And why this period of American history offers important lessons for today.
When Hillary Clinton left the senate to become secretary of state, the governor of New York appointed a little-known congresswoman to take her place. Her name was Kirsten Gillibrand. She quickly made a name for herself through taking on issues like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the 9/11 health care bill. Over the past six years, Gillibrand has positioned herself as an advocate for women, even creating a PAC to raise money for female candidates around the country. Now she’s written a memoir, “Off the Sidelines.” In sharing her own story, the Democrat from New York calls upon all women to raise their voices and get involved in public life.
- Kirsten Gillibrand U.S. Senator, New York (D).
Feature Clip: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand On The New Womens’ Movement
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From the book OFF THE SIDELINES by Kirsten Gillibrand. Copyright © 2014 by Kirsten Gillibrand. Reprinted by arrangement with Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand reads an excerpt from her book “Off the Sidelines” in this audio clip. Reposted with permission from Random House.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane is recovering from a voice treatment. She'll be back later this month. "Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the World." That's the title of a new memoir by Kirsten Gillibrand, the Democratic Senator from New York. In it, she recounts her journey into politics, from helping her grandmother stuff envelopes as a child in Albany to running her first campaign. Hearing Hillary Clinton declare, women's rights are human rights was the moment she knew she wanted to run for office.
MS. SUSAN PAGEAnd now she calls for a new woman's movement, one that includes greater participation in everything from the PTA to Congress. In the studio with me to discuss her story is Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Thanks so much for being with us.
SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRANDOh, I'm delighted. Thank you for having me.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation in this hour. You can call our toll free number. It's 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find us on Facebook. Send us a tweet. And you will be able to watch a live video stream of this interview with Senator Gillibrand. Join our Google Hangout. You can find the link now on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Well, your book, a publicist's dream. It's already been in the headlines, revelations of sexist comments by male senators.
PAGEStunning. Surprised that that would have happened. One called you porky. Another said you're beautiful even when you're fat. Are you surprised by how much attention that has generated already?
GILLIBRANDYou know, I really am not surprised. But I included, I specifically included those comments in a chapter about appearance, because I wanted to be able to elevate the issue to the broader challenges that women are facing in the workplace, no matter where they are. Every industry, every position. And to talk about, you know, how we can elevate these debates so we can begin to change, what, you know, what support we do have and how we're treated.
PAGEThere was some immediate debate. Here was one reporter, John Bresnahan from Politico, who said the allegation that Senators might make comments like this was so far-fetched that he did not believe it really happened.
GILLIBRANDYou know, walk a mile in your wife's shoes. I would just encourage him to speak to some women in his life. Ask them if these kinds of things have ever happened to them. But, it's funny, a lot of times, women are disbelieved. And we see that in contexts like sexual assault in the military or sexual assault on college campuses. Where those who report these crimes, in those instances, are disbelieved, are blamed. And so, I would listen carefully if a woman tells you a story.
PAGEI would say and want to note that he has since apologized and says he does believe you. And I'd also note that there was just this outpouring by women senators, women reporters, women staffers on the Hill to say that it was no surprise to them that this happened. So then there was a secondary debate. And that was, why didn't you say who it was? Why didn't you?
GILLIBRANDBecause it's more about the larger issue of how are women treated in the workplace. It's not about any specific comment at any time in my life. And it's more important for me to elevate this debate into a national conversation about what we can do to make sure women's voices are heard, making sure women are part of these debates, and then changing some of the workplace rules. And making sure that women can reach their full potential. So it's more important for me to talk about the broader theme and the broader challenges so that women can see themselves.
GILLIBRANDI wanted a reader to read this book and say, oh, I can't believe that happened to her. That totally happened to me. Or, what did she do? Or how did -- just to see themselves in these very personal stories so that they can realize not only can I push ahead and achieve whatever I want to achieve. But those comments don't have to undermine me. They don't have to hold me back. For me, the tougher comments were when I was younger. I didn't have the tools to deal with them. I share a story in here about being a young lawyer in a law firm.
GILLIBRANDAnd working really hard on a case for months over months and -- or having a celebratory dinner about progress. And my boss talks about maybe a second on oh, and thank you Kirsten for her great work, but don't you know, doesn't she look great? Look at her new haircut. And I was so deflated at that moment. I thought, are you kidding me? After all the work I put in, you're commenting on my hair? I was, I was crushed. And those are the kinds of things that I want young women to know.
GILLIBRANDThat if someone undermines you in that way, it doesn't have to affect you. You can push on, and someday, you can rise in that organization and be that guy's boss and change the climate yourself.
PAGEYou have two sons, but you begin this book by writing, if I had a daughter, I would tell her certain things. I would tell her that it's great to be smart, that emotions are powerful, so don't be afraid to show them. That some people may judge you by how you look or what you wear. That's just how it is, but keep your focus on what you say and do. I would tell her that she may see the world differently from boys, and that difference is essential and good. These are not the lessons, I feel, I need to give my sons.
