Monthly Archives

June 2016

What Women/Moms Need to Know Now: Gun Violence Prevention 101

This is the first part in an ongoing series of posts that focus on educating about various hot button issues and how they impact women and moms.

Two recent shootings in Orlando. The first one–last Friday after a concert–resulted in the death of a former The Voice contestant, Christina Grimmie.  This horrifying shooting, that occurred as she was signing autographs, could have resulted in much greater carnage had her brother not tackled the shooter.  In retrospect, however, the Grimmie shooting seemed like foreshadowing for last night’s unfathomable massacre at an Orlando LGBT nightclub, in which a single assailant killed 50 and wounded another 53 with an assault-style weapon, making it the worst mass murder in US history. Gun violence continues to wreak havoc on and terrorize our country like none other in the developed world.  It’s thus well worth taking a look back to see how we reached this point in time where frequent mass shootings have become the new norm and how women and moms can help.

Following the 1994 midterm election, when progressives and Democrats everywhere woke up to a Congress that had changed hands overnight, there was a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking, a lot of hand wringing, and a lot of finger pointing.  Many believed–right or wrong–that what made the difference was that Congress had passed and then-President Bill Clinton signed into law the assault weapons ban earlier in the year, as well as the Brady Bill the year before. At that time, this legislation was a major coup, and the powerful gun lobby known as the National Rifle Association (“NRA”) sprung into action, spending big bucks to ensure that members of Congress who had voted in favor of the law (primarily if not solely Democrats) lost in the midterm elections.

When the dust had settled, the NRA had accomplished two important things: (1) the most progressive members of Congress up for reelection, and who believed that reforms were necessary to reduce gun violence in our country, lost to more conservative Republicans, resulting in a new GOP majority in Congress, and (2) at that point forward, incumbents or politicians running for public office would think long and hard about going against the will of the NRA.  The NRA had won a major victory and common sense gun regulation would not be raised again for many years. When the time came for the assault weapons ban to be renewed in 2004, Congress and GOP President George W. Bush let it die, an unfortunate outcome given the current statistics showing that mass shooters have possessed these weapons over half of the time and when used they tend to result in higher casualties.

After the 1994 bloodbath, politicians considered backing, or even mentioning, the concept of gun violence prevention to be nothing short of “political suicide.”  In the meantime, the state legislatures that had previously attempted to make strides in gun law reform, particularly in areas with high crime rates such as the District of Columbia, faced certain push back by the NRA.  In the District of Columbia v. Heller case, D.C’s stringent handgun ban faced staunch opposition by NRA-hired attorneys, who challenged the law all the way up to Supreme Court.

The NRA’s lawyers argued that the Second Amendment, which provides, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” somehow meant that individuals have a constitutionally mandated right to own guns.   In 2008, Antonin Scalia and a Supreme Court made up of a majority of justices appointed by Republican presidents, sided with the NRA and, by a 5-4 decision, struck down the D.C. handgun ban as unconstitutional. The damage ultimately extended well beyond this limited circumstance, however, as the NRA and more conservative state legislatures around the country used this decision to justify a variety of laws aimed at making it even easier for individuals–even terrorists, convicted felons, mentally ill, and domestic abusers– to obtain, carry, and use guns.  The Supreme Court in 2010 did indeed determine that Heller applied also to state and local laws, thus extending the reach of the original decision.

Consequently, during the reign of terror by the NRA, not only were politicians afraid to support common sense gun legislation designed to reduce gun violence, but also GOP politicians in the pocket of the NRA worked to loosen the ties even further. Incredibly lax gun regulation, coupled with giddy gun manufacturers, led to a dramatic proliferation of guns in this country.  Even the NRA had at one time said that there should be common sense measures put in place, such as universal background checks.  The original NRA, however, was intended to be an association that represented gun owners in this country. Over time, that changed, as increasingly greedy and wealthy gun manufacturers turned the NRA into a massive lobbying machine that cared first and foremost about maximizing income to gun manufacturers with little to no thought or care given to what was done with those guns after they were purchased.

The story of the gun industry is not a new one. Other major U.S. industries have similarly become so greedy and so rich and so powerful that they could dominate politicians with their agenda and thus get away with murder (both literally and figuratively).   A couple prime examples include the American auto and tobacco industries.  People within those industries knew that they were manufacturing and selling to consumers very dangerous goods, yet failed to make changes to protect consumers. Why? All they cared about was their profits and, moreover, they were not adequately regulated by the government.

