENT thinking. I say embrace it, let it be free, instead of trying to be tough and macho like a guy. Voters aren’t stupid to that, they can smell authenticity from a mile away! Be ourselves!!

    • honeybee

      Exactly, I’m so sick of comments that imply being feminine is wrong or that traditional femininity sucks and we should abandon all that and just act like men. WTF? How is this supportive of women?

      I know we don’t want to generalize and paint all women with one brush, but let’s celebrate femininity not help to marginalize it and make it something to be ashamed of. That’s not feminism to me.

  • Brüno

    How is it stalled? Women enjoy equal rights. The quality of the womens movement shouldnt be measured by what women want to do. Should women really play football when they want to go into cheerleading or become an engineer, when they prefer to be involved in medicine?

    Should women really sacrifice their lifes in swaying statistics in a way that makes people happy who care about those statistics, instead of using their liberties for themselves? If far less women than men want to become racecar drivers, then we should just accept it, instead of making women feel bad about not caring about cars.

    • Dolores


      You are a little out of touch if you are confusing equal rights with the ability to play for the NFL. Woman are infantalized by the men in politics by having their reproductive rights diminished because the idea that women can be in charge of their own bodies is too outrageous for them. Women still earn 78 cents to every dollar a man earns for the same work. Women do have to work twice as hard for recognition and reward where men are automatically assumed to have capabilities and every tiny thing they do simply supports the belief particularly in arenas like engineering or other sciences. There are several thousand other examples I could provide but there is not enough room. I commend you for thinking women are equal as I presume that reflects your behavior toward them. But the fact of the matter is, women are not equal and the current political climate supports their inequality.

  • Dolores

    I read this article but also watched the video. The video contained a great conversation at the beginning but I am in partial agreement with the Senator. I teach undergraduate psychology at a state university and you as you can guess the vast majority of my students are female. It’s not an understatement to say that none vote in any election. I polled my class once and not one of my students knew what suffrage was, when women were granted the right to vote, or understood the feminist movement. I usually have 35 students in a class and at least 29 are young women. In any given semester maybe 3 or 4 have taken a women’s studies course. I’m saddened by this and occasionally remind my class why it’s so important to understand their personal histories (minority history included) as I try to link it with the evolving process of psychology and the study of human behavior. At the beginning of each semester I remind the young men in my class that my examples are usually about women’s experiences and are not about “man bashing” but real life stories which may exemplify the topic we are studying from gender identity to sexism to irrational conclusions that have been widely accepted by our culture.

    Of course there are many women fighting the good fight but I think it’s important for us, the adults here, to take a look at who the fighters are because they are college students who vote. Getting my students, the 19 and 20 year olds, involved is of great importance but that means making speaking out on issues in a way they can relate to. Right now, it’s Jersey Shore, Hoarders, and Real Housewives.

    Let me conclude by saying that I love what I do; I love teaching and mentoring these young adults. They have tremendous potential to do great things in their lives and careers but political involvement does not appear to be one of them.

  • Sarah Lane

    I gave money to Sen. Gillibrand when she first ran for Congress and I was invited to an event for her in downtown DC. As a mom with two small kids, to find a sitter, schlep downtown during rush hour, and find parking took some effort, but I made it. I was then ignored for most of the evening. I tried not to take it personally. Then via email I was handed off to some young, white, male finance person on her team and was ignored further. Sen. Gillibrand has many good assets, including a nanny to take care of her kids, but should consider that she, and the other power women like Susan Turnbull who spire them around, and organizations like the National Women’s Law Center might be part of the problem, being out of touch chief among them.