GILLIBRANDWell, you know, the story goes on to this one time when Jonathan took Theo and Henry on a little hike to Roosevelt Island. And it's an island right in the middle of the Potomac, lots of trails, birds, wildlife, beautiful. And Henry's two and a half at the time. And they're walking up a hill, and Jonathan's sensing a little bit of a slowdown and says to Henry, come on Henry. And Henry says, oh dad, we can do it because we're men. He's two and a half. And I wasn't there, so I hear this story from my husband when he gets home that night.
GILLIBRANDAnd I'm like, are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? And so, the point of this book is, how many girls are saying, we can do it because we're women. And I don't think it's enough. And I want more women and girls to say, my voice, my viewpoint, my life experience is different, and it's valuable. And if I can share what I've learned and what I see and what I feel is right, I can make a difference.
PAGESo there are now 20 women in the U.S. Senate. That's a record. Does it make a difference?
GILLIBRANDDefinitely. And it makes a difference across all issues, because what we see when we have diversity, whether it's on a corporate board or in Congress, is the diversity of views often amplify a different level of debate and reach different solutions. Studies show when women are on corporate boards, those companies perform better. Higher returns on investment, higher returns on equity. There's one statistic that makes me laugh every time. If there's at least one woman on a corporate board, that company is 40 times less likely to have to restate their earnings.
GILLIBRANDThat's a big deal. So, what I've seen in Congress, and I share some stories, is when women are on these committees or in these hearings, they bring up different issues. I remember when I was first elected, and I was on the Armed Services Committee. Speaker Pelosi put five women on that committee and it really transformed the nature of the debate. And one of the women on the committee was Gabby Giffords. And I remember her telling a story about how -- the hearing was on military readiness.
GILLIBRANDAnd she told a story about how she went to her base in her district and that one of the doctors there said that 70 percent of the men and women going back into combat were not mentally or emotionally ready. They didn't have enough dwell time or enough treatment. And so Gabby really hammered the generals that were testifying on, you know, what are you doing for the mental health of these men and women? Are they really ready? Are we caring enough about our personnel? And I amplified her voice and said, why is the divorce rate, the domestic violence rate and the suicide rate higher than it's ever been?
GILLIBRANDAre you really treating PTSD? What are you doing about it? So, normally, our male colleagues were more often focused on how many ships? How many guns? How many aircraft are we gonna build? And a lot of the women in the committee, you know, shifted the focus. So, together, that balance of male and female perspectives, focusing on equipment, which is obviously very important to military readiness. But also, personnel, really put forward a much broader vision of what does military readiness mean? And that's just a very small example of the difference a woman at a table could make.
PAGESo, we have 20 US Senators who are women. We have had a string of women as Secretaries of State, although a man has now reclaimed that particular post. The likely Democratic Presidential nominee, next time, is likely to be a woman. And yet, you write that the woman's movement is dead. What do you mean?
GILLIBRANDWell, I was particularly worried when in 2010, it was the first year that the percentage of women in Congress actually went down. And that was a wakeup call to me that women's voices weren't being heard. And we had a lot of debates about choice. We had an amendment that would have denied women access to birth control, even if they paid for it with their own money. And I thought, what is going on? You know, we are going in the wrong direction. Why are we still fighting the battles that our mothers and our grandmothers already won?
GILLIBRANDWhy can we not move ahead and focus on all the issues that are affecting women? And I felt like we weren't making progress. So I use this book to talk about a whole host of issues that I think are important to women. And I'm trying to create this call to action, to say, your voices are necessary. We shouldn't be debating whether access to contraception should be affordable. That should be a foregone conclusion. 98 percent of women take contraception.
GILLIBRANDAnd what about simple issues like equal pay for equal work? In this day and age, for women to be earning 77 cents on the dollar for the same work as men, and African American women 68 cents. And Latinas 58 cents. It's outrageous.
PAGESo if there is a new woman's movement, a movement that's moved past some of the old battles of the past, what would it be focused on? What would it be like?
GILLIBRANDWell, I want to focus on all issues that women care about, and I want women to hold these elected leaders accountable. So, I liken it to what Rosie the Riveter was during World War II. You remember that iconic poster, a woman with her sleeves rolled up. The slogan was we can do it. And the reason why it was effective is because it told America's women, number one, you're needed. And number two, your participation would make the difference. And you can do this.
GILLIBRANDAnd we need the same thing in politics and governing and all issues today. If you tell the American woman, not only is your voice needed but you speaking up on what you care about will make the difference, I think it could change outcomes. Rosie the Riveter had six million women enter the workforce because of it. If we had six million more women voting or holding elected leaders accountable, or speaking out on issues they cared about, you'd have different agendas.