Take the Ford Pinto case.  Ford knew that the Pinto was unreasonably dangerous and could have recalled the cars sold and made modifications but discovery in a case brought against the company revealed that they had engaged in a callous cost-benefit analysis showing they came out ahead financially by just paying off those injured or killed by their defective product. The auto industry also fought hard against putting available but somewhat costly safety features in their cars–features that we now take for granted, and are mandated by law, such as three point seat belts and air bags.  Likewise, prior to a seminal suit brought against cigarette companies that uncovered what the companies knew about the dangers and addictive nature of cigarette smoking, the industry marketed cigarettes to minors–remember Joe Camel?– in the hope that they would get hooked at a young age and become lifelong smokers, thus spending millions of dollars on cigarettes (and much more likely to develop deadly lung cancer as a result).

Unlike these other industries, gun manufacturers with the help of the NRA shield themselves from such glaring scrutiny by wrapping themselves in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as now defined by the Supreme Court. In fact, there is now on the books a terrible federal law that provides immunity to gun manufacturers against suit for damages caused by their product.   This law is virtually unheard of in the arena of consumer goods and, essentially, since the gun manufacturers have the deepest pockets, leaves individuals with no recourse when their lives are destroyed as the result of gun violence.

In the meantime, common sense and viable safety measures, such as a biometric gun lock with a fingerprint sensor also known as a smart gun (think the iPhone and it’s use of similar technology to unlock the phone), have been dismissed by the gun lobby (a parallel with the auto industry’s aversion to mandated safety features), nor utilized by the vast majority of gun manufacturers (an exception:  the intelligun)  though it could save countless lives.  Another parallel, this one with the tobacco industry, is the gun manufacturer’s attempt to market firearms to children by making them look more like toys, with colors like hot pink and designs, and utilizing cute cartoon creatures in advertisements (see images)images)




Rather than make us safer as touted by the gun lobby, the proliferation of guns led to an alarming uptick in the rate of deaths due to guns in this country.  Politicians looked away or swept under the rug the shocking statistics for fear of retaliation by the NRA. In 1999, after a major mass shooting that resulted in 15 deaths and 20 more wounded took place at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, gun control advocates had the ear and sympathy of the greater public for a time. Up against the NRA, however, they ultimately did not have a chance. The NRA was an extraordinarily wealthy and powerful lobbying organization by now, and regular citizens who were shocked and dismayed by this shooting in a public high school were neither organized, nor nearly as wealthy.

After Columbine, however, it became abundantly clear to anyone paying attention (and not a gun manufacturer) that something had to be done. High school students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had been able to scheme and plan a mass murder they carried out at their school, and develop their own arsenal of multiple weapons with relative ease, without their parents even knowing anything about it. Political activist and screenwriter Michael Moore filmed a documentary about the massacre entitled “Bowling for Columbine” that was released in 2002. As interest in the case faded over time, the NRA continued, largely unabated, their quest for loosened gun restrictions, advocating for state and local laws like concealed and open carry in public places, such as college campuses, bars and restaurants, and movie theaters.

The carnage continued. Between Columbine and Sandy Hook—the horrific massacre of 20 young children and six of their teachers in their own elementary school—there were five more mass shootings in public schools and on college campuses, including the deadliest mass shooting of all time (until yesterday’s nightclub shooting) at Virginia Tech in 2007, when 32 were killed and 24 more were injured by a student.  Other public places where people gathered became increasingly dangerous. In 2011, Gabrielle Gifford, a congresswoman from Arizona and gun owner, was shot and seriously injured at an outdoor public forum, that killed 6 people and wounded 13 others. Just as the shooting of James Brady, Ronald Reagan’s press secretary in 1981, led to a long, drawn out battle for common sense gun law reform such as background checks (the “Brady Bill”), so too did a shooting of one of Congress’ own, in a state with one of the least restrictive gun laws in the country.

Then came the 2012 shooting at a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.  A mentally ill man, who managed to amass many firearms and 6,000 rounds of ammunition, walked in to the theater, and opened fire, killing 12 and injuring 56.  A similar incident happened in Lafayette, Louisiana at a screening of the movie, “Trainwreck,” in 2015.  Also recently, a white supremacist gunned down 9 African-American men and women in their church in Charleston, South Carolina, a blatant hate crime by a young white man who loved guns almost as much as he loved the Confederate flag.   All told, there are on average 289 people shot by a gun every single day in this country, and 86 of those Americans die. 

Statistics or even high school and college shootings are one thing, but no one mass murder galvanized the American public more than the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.  The shock of so many young children (20 kindergarteners and first graders, and another 6 adults) gunned down in their own classrooms shook many to their very core. Moms led the foray, immediately organizing a grassroots group on Facebook under the leadership of Shannon Watts, an Indianapolis mother of five.  Many moms and other concerned citizens, including grieving families from Sandy Hook traveled to DC a month later on a freezing cold day to march on the National Mall demanding improved gun safety laws.

The power of grassroots organization via social media became clear, as Watts’ group, Moms Demand Action Against Gun Sense in America, not only grew in number of members, but also evoked memory of an earlier group formed by concerned mothers: Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).    MADD had led to reforms of the criminal justice system by holding drunk drivers more accountable for their actions behind the wheel. The hope was that Moms Demand Action could effect similar change regarding gun laws in this country. Other groups also formed in the wake of Sandy Hook, including a group of concerned mayors such as the mayor of New York City, Mike Bloomberg, known as “Everytown for Gun Safety.”  Gabby Giffords’ group, “Americans for Responsible Solutions,” also led the fight for gun law reforms. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gained a powerful new voice in Colin Goddard, one of the students injured in the Virginia Tech mass shooting.

Well-organized, motivated, and increasingly wealthy, these groups together pushed hard to enact common sense gun laws, such as universal background checks.   The NRA would not be defeated, however, and the push back was decisive. Split almost entirely along party lines, the GOP in the Senate killed a bill introduced at the urging of gun violence prevention groups.  In the past, this might have been enough to knock the wind out of the sails of gun law reformers.  But the new movement had some key differences in that it had many more members with a newly found determination, more money, and more influential leaders, as well as a simple, coherent message and mission that they shared—the enactment of “common sense gun legislation,” such as universal background checks without loopholes,  and increased gun safety measures, such as keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them–convicted felons, mentally ill, domestic abusers, and terrorists.

The battle went well beyond Congress, and included boycotts of businesses that allowed guns on their property, etc. as well as fighting for stronger gun laws at the state level.   Hollywood actors and actresses, and other entertainers, weighed in as well in favor of improved gun laws.

Where the NRA had previously had free rein in these areas, now there was finally an organized lobby to fight for the opposite position. Recently, President Obama made progress on these issues, by using his power of executive order to put as many measures in place as possible to combat gun violence in this country.  Congress continues to, in this area as in so many others, fail to act, despite polls showing that 92% of Americans, and 86% of gun owners, are in favor of common sense gun law reforms, like universal background checks.  Nonetheless, gun violence prevention groups have begun forming at the state level to push for the best possible laws to protect citizens against gun violence and strides continue to be made, particularly in states with Democratic-led governments.

Now that you have the history of the gun violence prevention movement, you may be asking, how does gun violence and the movement specifically impact women, and your daughters and sons, and also what can be done to help?

Domestic Violence: Although the NRA likes to insist that guns keep women safe, the truth is that a gun is far more likely to be used against its woman owner by a domestic abuser than as a means of self-defense.   In fact, women are less safe living in a house with a gun, period, according to the research. 

Negligence/Accidental Shootings: An appalling number of children die every year because a parent has failed to lock up a gun.  The child—often a very young child—accesses the gun, which is loaded and somehow discharges. In some jurisdictions, this is considered to be an accidental shooting, but really it is negligence or even recklessness on the part of the parent.  Any parent knows that just because you explain dangers to your toddler or young child, doesn’t mean he or she will listen to you and avoid the dangers 100% of the time. It only takes that one time for a child either to injure or kill himself, a playmate, a sibling, or any member of the family. The child is a victim either way, having to live her life knowing that she killed a friend or loved one.

Teen Suicide: Suicide is on the rise and is the third leading cause of teen and young adult death in this country. Lacking impulse control, and if severely depressed, a teen who can easily gain access a gun is a recipe for disaster.  While a person can attempt to kill themselves in a variety of ways, one who has easy access to a gun is much more likely to succeed before getting treatment for the underlying mental disorder.

School Shootings:  Since Sandy Hook, there have been an unacceptable 186 shootings in schools and universities.   That breaks down to be about a shooting per week.  Even when a school has a concern about a possible threat, it often will go into “lockdown” mode, thus terrifying our kids, who wonder if their lives are in danger.

There are so many things that you can do as a woman and mom to help reduce gun violence in this country—both on the micro and macro level. Here are some of the most important:

  • Join your local chapter of Moms Demand Action ( ) and respond to their calls to action. This grassroots group, formed in the wake of Sandy Hook, continues to exert influence through simple yet effective means of advocacy and lobbying. Moms are encouraged to bring their children to events so you don’t even have to get a babysitter.  In fact, I recall meeting with a Senator, and another mom brought her toddler into the conference room.  No one batted an eye.
  • Write and call your members of Congress. For a list of your senators and representatives, as well as contact information, go to this website: Tell them you’re a constituent and a voter who is concerned about gun violence in this country and ask them to take measures such as voting for common sense gun law reforms, holding gun manufacturers accountable.  If your members of Congress are already on board, thank them for their leadership and implore them to continue to make gun violence prevention a legislative priority.
  • Vote for candidates at the state and federal level who are in favor of enacting common sense gun laws and who have a history to back it up. This includes voting for Hillary Clinton for President. Clinton has been endorsed by all major gun violence prevention groups in this country,  because she has made gun violence prevention a major part of her platform, the first presidential candidate ever to do so. The NRA has endorsed Donald Trump, who believes that the Second Amendment takes priority over public health and safety, and who wants to eliminate gun-free zones.  Clinton has also expressed a disdain for the Heller decision, which adopted a nearly unfettered constitutional right for individual gun ownership, including domestic abusers, terrorists, felons, and the mentally ill. If elected, it stands to reason that she would want to appoint to the Supreme Court a judge who interprets the Second Amendment more consistent with her views than Justice Scalia’s. 
  • If you are a gun owner, lock up your guns and do not risk that your child will be able to access a gun. Take responsibility for your guns.   Even if it is legal to open or conceal carry a gun in public, seriously consider leaving yours at home. Too many guns have fired “accidentally” in public places, such as  public bathrooms, Wal-Mart, restaurants, and hotel lobbies.
  • Before your child goes to a playdate or to a friend’s house, ask the parent if there are guns in the household.  Consider restricting visits to that home (especially if the parents do not keep their guns locked up at all times) and plan more playdates in your home, which is hopefully a gun-free zone.  If not, and you must have a gun for self-defense, consider buying a smart gun that can only fire if the owner is holding it.
  • Still skeptical about the role that our lax gun laws play in mass shootings, such as the Orlando nightclub massacre?  Read the “Definitive Guide to the Gun Safety Debate.”

With Love & Kindness,

The FeMOMist




We Are Living in a Post-Feminist Era and It’s Bad for Women & Our Girls

I remember them clearly. There were these books in my elementary school classroom about the earliest feminists: the ones who fought for the right to vote, or flew a plane, or pursued undercover reporting, or freed slaves through an underground railroad. These books were, in retrospect, highly inspirational to me; they sent the message that, even as an 11 or 12-year-old girl living in the U.S. in the late 1970s, I really could grow up to do anything I wanted. They also taught me that women had struggled with the pervasive sexism that had been deeply entrenched in our society from the earliest days, and that these things didn’t happen easily. So, these early feminists were also heroes to me. Besides reading, I also watched my fair share of TV, and loved programs like That Girl, and Mary Tyler Moore, and Maude. These shows made me see how a woman could be smart, strong, and feminine, all at the same time.

Then there was the proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA),  which provided, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” (If it were written anew today, I suspect that the word “sex” would be changed to “gender.”) To me, the ERA made perfect sense because I learned at my Quaker school that, as a matter of morality, everyone is equal. I understood that the ERA was an important addition to our Constitution and that a certain number of states needed to ratify it for it to become law.   Congress had already approved it and only 38 of the states needed to ratify for it to become the law of the land. I also remembered how disappointed I was when I learned that there were not enough states and it looked like there might never be enough states. I’ve since learned that the ERA would have passed—we only needed 3 more states—but for the counter-movement of Phyllis Schlafly, an antifeminist political activist who basically told married women/housewives across America (and at the time about 65% of American women did get married) that they had it cushy already, but the ERA would send us off to war and have other negative effects.   Phyllis Schlafly’s movement killed the ERA. We lost our chance, and it was because of a woman. If I had realized this at the time, I am certain I would have seen this as the worst betrayal.

Even younger, when I was in kindergarten, I remember going into school and proudly telling the teacher that my mom voted for McGovern while my dad voted for Nixon.   This taught me that not only would I eventually have the right to vote, but just as importantly, that I didn’t have to exercise it the same way my husband did—that my right to vote was valuable and real and belonged to me.

My aunts were self-professed feminists—ahead of their time—and some of my earliest memories are of family gatherings where they would debate politics (often but not always involving women’s issues) with my father and uncles. I thought that was normal family gathering conversation, and that women should discuss and debate these things with men. I discussed U.S. history with my dad all the time at the dinner table. He had views about girls that were pretty much par for the course in that era: girls are good at English; boys are good at math and science. I certainly fit that mold, though I will never know if my father’s views encouraged me to think that I did, and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

On the other hand, my dad did introduce me to one of the earliest PC’s, made in the late 70s by Radio Shack, which he bought for his law practice—sparking an interest in computers, somewhat unusual in girls and women, that exists to this day—and had me doing data entry for him at the age of 10 or 11. Either way, my father never questioned that I was going to college and when I graduated cum laude from an Ivy League school he couldn’t have been prouder that I was going on to pursue the same career he did, as an attorney, with one of the largest law firms in the country.

After the fantasy world that was college in the 1980s, I carried my feminist sensibilities with me to law school, and beyond.   I took for granted, with a vague awareness of Roe v. Wade, that I could control whether or not I became pregnant through readily available contraception and could even have a safe abortion if I ever needed or wanted one. In the 1990’s, it was more common to be a professional woman (thanks to the trailblazers before us) and sexual harassment lawsuits could now be pursued in court due to the Civil Rights Act of 1991, resulting in more professional and civilized environments where men and women worked together.   I didn’t feel at all out of place at my law school where the male to female ratio was about 1:1, and I made the prestigious law review along with a lot of other women.

Then I graduated, and was suddenly thrust into the real world. In the early 90’s, the biggest issue facing us women (and a double-edged sword) was how to “have it all.”  Our parents raised us to be confident and think maybe we really could be “superwomen.”  (Another sign of feminism: Many of the younger women in my firm, though married, had decided to keep their “maiden name” or at least used their maiden name as a middle name.) I saw though the lifestyle of the female attorneys at my firm, even those who had somehow negotiated part-time status, and that almost all of the lawyers who became moms left over time. They had burnt out—we women lawyers worked as hard as the men—and they not only were working, but also taking care of a baby and running a household.

Moreover, I saw situations where part-time female attorneys ended up working for longer hours than they had negotiated—for the same salary they negotiated—so essentially they were underpaid. Also, the firm did not provide on-site day care, which made things even more difficult for these women who had to rush home to nannies or au pairs, or to a day care center. Fortunately, we big firm lawyers made enough money (alone or with one’s spouse) to cover the cost of the child care and still earn a living, but it quickly became apparent to me that in essence the cost of childcare ate up a sizeable portion of one’s income as a female lawyer and could be a barrier to resuming work for many women generally.

As a child, I didn’t even know if I wanted to be a mother some day, and gave it little thought, until I hit my mid-20s when my biological clock and maternal urges kicked into gear. The days of most of our parents—getting married young and having babies—were over. How could I possibly manage a career as a litigator at a large firm and a family? It didn’t help that I had a chronic illness—Crohn’s disease—that flared off and on, and even on my best days I never felt like I had the energy of the so-called “superwomen” I saw all around me. When I did get married—several months before I turned 30—I started noticing articles and hearing buzz about another phenomenon: By delaying having babies into their 30s or even early 40s, professional women like me who put career first risked infertility.  Sure enough, when the time came to try, I couldn’t get pregnant. I waited until my mid-30s and that was too long. Eventually, I did become pregnant and gave birth—twice—but at the time two years seemed like an eternity and I wondered if I would ever be a mother.

It was when I was very, very pregnant with my second child that I sat at a table with law school friends and realized what a deep chasm that had formed between us. We were all smart women, who practiced law in our chosen specialties. One woman had decided that she was going to have a child, but only one. The other woman was divorced after a short, disastrous marriage, and had no children.   The two mothers (me being one of them) at the table exchanged some ugly words that ended the friendship. I had decided to stay home with my two children. (To be completely honest, I’ll never know if I would have made that decision if I did not also have a serious chronic illness, but it was my decision and I owned it wholeheartedly.) The other mom went right back to work after a maternity leave from her job as a lobbyist, which had always been the plan. I believe she still works at the same job 14 years later.   That night, though, it was all about the judging, which was couched in angry words and harsh tones. Who made the right decision? What was the more feminist choice?

With all these years of hindsight I can look back and say—we both did. Feminism is, to me, the ability to choose one’s own path in life, without government interference for sure, but also without judgment from other women, or anybody else.   It is, put another way, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, rights which, by the way, are only provided in the Declaration of Independence to extend to men.  So now I must ask the question: How far have we come, since I went into a kindergarten classroom and proudly announced my mother voted for the other guy, or even since I went to law school?   Young women and not surprisingly many men today seem to think we are living in a post-feminist society and perhaps, by dint of views like theirs, we are. But is that a positive or a negative development for women and girls?

Well, we have certainly evolved in our views towards women to some extent. There are currently 3 women on the Supreme Court, more than ever before. There are 20 women out of the total 100 currently in the Senate, and another 84 women out of the total 435 currently in House. There are many women in state legislatures around the country and a handful of governors (currently 6 out of 50).   This is a huge improvement over the makeup of our government in the early 90’s.  There are also more women working in a wider range of fields than ever before.

Still, we know that women remain a distinct minority in our government, sorely underrepresented in the upper echelons of the business world, in engineering and science fields, and in other careers thought by my father’s generation to be more for men than women. We know that, while there are sexual harassment laws, far too many women endure the sexual abuse and date rape that occurs on college campuses and elsewhere, and the victim shaming or sweeping under the rug that happens if a woman dares to complain about it.  We know that there continue to be disparities in salary for the same job  (even for Hollywood superstars like Jennifer Lawrence), no federally mandated paid maternity leave, and other obstacles that keep women from being able to work and have a family at the same time, thus making many of us lose traction or even fail in our careers.

