Opinion

After Arizona, will Obama learn to include women?

I was moved and touched by the Arizona memorial service on Wednesday night. In part by President Obama’s speech, but a bigger part was the surrounding cast of women. Governor Brewer’s hopeful speech and Secretary Napolitano’s reading from the Old Testament. The miraculous story of Congresswoman Giffords opening her eyes for the first time during a visit from her friends Senator Gillibrand and Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz.

For a moment, I was in a trance — hypnotized by the thought of gender equality in our leadership. Then I snapped back to reality.

Yes, just as I was snapping to, Air Force One would be landing back in D.C. Senator Gillibrand and Congresswomen Wasserman Schultz and Pelosi would deplane and return to their 17% minority. President Obama would be head back to the White House — or should I say, the “fraternity house”: his inner-circle is composed almost exclusively of men.

Yes, to the president’s credit, he did appoint two women to the Supreme Court. That’s the end of the good news for women. Here’s the bad news:

  • Obama’s cabinet picks are just 25% women.
  • No women have leadership roles in running our country’s economy.
  • Obama has only one woman in his inner-circle: Valerie Jarrett.

President Obama had a chance to change the dynamic last week; but he did not. He had two openings in his inner-circle. He chose men (William Daley and Gene Sperling), ignoring calls from some women’s groups once again. Furthering the belief of many that when the photo ops are over, this president may well be uncomfortable with women.

Paradoxically, Speaker Boehner in his opening days seems quite comfortable with women. One of his first symbolic gestures: to build a women’s restroom near the House floor. Next, Boehner shocked even me: he officially endorsed a woman for RNC chair (Maria Cino). And here’s a prediction: Boehner’s ability to cry in public will make it easier for women candidates to do the same in the future. Hey — I gotta admit — although I agree with Speaker Boehner on very few issues, I like the guy! He walks the walk for women on the right.

I fear our current president only talks the talk. Yes, he signed The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. But, he did nothing to shepherd through the act which would legislate equal pay, The Paycheck Fairness Act. Yes, he created the White House Council for Women and Girls. Yet, despite recently being tapped to become the First Lady’s chief of staff, Tina Tchen will also continue to run the Council — which should be easy because the Council wasn’t doing anything anyways.

So I say this to our president: yes, let’s live up to the dreams of Christina Green, the nine-year-old who was tragically and senselessly killed in the Arizona shooting. The girl who was interested in politics and therefore came to see Congresswoman Giffords, Arizona’s only female representative in the U.S. House or Senate. Why don’t we have more women in leadership for girls like Christina to see and model after? And President Obama, what will YOU do to live up to her expectations?

Amy Siskind is the President and Co-Founder of The New Agenda, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls.