Nancy Pelosi: We need more women in politics

The House Minority Leader discusses feminism, Nancy Drew and how we can create an environment that empowers women

Published March 12, 2013 3:57PM (EDT)

This article originally appeared on Feministing.


Nancy Pelosi is the first woman in history to serve as Speaker of the House, aka the next person in the Presidential line of succession after the Vice President. She was Speaker from 2007 until 2011, and is now the Minority Leader.

Before she was Speaker, a role in which she was crucial to the passage of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), she was also the first woman in history to serve as Minority Whip. She also served on the House intelligence and appropriations committees. She’s been in electoral politics longer than I’ve been on the planet, and she has five kids. She’s pro-choice, has a 0% rating from the NRA, and doesn’t take any shit from anyone. She’s a 72-year-old badass. Oh, and she loves chocolate milkshakes.

We spoke earlier this week, a few hours before President Obama signed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act into law.

This woman barely needs an introduction, which is why this one is so short, so now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Nancy Pelosi.

Chloe Angyal: So, the Violence Against Women Act is reauthorized, and President Obama will sign that into law later today. But now, sequestration is going to strip out some of that funding.

Nancy Pelosi: By the time we passed the bill, it was over 500 days since the last authorization expired. It’s unconscionable. For 500 days, many women may not have had access to the lifeline they needed. But nonetheless, thank God, we got it passed.

It’s interesting to note, though, that in the last Congress, the Senate, in a bipartisan way, passed the Violence Against Women Act, but it took almost another year for it to be passed in the House and for another bill to be passed in the Senate. It’s interesting that 138 Republicans voted against it; it’s stunning to me. I understand almost everything around here, from the standpoint of understanding motivation and constituencies, but for 138 to vote against the Violence Against Women Act is taking it all to a new place in terms of their lack of understanding of what the challenges are that women face.

And then the sequester takes $20 million right out of Violence Against Women funding. But the sequester act is harmful to women in so many other ways. Many of the jobs lost will be lost by women. Since the end of the recession, women have lost more jobs in the public sector, and further cuts in the public sector, as well as the impact that has on the private sector, will hurt women. The issues that relate to women and families, whether it’s WIC, whether it’s Head Start or other initiatives like that… We have a situation where because the Republicans refuse to close special interest tax breaks, they instead choose to reduce funding for military families, and that affects women, and healthcare for military families, and that affects women, reduced funding for Meals of Wheels – four million Meals on Wheels will be cut, and many of those seniors are women and many of their caregivers are women – all because they want to protect corporate jet tax breaks and tax breaks for corporations sending jobs overseas. They don’t want millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share, and that’s why we’ll lose 750, 000 jobs, many of them women. It’s just a stunning display of their value system, and it’s very harmful to women.

CA: Who is your favourite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?

NP: Oh my, there’s a competition for that honour. I have to think about that for a long time, because every time I zero in on someone that I’ve read about and admired, it wouldn’t be in fiction. But I’d say Nancy Drew, because when I was a little girl I read those books, and it was always fascinating to me that her name was Nancy. I didn’t really know too many other Nancys except for my mother. And I can just see the books in the library and on the shelves in our home. Her moxie, her courage, and her curiosity, were quite remarkable, it was quite remarkable when you think about it, that those books were written about a girl all that time ago. And they still have salience when I read them to my grandchildren.

In real life, my mother, and my four daughters. They’re my feminist heroines. My own mother was ahead of her time in so many ways. I just wonder if she were young now, and starting out, how remarkable her life would be. She was so fabulous. And my daughters, I have four daughters who are moms and professionals, and I’m in awe of how they balance and make time to bond with their children. It’s so lovely to see. And in particular, Christine. She’s the most active feminist among them, and she leads the way for me.

CA: What recent news story made you want to scream?

NP: There’s stiff competition for that honour! I guess what sticks in my mind is the young girl in Pakistan, who is trying to advocate for education for girls, Malala. She’s so lovely, so courageous, so young, and really so at risk. A big factor for me in making judgments about people is courage, and she has so much courage. And it’s almost intolerable that that would happen. The screaming part is not that it happened, but that it happened and then we just go on, and it motivates us all to do more. For example, I met yesterday with Melinda Gates to talk about women in the world, and about how public policy affects them, and issues like family planning or micro-lending, and how we can empower women and improve their lives. And not only theirs, but their families’ and their nation’s economies. Not just in Pakistan, but in other places as well.

CA: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?

NP: We need to have women in elected positions to make their voices heard and to get policy improved, but it’s important because of what it means in the lives of America’s families, and I think the big challenge that we have is achieving public policy for quality, affordable childcare. I see it historically. The suffragettes fought for the right to vote over ninety years ago. And then World War II, women in the workplace, out of the home and into the workplace. Then the higher education of women in the next couple of decades after that. Then women in the professions. But the missing piece all along has been affordable quality childcare. And it’s not just the responsibility of the mom, but largely it has been, and if we’re going to unleash the intellect, the determination and courage of women, the clarity of thinking of women, onto the world, we need affordable quality childcare.

If you reduce the role of money in politics and increase the level of civility, you’ll have more women elected to public office, and sooner, and that nothing is more wholesome to the governmental and political process than increased participation of women. I’m very proud of what we’ve done, we’ve increased the number of women in the House, especially on the Democratic side, but it’s not enough. We’re talking incrementally all the time and I think we need to be talking in a different way; we need to make our own environment. We can’t just sit back and say, “Well, we got ten more, and soon we’ll have eight more, and in two hundred more years we’ll be at parity.” No, I think we say, “What are the factors that inhibit the increased role of women?”

We want the people who come into politics and government to be people who have plenty of options in life. They’re respected in their fields, in their homes, in their communities. Why would they subject themselves to negative campaigns and endless fundraising? They have other options. And in Congress and in government, we want people who have other options. So to make this a viable course of action for them to make their contribution to the world, I think we have to change the environment, and money is really very big factor in that, as well as the lack of civility toward anyone who decides to run, especially if she has the chance to win. I’m probably the most reviled woman in America, based on the political ads against me. And I can take it; I know why I’m here and I know my purpose, and we always say that if you aren’t effective, they don’t go after you. They leave the people who aren’t effective alone. But if these women are coming forth and they look like they can gain support and win the office and achieve standing on issues and have power, we need them to do that. And that applies not just to politics but to everything. If we’re going to fully unleash the richness of women onto our society, in the fullest possible way, on national security, and the economy, academics, politics, whatever it is, we must have affordable and quality childcare. To me, that is the most limiting factor.

I have encouraged and reached down to get women to come and try to make what we do here more family friendly, because it’s very important not only for women to reach their height sooner than they would if they waited as I did – happily so, I have no complaints – but the other part of it is it’s important for young women out there who are balancing home and work and raising kids and all the rest of that to see women who share their experience in positions of decision-making, so that they have a seat at the table.

When I first came we only had about twenty women out of 435, and all the women across the country, as I would go to events, would lay claim to each of us, because most likely they didn’t have a woman member of Congress. Well, now we have so many more, but still not enough, and it has to be a place where young women come make their mark, maybe before they start a family or as they are starting a family, as their kids are getting to school and not have to have ten or dozen year time delay. It’s very important that we have beauty in the mix of our thinking and discussion and that doesn’t discriminate what our male counterparts do, it just says that there has to be diversity in our thinking and representation in all aspects of our country. When you decrease the role of money and increase the level of civility, you’ll have more women involved in politics. And absolutely, having access to quality, affordable childcare will increase the role of women in every aspect of American life. And that will be strengthening for our country.

CA: You’re going to a desert island, and you’re allowed to take one food, one drink, and one feminist. What do you pick?

NP: I certainly would have anything chocolate. Very, very dark chocolate. My favourite is very dark chocolate ice cream. Chocolate fudge ice cream. Bittersweet dark chocolate ice cream. For the drink, a milkshake made of that. My favourite is one called an All Around Brown. It’s made with dark chocolate ice cream, chocolate milk, and chocolate syrup. An All Around Brown. Sometimes you’ll go get a milkshake and they put in chocolate ice cream and chocolate syrup, but they put white milk. This is an All Around Brown. And now for which feminist, you’re going to get me in trouble with three of my daughters, but I think they would all agree that Christine is probably the most active feminist of the group, so I’d have to say Christine. She’s so smart, she’s so interesting, and she’s so clear in her thinking. I learn from her every day. Learning is nourishing. I won’t say that chocolate ice cream and chocolate milkshake compares to learning from my daughter, but they’re all very nourishing.

By Chloe Angyal

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Campaign Finance Reform Childcare Feminism Feminists Nancy Pelosi Women In Politics