We know that there are 15 states that still refuse to ratify the ERA despite it being introduced in various states every year since the 1970s. We know that we are but one Supreme Court justice away from further eroding or even overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.  We know that Planned Parenthood is under attack and many conservative men in our government (and even some Republican female lawmakers) seek to defund it.  Finally, we stand on the brink of determining if we will elect our first woman President after hundreds of years of men. Despite this woman being eminently qualified for the job, we hear all the time the sexist views that persist when discussing her character traits and demeanor.   Misogynistic views towards Hillary Clinton extend to the popularity of highly offensive merchandise sold over the Internet that have Monica Lewinsky’s image with taglines like “I Got the ‘Job’ Done When Hillary Couldn’t” or “clever” retorts like “Hillary will go down faster than Bill’s pants,” and even “Trump that Bitch.”  Seriously.

Sexism is the persistent idea that somehow and, in some way, men are superior to women, or that we are objects put on this earth for their pleasure and service, and we should therefore be treated differently as a result.   It pervades our popular culture (for a woman, appearance is more important than anything else), our politics (nicknames like “Shrillary”), our business world (in the Fortune 500, there are only 22 companies with female CEOs), and our social interactions with one another. Instead of shows like Mary Tyler Moore or books about strong, positive female role models in the 1970s, we have instead The Real Housewives of Potomac and books and movies like Fifty Shades of Grey. To pretend sexism doesn’t exist and say things like, for example, “Don’t vote for Hillary Clinton just because she’s a woman,” particularly a woman like Clinton, whose goal is to further and even prioritize women’s rights, is to be like Phyllis Schafly, dismissing the ERA as bad for women, all those years ago.

It is so very apparent that while young women and most men believe we are in a post-feminist era, we are not in a post-sexist era any more than we are in a post-racial era. Moreover, if Barack Obama’s historic presidency is any indication, even if Hillary Clinton becomes our first women president, that will not mean the end of sexism in this country, and it surely will rear its ugly head in how others treat her or talk about her. Many conservative white men in particular will be unhappy and frustrated over the loss of their grip on executive power for yet another four years, and talk of “taking back their country” will continue.

Women of every ilk live in our great country: single, married, divorced; employed, unemployed, self-employed; straight and gay; religious and secular. Indeed, women fall into various combinations of these “categories.” It is not anymore the norm that a woman goes from her father’s home to her husband’s and is protected by him until the day she dies. Thus, when we advance the rights of all women, we advance the rights of everyone. As Hillary Clinton put it so eloquently (see below) when she went to Beijing 20 years ago at the Fourth World Conference on Women, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights.”

Girls and young women may not completely understand the history of women’s rights, may take for granted certain advances that required a lot of hard work and dogged determination by relatively few heroic women, and will certainly continue to be pummeled (brainwashed?) by messages born of an inherently sexist and paternalistic society.  Nevertheless, I propose we try our best to teach them before they leave home, for college, and certainly for the real world, that women’s rights are their rights, and the prospective rights of their daughters and granddaughters.

With love and kindness,

The FeMOMist

16 Female Empowerment Anthems (& 1 Pop Song that Set Us Back Decades)


I was in the car with my 14-year-old daughter listening to the Hits 1 station on satellite radio and I think she was a little surprised at my reaction to what was the “song of the summer” a few summers back. I abruptly changed the station and couldn’t help but say aloud in an annoyed tone, “I can’t believe they are still playing this song.” You see, I actually LISTEN to the lyrics of the songs that come on the radio, especially the stations that my kids like to listen to, which I suppose you can call generically “pop music.” So anyway, I didn’t have to listen to any more than the first couple bars because how many times have I heard that song played? The song I’m talking about is “Blurred Lines,” by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams (or actually not penned by Robin, whom you may recall copped to being strung out on prescription painkillers through the entire process, and didn’t write the song at all), and featuring rapper T.I.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no Tipper Gore, and can tolerate some explicit language and even sexual innuendo, but I do think there are some songs that have become so engrained into our culture and that have content that is seriously damaging to our kids.  Take “Blurred Lines,” which includes lyrics such as “I know you want it . . . but you’re a good girl. . . .You’re an animal. Baby, it’s in your nature. Just let me liberate you. That man is not your mate and that why I’m gon’ take you.” The rap portion of the song is even worse. Did you even know that it contains this lyric: “I’ll give you something big enough to tear your a$$ in two.”???  Date rape much?