GILLIBRANDYou'd have different issues being discussed at the PTA. You'd have more focus, perhaps, on things that affect women and their children. You'd have more solutions being offered. And that would be better for America, make America stronger.
PAGEWe're talking to Kirsten Gillibrand about her new book. It's called "Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the World." It's being a live -- you can watch it on a live stream if you go to our Google Hangout. Go to our website and you can take a look at the -- you can find the link. Also on our Facebook and Twitter pages. She's the junior Democratic Senator from New York. Her memoir was released yesterday. We're gonna take a short break.
GILLIBRANDWhen we come back, we'll talk about her personal family's history and her amazing grandmother who was a political force in her own life. We'll also go to the phones and take your calls. 1-800-433-8850. Or send us an email to email@example.com. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me in the studio, Kirsten Gillibrand, the senator from New York. She's written a new book. It's called "Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the World." You know, I mentioned your grandmother Polly. Chapter one in your book is called I'm One of Polly's Girls. I think that's the title of the chapter. Read us a little bit about what you wrote about your grandmother.
GILLIBRANDMy grandmother didn't go to college. Nobody in her family ever had. In 1936 at age 20 she married Peter Noonan a devout young man from Watervliet, N.Y. Two years later she took a job as a secretary in the New York State legislature and that's when her life started leaping to places most women of her generation never imagined.
GILLIBRANDFrom the 1920s until the 1980s, Albany was an un-rehabilitated Democratic machine town. One mayor held office for over 40 years. By the time I entered politics, the city had progressed. But in Polly's day, Chicago had nothing on the capitol of New York. Back then Albany ran on loyalty and favors. You needed a pothole filled or your uncle needed a job raking leaves because it would just kill his spirit to be out of work, you called somebody who knew somebody. And before long, the person you called was my grandmother.
GILLIBRANDShe loved her city and the people in it. She always insisted that Albany had no political machine. It's not a machine. It's a well-oiled organization, she'd say. A machine has no heart.
PAGESo she put you to work...
GILLIBRANDYes, she did.
GILLIBRANDYes, she did.
PAGEWhat sort of thing did you do?
GILLIBRANDWell, I just remember one time I was probably about eight or ten, and she took me into a Democratic headquarters. And it was a hot August day, windows opened, a long table, wooden table. All these women sitting there stuffing envelopes. And if you remember in those days, women would often wear these sleeveless shift dresses. And I just remember all these jiggly arms, you know, stuffing envelopes and gesticulating and talking.
GILLIBRANDAnd what I remember about the moment was how exciting these women were to me. They were powerful. They were involved. They were making a difference. And that always stuck with me as one of the life lessons that women's voices really matter, that what you do with your time matters, that grassroots activism actually can make a difference.
PAGEBut despite that history, you didn't go into politics immediately. You went to law school, you became a corporate lawyer. What drew you back into the political world?
GILLIBRANDWell, my mom was a role model too. And she was a lawyer. She was only one of three women in her law school class. And I loved the way she represented families, helping them adopt a baby or buy their first home. And I also loved the way she was an ever-present mom, always, you know, being on the phone dealing with a law case at the same time she's cooking dinner and sweeping the floor.
GILLIBRANDSo I saw in my mother this skill of advocacy, which is one of the reasons that I went into law. But I was almost embarrassed that I had an ambition in politics. It was something I really stifled for a long time. And that's when I saw Hillary do her speech in China. And the reason why that affected me so deeply is because I was an Asian studies major at Dartmouth. I learned Mandarin. I'd studied in Beijing. And so I knew what it meant for our first lady to travel to China, give a speech about women's rights to that audience at that time when girl babies were still being killed in the countryside, when women had very few real women's rights in the way we know them.
GILLIBRANDAnd I thought, why aren't I there? I didn't even know about it. And so that awakened in me this long-felt desire that I want to be in politics. I want to be part of these conversations, these national conversations that are important. And it gave me the courage at least to get involved. And so the more I got involved, the more I loved it and the more I realized I want my life to be about public service.
PAGEIt's so interesting to think about that time because Hillary Clinton was then the first lady of the United States.
PAGEDid it ever occur to you that she would become Senator, Secretary of State, likely Democratic presidential nominee and that you would succeed her in the U.S. Senate?
GILLIBRANDNever in a bazillion years. Like, I couldn't -- I could never have imagined the path I would take. And that's one of the messages for the readers of this book. For every young woman, any woman who's reading this and saying, well, you know, I'm just a mom or I work, you know, at the local CVS or, you know, I -- their voice matters. And you can't imagine how your live experience might affect the outcome of something you care about. Maybe you're the one who wants to change the school lunch program at your kid's school because you see too much childhood obesity. Maybe you're the one who wants to, you know, stop violence in your community and really galvanize these other moms to do something about it.
GILLIBRANDAnd what I realized, you know, Hillary probably didn't know where she'd go either. I certainly didn't. But if you follow your heart and you embrace your ambitions and know that your voice is important, really there's nothing you can't do.
PAGESo when you talk to women across the country, as I know you do as part of your Pac off the sidelines, what reason do women give you for not doing what you say, for not getting involved in politics, for not running for office, for not contributing to candidates?
GILLIBRANDWell, politics is different. I want to give you one example of what one woman did do because it's really inspiring. So you'll see in the back of the book I cite to a lot of organizations that are empowering to women. And one of them is called Dress for Success. And I remember sending out an email to supporters saying, support Dress for Success because it's a great organization that you give your clothes to and they will train women how to do their first interview, write their resume and monitor them their whole first year to make sure they can stay on the job and reach their potential.
GILLIBRANDAnd this one young woman in Buffalo said, oh yeah, I'm going to totally donate my suits. What a great idea. And she realized there was no Dress for Success in Buffalo. And when she -- the more she started talking to the national chapter they said to her, you know, you could start it in Buffalo and she did. She actually did. And so now she's helping hundreds of women to reach their potential in the workplace because she wanted to help.
GILLIBRANDSo, you know, it's part of this broader message that women can really do something. You don't have to know where you're going to get -- to go.
PAGEBut why don't women do that or do...
GILLIBRANDOh, politics, yeah.
GILLIBRAND...before that just generally not just in politics, do you think men are more likely to say, oh, I'll do that, than women are?
GILLIBRANDYes, yeah. Well...
PAGESo why is that?
GILLIBRAND...all the studies show this. So there's lots of studies about asking men and women and young girls and young boys in different stage of their career, you know, do you aspire to be the mayor? Do you aspire to be president? And very few women aspire to any of these jobs. And if you just asked anybody anecdotally they might say something like, oh, it's so dirty, it's so, you know, offensive, it's so aggressive. I hate the back and forth. You know, politics is -- you know, they don't like it. It seems like it's too aggressive or mean or dirty or, you know, just something they don't want to be part of.
GILLIBRANDAnd so a lot of women won't do it for those reasons. But when you say to them, well, you know, you're the only one who could really represent your community well, and those issues you care about like getting out of Iraq or deal with childhood obesity or dealing with autism or whatever the issue is that speaks to that woman, if you don't raise those issues no one will, they'll say, oh really? And if you say, yeah, you're actually needed and I think you can get elected because I think you are someone who really represents the values of this community, they say, oh really.
GILLIBRANDSo they'll do it if they know they're needed. And they will do it if they know they can make a difference. And so when I speak to a potential candidate, that often is the difference between running and not running.
PAGESo when you speak to a potential candidate and they say, politics is so dirty, there's all these attacks, what do you tell them from your own experience about how you handle that?
GILLIBRANDThe first thing I say, it's not about you. It doesn't matter what they say. You are running to make a difference on whatever issues you believe in. It's about the call to action you're feeling, the difference you want to make. And if you can put yourself out of it you can be successful. And also, you know, there are things that I think if we had more women in politics, things would change. I do believe you're have a more likelihood of getting to publically-funded elections. If you had publically-funded elections where truth is required for advertising I think the landscape would change.
GILLIBRANDBut what I urge women is, you know, maybe you can't change the landscape today but you can change outcomes if you participate. And I remember this one time when I was a young lawyer. And I went to this first political event and Hillary Clinton speaking as first lady. And she's looking out into the audience and there's like 100 women in the room and I'm in the back. I'm definitely the youngest person by at least ten years. And she's like, decisions are being made every day in Washington. And if you're not part of those decisions and you don't like the outcome, you have no one to blame but yourself.
GILLIBRANDAnd at that moment I felt like she was looking right at me. And I'm sweating and I'm thinking, oh my gosh, she wants me to run for office. And I was young. I was in my 20's and whatever, but I really felt like she was saying to me, you, Kirsten, you need to do something. You know you want to be in public service. You have to have the courage to stand up and fight for what you believe in. And that's really what got me started. That was the first time I realized that I was willing to say, as an adult, politics is important to me. I believe in it. I want to be part of it. And that started me on my journey.
PAGESo before we got to the phones and take some callers, Hillary Clinton wrote the forward to your book.
PAGEYou support her for president?
GILLIBRANDShe is definitely the best candidate. I think she will win and I'm going to do everything in my power to help her get elected.
PAGEDo you think she will run?
GILLIBRANDI do. I'm very hopeful she will run. I feel like she's the most qualified. She's the best poised.
PAGEAnd one last question that has come up about yourself, would you yourself like to run for president one day?
GILLIBRANDNo. I really feel lucky I get to serve in the U.S. Senate. I love the fact that I have an opportunity to fight for families on all issues from sexual assault in the military to the economy and middle class job. I think it's an honor and a privilege so, no.
PAGELucky to serve in the U.S. Senate is great, but you're saying no, you never want to run for president. You rule it out as a possibility?
GILLIBRANDI don't aspire to it and I really feel like I can make a difference where I am.
PAGEBecause you're just 47 now so you don't have to run this -- for 2016. You would be able to run for many elections in the future. And I just pursue this because I think that the political world sees you as a potential national candidate.
GILLIBRANDWell, it's very flattering. And I promise you I'll think about it in ten years and in twenty years.
PAGEAll right. Let's go to the phones and talk to Jeanne. She's calling us from Dallas. Jeanne, hi, you're on the air.
JEANNEHello. Thank you so much. And I have to say the level of enthusiasm on this call is euphoric. I appreciate that but I was calling with a comment and a question. The comment was, this -- and I'm going to try to retain my enthusiasm because I got a little bit emotional talking to your screener earlier. But as of yesterday I was doing a major presentation with one of my larger clients. And it was an account team that was -- the dynamics were male and female and myself at a senior level and my male counterparts, similar level.
JEANNEAnd two things struck out based upon this conversation. One, from a comment perspective was, at the end of two days -- this two-day long presentation the only thing the male counterpart could say about what I had done was about my attire. So I'm still a little upset about that so I can empathize with all the conversations about that.
JEANNEBut what was even more disturbing was, again, I am at a senior level in my company and one of my male counterparts came over to me and asked me to take notes during the presentation when there was a junior male counterpart there that could've done the same thing. And I still don't understand why this still happens in 2014 is that women are relegated to what they consider, A, female-only positions, but more importantly that the levels that we've achieved in corporate America are still not being respected. And that kind of is my question is, how do we get past that? And I'll take my comment off the air.
PAGEBut Jeanne, before you go, and thank you for your call, so how did you handle that situation yesterday?
JEANNEYou know what I said to him was I said, you know, I'm not really good at that. So maybe X person -- I didn't really say person, but I said someone else...
GILLIBRANDThat's a very male tactic, you know.
JEANNEAnd he took the notes himself, which is what he very well could've done. But I've been in that situation too often where there's a male person in the room that is a junior person to myself. I'm an executive with my company and I have, you know, multiple degrees. Not that there's anything wrong with note-taking but I think there's a better use of my company's time than me doing that.
GILLIBRANDOh, you are so strong. I feel for you. That has happened to me many, many times.
JEANNEBut you see I'm still upset. This was yesterday. You can hear it in my voice.
GILLIBRANDIt's infuriating. Well, that's why I shared my law firm story because I was young. And I was so pissed off, I was so frustrated. And the guy who said it, he didn't mean to be mean. He wasn't trying to undermine me. He just was being stupid. And it's frustrating because you have to push back in a way that makes sense for you personally. Every woman has to make her own judgment about what kind of pushback she's going to give. And you don't want to be, you know, that problem person who's always complaining. You know, you have to play your own local and office politics.
GILLIBRANDBut we have to have these conversations. And the reason why I gave my specific examples is so you can give your specific examples and then we can elevate the debate to say, what can we do about valuing women in the workplace? Why are we not valuing women in what they bring to the table? And what can we do to support them? We should at least be fighting for equal pay for equal work. We should at least be fighting for things like flexibility in the workplace, making sure we have things like paid leave.
GILLIBRANDAnd value women for -- you know, women are graduating more than half the college degrees and more than half the advanced degrees. We have something to give and the economy benefits from us.
PAGEJeanne, thanks so much for your call. I'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Let's go to Jack calling us from Salisbury, N.C. Jack, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
JACKHi. I'm glad to get through. And Senator Gillibrand, it's refreshing to hear you talk. I really love the positivity that you're putting forth. And personally once Hillary finishes her two terms, I will work for your presidential campaign in 2024. But I do -- you know, I just moved back to North Carolina so I'm kind of blue in a purple state here. But I moved from Tennessee which is as red as you can possibly get. And I am frustrated.
JACKHow do you feel sometimes when you see a representative like Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee who, she's personable but she seems to be wrong on every possible issue...
JACK...where it has to do with positive things for average people. And I guess it's the fact that there's always going to be, no matter where -- regardless of gender there's always going to be people that kind of go to the dark side. So I guess that's my question. And again, go in '24.
GILLIBRANDOh, thank you.
PAGEJack, thanks so much for your call.
GILLIBRANDWell, certainly women are not a monolith and they're not going to share their opinions on all issues. But the reason why I'm hopeful that more women will speak out is because even though Marsha Blackburn might not believe in raising the minimum wage or equal pay for equal work, most women do. And many women in her district will probably be pretty upset that they don't believe they should be paid a dollar on the dollar for the same work, or that they shouldn't have a living wage where people can actually feed their children and not be below the poverty line because of a minimum wage that doesn't reflect the hard work they're doing.
GILLIBRANDSo I think all of us need to participate and I think the participation of men and women together is vital. Because just to the economic issue, for one second, eight out of ten American families the woman is working. Four out of ten the woman is the primary or sole wage-earner. So these economic issues are essential for all families to fight for. And if Marsha's wrong on those issues, we run against her. But it's all about our voices and sharing our perspectives and holding elected leaders accountable on things that affect us.
PAGEWe know how polarized Washington is these days. Is the relationship between women -- Democratic women and Republican women who are members of congress any different than the relationship between Democratic and Republican men?
GILLIBRANDI really think they are, Susan, and I'll tell you why. So we have 20 women in the Senate and Barbara Mikulski, you know, some, I don't know, 20 maybe 25 years ago decided that she would start forming a caucus with other women. So with the two women in the Senate at the time she started having dinner with her. And this is a tradition that has kept on over the years where women in the Senate get together quarterly to have dinners to share stories as women, as sisters, as mothers, as daughters.
GILLIBRANDAnd they get to know each other personally. And what that creates is a willingness to work together and a desire to find common ground, a desire to build consensus and get things done. And it's not surprising that every bill I've ever passed, Susan, I've had a strong Republican woman helping me, whether it's Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski or Olympia Snowe getting things done.
PAGEWe're going to take another short break. When we come back we'll continue to take your calls and questions for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand about her new book. It's called "Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the World." Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're talking with New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand about her new book. It's "Off the Sidelines." If you're just joining us, a reminder that you can watch live video of our interview with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand through our Google Hangout. You can find a link on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Here are two similar emails, one from a man, one from a woman.
PAGEChristine writes us, I like what I've read about the Senator and wish her well, but I wonder if her message about getting women more engaged in the larger political process is somewhat undermined when she herself has largely focused on legislative initiatives involving what traditionally have been thought of as women's issues. Like sexual assault, domestic violence and healthcare. And Andy writes us, it seems like she has a singular focus on women's issues in the Senate.
PAGEWhile these are admirable, can she point to other accomplishments in the Senate where she has reached across the aisle and solved problems for all Americans? What do you think about these comments?
GILLIBRANDOh, I have many things about those comments. First of all, issues that affect women affect 52 percent of the population. That's a pretty big part of the population. And it's pretty important. So I think diminishing something because it affects women isn't appropriate. But that being said, all issues affect women. Women care deeply about national security. They care deeply about the economy, they care about jobs, they care about hundreds of things that we talk about every day.
GILLIBRANDBut sometimes, their lens is different. So, if you want to create an economic engine in our economy today, you should really unleash the full potential of women in the workplace. Women start their small businesses with seven percent less capital, but are among the fastest growing sector within small businesses. Women are still earning 77 cents on the dollar. If you just paid them a dollar for the dollar, you'd have a huge economic engine. If you had paid leave.
GILLIBRANDSo, during the birth of a child or the illness of a family member or if your mother's dying and you need to take some time to deal with your family emergencies, too many women are forced to ramp off their careers. And they rarely ramp back on where they left, at the same pay, with the same promotion opportunities. So the economy is a pretty universal issue. And most families, eight out of 10, women are working. So this would affect many, many people.
PAGEEight out of 10 women are working. A lot of debate about whether women can have it all. And you take issue with that whole frame, the framing of that issue.
GILLIBRANDYeah. The frame drives me crazy, because first of all, the phrase, having. What are we actually having? Are we having a vacation? Are we having a slice of pie? What are we having? We're not having anything. We're doing. We're doing it all. Most women must work to feed their children. Many women want to be working. They want to be part of the workforce and the economy. And to belittle women for working and for being a mom at the same time, I think, is outrageous.
GILLIBRANDAnd it also belittles moms who are staying at home, saying that somehow their life is less than full because they're not having it all. So, it pits women against women in a very, very degrading way. And so what we really should be talking about, in my opinion, is what are the real life consequences of women doing it all? And how do we support them? How do we take from these shared challenges, these shared life experiences, and build an infrastructure to help us?
GILLIBRANDWe are -- our work rules today are stuck in the "Mad Men" era. We are stuck in an era where dad went to work and mom stayed at home. And that is just not reflecting of American families today. Four out of 10 are primary, are sole bread winners, are women. That's a big deal, so something as important as equal pay, something as important as paid leave or universal pre-K. Or affordable daycare. These things are real life consequences to women and challenges that if want to have the economy going on all cylinders and reaching its full potential, make sure half your workforce is reaching their full potential.
PAGEYou know, we've all heard about the glass ceiling. And cracks in the glass ceiling. You have another term. You talk about the sticky floor. What's the sticky floor?
GILLIBRANDSo, of course, we have to break the last glass ceilings in all industries, but we also have to recognize that there is a sticky floor. There is a dynamic that is chronic and constant, where women are continuously pulled back down to the lowest wage jobs. It's not surprising that two thirds of all minimum wage workers are women, because a woman with a young child, if she doesn't have affordable daycare, she's using informal daycare. If her caregiver's sick, she's gonna miss work.
