Kirsten was a great choice. As a congresswoman, she was a champion for families in her upstate New York district and a creative problem solver willing to reach across the aisle to get the job done for her constituents. And she was a leader on transparency, putting out a weekly "Sunlight Report" detailing exactly how she spent her time. The New York Times called it "a quiet touch of revolution." She was just what the Senate needed. A few days before she was sworn in, Kirsten and I sat down for lunch with Governor David Paterson and Senator Chuck Schumer. She told us, "I'm going to hit the ground running." And boy, did she. Practically overnight, Kirsten went from a junior congresswoman to a prominent and powerful senator.
This is not a new idea. During World War II, Rosie the Riveter called on women to enter the workforce and fill the jobs vacated by enlisted men. The Rosie the Riveter advertising campaign had a simple slogan: We can do it! And she told women two things: One, we need you, and two, you can make the difference. My great grandmother Mimi and my grandmother's sister, my great-aunt Betty, both saw Rosie on posters, pulled off their aprons, and headed to work at an arsenal, assembling ammunition for large weapons.
We need a Rosie the Riveter for this generation--not to draw women into professional life, because they are already there, but to elevate women's voices in the public sphere and bring women more fully into making the decisions that shape our country.
When I was a girl, I was super-athletic, and didn't spend a minute worrying about what I ate. The end of my dieting innocence came right before my high school graduation, when I went on a 5-day liquid fast, to look as thin as possible for our graduation pictures.
I lost ten pounds in those five days, which I felt very virtuous about, until I gained it all back the following week.
[By 2009, after having two children], I was fifty pounds heavier than I was before I had children. That was enough.
[By 2012], I said yes to a Daily News for an interview request about my diet and exercise. Eating right and maintaining a healthy weight are nearly universal struggles for Americans. I wanted to connect with people; why not tell my story?
Breaking my bad relationship patterns became a priority, and somewhat to my surprise, faith helped me a great deal. I started attending a weekly women's Bible study class, and quickly grew to adore it. Once I started thinking more about faith, I began to see how lost I'd been. I needed to find a partner who was loving and kind. A man who would make me happy and would also allow me to thrive. Jonathan came along at the right moment. He's handsome, charming, and sharp-minded, and he also exudes a thoughtful and generous kindness--the whole package.
That first date was a fantastic brunch, then a walk, the evening "singles" mass at church.
It's amazing how many strong, self-empowered women get caught up in bad relationships. I know all you know this, but believe me: You really do want to go for the nice guy, not the hot, flashy, or cool one.
So after the talk I walked up to Andrew, introduced myself, and said, "Mr. Secretary, I loved your speech. I agreed with everything you said. But I have to tell you, it's not so easy. I've been trying to break into a career in public service for a couple of years now, and I cannot get my foot in the door.
Andrew said, "Well if you're really serious about it, I'll have my chief of staff set up an interview for next week." I flew to Washington. Andrew interviewed me.
"I'll make you special counsel. I'll pay you the highest salary I can under the federal rules, because I know you're leaving a well-paying job. Will you take it?" [She took it.]
He walked over to his bookshelf, pulled off a thick paperback, and started reading aloud statistics about voter registration, Democratic performance, and past electoral results. I didn't know what the numbers meant. He translated: In the 20th District, a Democrat could expect roughly 45% of the vote.
Jeffery said, "You can't possibly win. There aren't enough Democrats in that district. The district is two-to-one Republican," meaning it had twice as many registered Republicans as Democrats.
"What happens if I raise $2 million & really get my message out?"
Jeffery didn't budge. "It doesn't matter. That's not how campaigns actually work."
"What happens if Sweeney gets indicted?" I asked.
Jeffery didn't miss a beat. "Well, it depends what he gets indicted for!" [Sweeney was indicted in DWI & domestic abuse charges; Gillibrand won in 2006]
Second: The word "have" sounds like women are being greedy, trying to finagle more than their fair share. Work and family are both basic tenets of our society. Last: I hate the phrase "having it all," because it demeans women who DO stay home with their children, by implying that their lives are less than full. One of the main goals of the feminist movement is that all women should be able to make the best choices for themselves and their families.
So please, let's stop talking about "having it all" and start talking about the very real challenges of "doing it all." The old debate pits women against one another and distracts the conversation from what truly matters--figuring out how working mothers can get the support they need to achieve economic security and build better, happier, more-balanced lives.
Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would put more money in the hands of people who need it. Twenty-eight million Americans, including fifteen million women, would start spending more on food, clothes, and other basics. Economists estimate that $22 billion more would flow into the economy, and this would lead to more jobs. But these issues barely gain traction in Congress, because too few of our representatives can relate. They don't earn the minimum wage. Most don't worry about childcare or family-sick-leave-policy. The majority are male, well paid, and not the primary caregiver in their homes.
I said, "Yes."
"Where do you keep them?" he asked.
Without pausing to think why he was asking the question or whether I should answer it, I said, "Under the bed."
Huge mistake. Our exchange about guns became his whole story. It made the front page of Newsday, and that lead to headlines across the state. I was so frustrated with myself for not answering more thoughtfully--and for answering at all. The topic was irrelevant to our interview. Besides, what was I thinking, telling the world, without any context, that I kept guns under my bed? One had been a raffle prize, the other a gift. Both were still locked up in their original cases. Neither Jonathan nor I had ever loaded either.
The above quotations are from Off the Sidelines|
Raise Your Voice, Change the World
by Kirsten Gillibrand.
Click here for other excerpts from Off the Sidelines
Raise Your Voice, Change the World
by Kirsten Gillibrand.
Click here for other excerpts by Kirsten Gillibrand.
Click here for a profile of Kirsten Gillibrand.
Please consider a donation to OnTheIssues.org!
Click for details -- or send donations to:
1770 Mass Ave. #630, Cambridge MA 02140
(We rely on your support!)