It would seem that Robin, Pharrell, and T.I. are inviting men to question whether “no” actually means “no,” and to sexually harm women, but it’s set to such darn catchy music (still can’t get it out of my head after hearing it earlier today), that we all say, “Wow, what a great, fun song.”  And (this is only as of June 2013—the summer had just begun) the music video was watched on YouTube over 73 million times, played over the radio over 50,000 times, had more than 1.4 million downloads, and made megastars out of Robin and Pharrell. Then, we are somehow shocked when we hear about the high rate of sexual assault and date rape on college campuses.

Context. It’s the only realistic answer when it comes to the non-stop popular culture that bombards our kids every day and leaves them with the idea that “no” might really not mean “no,” or that a girl is nothing without a boyfriend, or that appearance counts for everything in this world, or that sex is the end all be all. So, you can’t stop the culture bombardment—even those of you who may still be monitoring closely the content—because, face it, popular culture permeates our entire society and they are going to see and hear it: on iTunes, at a friend’s house, or on YouTube anytime he or she has a phone and you are not around. What you can do, however, is ferret out the truly pernicious aspects of our popular culture and point out to your teen that they are listening to a song about date rape, for example, and then talk to them seriously and meaningfully about date rape.

One more example: there was so much media attention directed at the book and movie “Fifty Shades of Gray,” but did anyone stop and think about how this so-called relationship might look to a teenager?  The story is about a college woman who is completely submissive and subordinate to a much older (wealthy) man who won’t take no for an answer.  And by submissive I mean, like S&M submissive, but also under his complete domination and control.  Even if you think your daughter (or son) isn’t paying attention, you can’t know for sure unless you open up the dialogue. Tell your teen son that “no” means “no” and to respect girls and women, and tell your teen daughter that she has the right to choose when and how she allows others to touch her body—that she is the sole keeper of her body—and that she is worthy of respect.   Because I’ve seen some rather ugly, scary things written on social media by middle schoolers about sex and date rape, which was so disheartening. It’s clear that these messages are coming from all corners and it is our responsibility to make sure that at least it is put in the proper context. I have so much more to say on this topic, but that will be for another day. In the meantime, let’s focus on the positive!

Our pop culture does have some saving graces. Every so often, a badass woman releases a song that becomes very popular, and that song is actually about female empowerment! I love these songs and fortunately since they are also set to catchy music they can also have an impact on our culture, our teens. However, some of these songs also need context, because sometimes the artist is being ironic or symbolic.   So here are some songs—actually anthems—that I have compiled. The next time Hits 1 plays “Blurred Lines” I’ll be ready with the antidote. In fact, I think I’ll make an iTunes playlist!

16 ANTHEMS OF FEMALE EMPOWERMENT (in no particular order)

Click on the song title to hear the song AND read the lyrics!

1.  “Let It Go” by Idina Menzel

Ah, how many times have we moms heard this song from the Disney movie, “Frozen”? Actually my kids were a bit old to become obsessed with a Disney movie so I never heard it enough that I got sick of it. I still listen to it in the rare times that it still is played on the radio. First of all, it’s sung by Idina Menzel, who is possibly one of the best female vocalists of all time. But it’s more than that—the movie plus that song equals young girls growing up to see that not all princesses are crooning “Someday my prince will come…” and that they should be who they want to be: “Don’t hold it back anymore…”   Also, the song teaches that everybody makes mistakes and to tune out the naysayers, something even we adult women sometimes forget to do.

2.  “Run the World (Girls)” (clean version!) by Beyonce

This song just might be the quintessential female empowerment anthem. Who run the world? Girls! Well that couldn’t be further from the truth (unless a certain woman ends up winning the 2016 election—wink, wink), but isn’t it important that we teach our girls to think that they can or could some day? My favorite line is “Boy you know you love it how we’re smart enough to make these millions. Strong enough to bear the children, then get back to business” Who runs the world? This song is a step in the right direction.

3. “Roar” by Katy Perry

Katy Perry’s anthem is the story of her evolution from mouse to lioness!   (Well, she did come from a strict, religious upbringing so I’m going to assume without knowing for sure that it’s at least partly autobiographical.) This is such an inspirational song for girls with a message that it’s ok to be assertive and strong, and also how to be resilient. Coming from one of their faves, Katy Perry, it is a message that can really resonate.

4.  “Material Girl” by Madonna

OK well this one is kind of the 80s—greed is good—version of an anthem, but it’s Madonna!   Her entire career has been about female empowerment.   Remember the time she said early in her career that her goal in life was “to rule the world”?   To put that statement into context, this was the 80s—before there was such a thing as the concept of sexual harassment and relatively few women in professional careers or the upper echelons of power in our country—and she was a female symbol of strength and power (even though some of our own parents might have seen her as a bad influence). As for the song itself, the point is in the end, which in essence is: I don’t need you, a man, in any event, because I make my own money.

5.  “Confident” by Demi Lovato

Well, what is wrong with being confident?  Absolutely nothing–it should be no-brainer that it is better to be confident than not.  The issue is that our girls have a confidence problem relative to the boys,  which partly explains why girls do well in school and testing, but then get passed over for the guy when the time comes to get a job.  So if one of their favorite artists is telling them it’s a good thing to be confident, well, that can only be a good thing.

6.  “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor

An earlier feminist anthem released in 1978, within a year of when we learned that the Equal Rights Amendment was not to be, this song is actually about a woman’s plucky determination to get by without her man who wronged her. He has the nerve to walk through the door and she’s not having it. The emotion and passion of this song is impossible to resist.

7.  “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten

This: “Like a small boat on the ocean, sending big waves into motion. Like how a single word can make a heart open. I might only have one match but I can make an explosion.” And it goes on from there. Beautiful, meaningful poetry set to a beautiful melody, and released in the year 2015, amidst a lot of bad, inappropriate fluff music. I love Rachel Platten’s defiant “Fight Song”! Apparently, so does Hillary Clinton, as the song is often played after her rallies and special events.

8.  “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper

This 80s song, widely considered to be and used as a party or dance song, actually has a “hidden” feminist message. The song is about a young, unmarried, working woman (an increasingly common demographic by then), who holds on to her right to live her life on her own terms.   Not her mother’s, nor her father’s. And this: “Some boys take a beautiful girl and hide her away from the rest of the world. I wanna be the one who walks in the sun. . . .” I have to give props to Cyndi Lauper too for “True Colors,” which has become an anthem for the acceptance of people who are different from the norm, including the LGBTQ community.

9.  “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy

“Invincible,” “strong,” “wise.” “If I have to I can do anything!” These are words that we want our girls to associate with being female. This early 1970s folk anthem—the original feminist anthem—does that and much more.

10.  “Respect” by Aretha Franklin

This still-beloved classic from the 60s still says it all in a word. Respect. Respect yourself, and respect others. Everything else will then fall into place.

11.  “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift generally writes songs about relationships, both good and bad ones, but every so often she makes an exception. This 2014 song off her smash “1989” album sends the message to girls that they shouldn’t get hung up on what others think or say about them. Just do what Taylor does and Shake. It. Off. In this era where cyberbullying happens all the time, and there have even been incidents of teen suicides at least partially attributable to cyberbullying, this message is a very important one to convey.

12.  “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” by Kelly Clarkson

While ultimately about the end of a relationship, this popular anthem is also about not needing a man for happiness.  Kelly Clarkson sings this song like a mantra and it’s a good mantra to have during the times of trouble that we all face in a lifetime.

13.  “Just a Girl” by No Doubt (Gwen Stefani)

So, the casual listener might think this song is actually about submission, but it is completely sarcastic and ironic. I love the lyrics to this song: “Oh I’m just a girl, pretty and petite, so don’t let me have any rights.” The lyrics also slyly get at victim/slut shaming: “The moment that I step outside, so many reasons for me to run and hide. I can’t do the little things I hold so dear, ‘cause it’s all those little things that I fear.” Make sure you point out the sarcasm to your kids—if not heard that way, it is actually a terrible song!

14.  “No” by Meghan Trainor

What better antidote to “Blurred Lines” and “Fifty Shades of Gray” than Meghan Trainor’s new pop tune? Basically this song is about a woman repeating “no” over and over again to a guy who is trying to hit on her. It’s such a simple word and yet there is no word more empowering for girls and women. Really, just one “no” should suffice but Meghan has to say “no” to a number of come-ons because of some boys/men who have now been conditioned to think that maybe, just maybe, “no” means “yes.”   “My name’s ‘no,’ my sign’s ‘no,’ my number’s ‘no,’ you need to let it go.” Yes!

15.  “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross

A song from the early 80s from the great Diana Ross, “I’m Coming Out” has a message similar to the one in “Let It Go”—I’m free to be me!

16.  “Brave” by Sara Bareilles

Saturday Night Life satirized this song, and it was pretty funny, but really if you listen to the lyrics, they’re not about saying everything that’s on your mind with no filter, like your great-aunt Bertha. One big problem girls and women have is that over time we become increasingly silent. We are afraid of what others might think of us. We are afraid that our points of view will be belittled or worse. Sara Bareilles tells us we should be brave “and let the words fall out.”


So there you have it:  16 empowering songs that help counter the damage done by songs like “Blurred Lines.”  Can you think of others?  Are there any feminist songs that have been recorded by men?


With Love and Kindness,

The FeMOMist