GILLIBRANDIf she doesn't have a sick day or she doesn't have vacation days, then she may well be fired for taking care of her child when the child is sick. And so she's either loses her job or is never put into a place where she can get promoted, have more responsibility. There was a recent study, just a few days ago, that said the least attractive resume comes from a woman who has a child. When they, when they made fake resumes, and they did it single male, they did male with children, they did mom with chil -- the least one.
GILLIBRANDAnd the one offered the least pay for the same job was the mom with kids. Because in the workforce, women are still being viewed unfairly. And I think it's part of this broader theme of, do we value women in our society? And we need to.
PAGELet's go to Brandy. She's calling us from Martin, Texas. Brandy, hi, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
BRANDYHi. It's Tennessee, actually.
PAGEAh, okay. Great. Martin, Tennessee. Thanks so much for calling us.
BRANDYKirsten, I think you're such an inspiration and I'm listening to you this morning. And I've never heard you before. Sorry. And I'm definitely going to buy your book and you've really got me on fire today. So, I was thinking about how I am a Sociology major and I'm going to get my doctorate and I want to use that to get into politics. But I've talked to a lot of people that are my peers, older, and my age as well, that say it's a waste of my time to do politics as a woman in Tennessee.
BRANDYBecause Tennessee is still so far behind in the women's movement. And that kind of leaves me in the middle thinking, do I want to guarantee myself better success? And go to another state where women are more common in that area? Or is this really like the place that I need to be? And what do you think about the negativity that goes towards women in, it seems like in my state, in particular. Because Iowa Jack was just talking about it as well. He just moved from Tennessee.
GILLIBRANDYou know, I think your voice matters, no matter where you raise it. And whether or not you can win any given elective office, the fact that there are issues that you care about, that aren't being addressed, when you raise your voice, when you demand action, you have no idea who you could impact. I've seen young women get angry about a Senator's voting record and write a letter to their local paper, letter to the editor, and that Senator actually had to respond to her.
GILLIBRANDShe was a high school student. So, I think you can be -- you can make a difference wherever you are. You don't have to be running for Congress. You could be running for the local PTA. You could be, you know, changing the rules in your community. You could be, you know, working at, you know, to the extent, you have children. You could be working at your child's school to do a book drive so that young, at risk kids have books when they're in their community. So I think your voice matters, no matter where you raise it.
GILLIBRANDBut if you really do aspire to political office, we can talk about that. Just let me know and we can talk about what your likelihood of running where and winning and we can have a strategy. But never be afraid to raise your voice, no matter where you are. You don't know who will be listening and you don't know what debate. And can I just, Susan, give one example? So, this is a tough example, but two young women showed up in my office. And I think they were from North Carolina.
GILLIBRANDAnd they said, we want to talk to the Senator. And we responded. I made time, I met with them, and they told me their story about how they were raped on campus, how they reported the rape, and they were not only disbelieved, but then they were retaliated against by their university. And these two young women, Annie and Andrea, they have now started a movement across college campuses, all across the country, having men and women stand up, demand action from these universities.
GILLIBRANDAnd they are changing the world because of their courage alone. So, to one of the earlier women, it's not about having to run for Congress or being in elected office. It's about your life experience, your perspective, whatever issue you personally care about. Your voice will make a difference if you raise it because it may not be heard. There may be no one else articulating your view or your priority right now, and the absence of your views hurts us. Because it means something and it is valuable.
PAGEBrandy, thank you so much for your call.
BRANDYThank you. Have a good day.
PAGEYou know, also, you don't know -- people get involved -- but politics, not necessarily in friendly terrain. The first congressional race you ran...
GILLIBRANDOh, good example.
PAGE...you were not expected -- you were not expected to win and you did.
GILLIBRANDThat's true. Yeah, so, my first congressional race, my district was two to one Republican. And I -- no one believed I could possibly win that seat. The only person who believed in me was my mom. And when I first raised the issue of running in this district to a friend who was a pollster, he said, oh, Kirsten, you have no chance of winning. It's two to one Republican. I said, but what happens if I run the perfect campaign? Can't I win? He said, nope. Not enough Democrats vote for you.
GILLIBRANDI said, but what happens if I raise a lot of money and get my message out? And he's like, nope. You cannot win. It is a two to one Republican district. There are, there are not enough Democrats to vote for you. And I finally said, well, what happens if this guy gets indicted? I could clearly win then. And he says, well, it depends what he gets indicted for. So, that was my uphill climb when I ran. And at the end of the day, I wanted to run because at least I could raise the debate, talk about issues I thought were important.
GILLIBRANDAnd try to make a difference that way. It didn't -- wasn't about whether I could win or not. It was whether running made a difference and I believed it did.
