I was watching the –Tarpon High football game two Friday nights ago, sitting on the visitor’s side (Dunedin’s), when a young man — maybe 16 years old — entered the stands and stood seven or eight rows below me.
He had on a baseball cap and long shorts, and most conspicuously, a T-shirt that read, in huge letters:
“I HAVE THE D---, SO I MAKE THE RULES.”
“Oh my God,” I said aloud. I pointed him out to my stepmom, who was sitting beside me. She was similarly appalled.
We both deemed him a total idiot for wearing something so aggressive, condescending and demeaning. I felt like going down there and confronting him. But I realized that he probably just thought it was funny, and not much more. And the “rules” on the T-shirt were most likely meant as the rules of a relationship.
So why was I so angry?
Because the general public — and at that moment, me — viewing that T-shirt might interpret it to mean ALL THE RULES. He was stating the obvious. It’s true. Overall, those of us with the penises do make the rules.
But that doesn’t mean it’s right for him to flaunt it in our faces in such a nasty way.
It’s as if a rich man were to yell at a homeless man on the street, “Ha! I’m rich and you’re not!”
It reminds me of the corporate executives who took huge salaries when their employees were suffering the loss of their retirement funds.
The truth about inequality hurts. Any kind.
I wanted to go up to him and call him out, to ask the audience what they thought of his T-shirt. I wanted to call the Dunedin High School principal over and ask him if he thought this was an appropriate shirt to wear to a game, if this young man was welcome on our side wearing that shirt.
A principal knows disrespect when he sees it. I think he would have agreed with me that there is no place for a shirt like that at a school function. Maybe the principal did ask him to leave. I don’t know. The kid disappeared a little while later.
Seeing that shirt has made me want to do something so that more women make the rules that this young man has to follow.
Of the 27 people that we Floridians send to Congress — where the rules for our nation are largely made — six are women. Six!
For every woman in that group, there are three men (or a little more).
Who are these women? They are (with the years they began serving): Sandy Adams (2011), Corrine Brown (1993), Kathy Castor (2007; her district includes parts of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (1989), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (2005) and Frederica Wilson (2011). And not one is a senator; our senators are both men. These women all serve in the House.
Of the 160 lawmakers serving in the Florida Legislature in Tallahassee — where the rules for our state are made — only 40 are women. Again, for every woman, there are three men.
Completely outnumbered. Again. (And that’s not even including the executive and judicial branches!)
Why is it important for women to be equally represented in the bodies that make our society’s rules? What happens when women participate equally to make the rules?
I think of the organizations that are working to elect more women to public office. The first I think of is EMILY’s List, which has raised more than $82 million for Democratic, pro-choice women at every level and has made a huge difference for their chosen candidates.
Another is the non-partisan Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey. While looking through their website, I came across their 2012 Project. The goal is to elect more women to Congress and state Legislatures in 2012 — in the wake of the Census, when all national and state districts are redrawn, opening up new seats and opportunities.
The slogan underneath their logo says:
“Don’t get mad. Get elected.”
It seems like it was written for me. I’m not the one to get elected, but I would love to help some other women get elected. Like they urge, I would love to channel that anger about inequality into creating change.
One glimmer of hope: My 5-year-old daughter was recently chosen by her kindergarten teacher for student council (for being “responsible,” she told me). She had her first meeting on Monday. She loved it. Her assignment was to come home and find out which was the poorest country on earth. We looked it up on the Internet and learned about Zimbabwe. We gazed together at the photo of the little African boy on the screen, with no shoes, a dusty tunic and a distended belly.
“Government is supposed to care for people, and help us live together,” I tell her. The booklet she brought home tells me her student council is going to raise money for Heifer International, to purchase livestock for families living in poverty around the world.
I am brought back to my long-held belief of why it’s important for women to be serving in government. We know something about caring for others, about getting along with others. Excellent public service is the ultimate act of care.
I’m also thinking today of a T-shirt my mom wore in the '70s. I remember it being light blue, with dark blue writing. It said:
“A woman’s place is in the House ... and the Senate."
I loved that T-shirt. I still do. Maybe I should get one like it, and wear it to the Dunedin High football games this year. Maybe I should get one for my daughter, too.
And if you want to join me to help elect some more women from Florida in 2012, let me know. I’m game.
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