PAGEYou know, it's interesting. You've been very involved in the issue of violence against women. Now, sexual assaults on university campuses. Sexual assaults in the US military. In that very first race, that issue played a role, because there was a disclosure that your opponent, the incumbent's wife, had called the police and said he was beating her.
GILLIBRANDYeah. It was a big deal. And, you know, at the end of the day, this issue of -- and it's in the news headlines today, of abuse against women, is really troubling. Because the NFL totally dropped the ball. They knew all the facts they needed to know. They knew that the player said, I beat my wife. And that's a video of me dragging her out of an elevator. There were no facts in dispute. And for them not to fire him immediately really goes to this broader problem that these institutions are protecting their stars.
GILLIBRANDProtecting the good 'ol boy. Protecting the guy they love the most. And whether it's the NFL or whether it's the military, or whether it's these college campuses, women aren't being valued. They're not being believed, they're not being supported. And we, as women, have to stand up and demand more because it is so undermining to our value in society.
PAGEHere's an emailer. She writes, as a female veteran who's experienced sexual assault while serving in the military, I appreciate the Senator's advocacy. I've been treated at the VA and currently being treated for PTSD that was triggered by this traumatic event. But she says that she's not being -- there's no documentation that the incident occurred in her medical records. That’s affected her compensation. She writes, what female in the early 80s, serving in the military, and hoping to make service to her country, would speak up against her male superiors in a male dominated and controlled system? My career would have been over. Is that still the case?
GILLIBRANDYeah. You talk to survivors today. Even last year alone, of the 26,000 cases of sexual assault, rape and unwanted sexual contact, only 3,000 reported. That was one in 10. And 62 percent of those who reported said they were retaliated against because they reported. And these stories of retaliation, sometimes they're kicked out of the military. Sometimes they're prosecuted for whatever they were doing, whether it was drinking. Or, in one case, someone said to them, I'm gonna prosecute you for adultery, because the man you said raped you is married.
GILLIBRANDShe would be prosecuted for adultery. So, it is not gone. It is not addressed. Women and men who are raped, and more men are raped than women. Women a higher percentage, but raw numbers, more men. They feel they have no hope of justice. They do not believe the chain of command will protect them or help them. And they don't see a possibility for having their perpetrator be convicted. And that's a huge problem. And that's why our bill was trying to take the decision making out of the chain of command.
PAGEYour bill failed.
PAGEWill you revisit that issue?
GILLIBRANDYes. We are never gonna stop fighting this. And we will build more support. The more data, the more facts that come out, the more women and men who tell their stories, there's an amazing article today in GQ Magazine. I urge anyone to read it, but it's about male survivors. And how conflicted they were. How they couldn't bare reporting these incidents because of a hundred reasons. It is -- it breaks your heart, and you -- we need to do more by the men and women who will sacrifice anything for us.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking calls. 1-800-433-8850. Let's go to Dan. He's calling us from Leroy, New York. You probably know where that is, Senator.
PAGEDan, go ahead.
DANYes, ladies, good morning. I'm a little disturbed about my Senator taking the time to write a book in regards to this, at this point. I think that women's rights has come a long way. I mean, I grew up with Helen Reddy on the radio. I am woman, make me strong, et cetera. We're on the verge of having the first woman president. And I'm not gonna say that women have been brought up the way they should be. That's far from the truth, but the fact that they're coming is undeniable.
DANConsidering all the different problems that we have, internationally, nationally, and locally, I think that Miss Gillibrand should be concentrating her efforts, and I'm sure it takes a lot to write a book, on things that are very important and should take precedence over this situation.
PAGEAll right, Dan, thanks so much for your call. We really appreciate the chance to hear from you. What would you say to Dan? And maybe you could also describe a little bit about how you went about writing this book.
GILLIBRANDWell, I think women's voices being heard in all communities is vital. I think without their voices, without their viewpoints, we don't reach the best decisions. And so, when women are heard on issues of the economy, when they're paid equally for equal work, when women are heard on these issues of sexual violence, these are highly important issues. Don't ask, don't tell repeal affected both men and women. And, in fact, sexual assault in the military affects men and women.
GILLIBRANDBut both issues go to military readiness, and when you're talking about national security, don't ask, don't tell. 10 percent of our foreign language speakers were fired for those reasons. So, to the extent our caller doesn't necessarily see or understand all the impacts that women can play in the economy, in our military readiness and national security, I would urge him to take a look. But to write the book, I took the time to write this book because I wanted to be able to create a call to action for women's participation.
GILLIBRANDAnd to be able to tell these stories as anecdotes and as illustrations so that women could see themselves in these stories and realize that their voice could matter too. And I think with more women's participation on the local level and the national level, we'll have better outcomes, and that's good for America.
PAGEHere's an email from Jillian. She writes, my great aunt was the head cook for the Rockefellers while he was in the governor's office. When she had a day off, she would drive from Albany to Massachusetts to visit family. And she said, if it was not for the women and staff, New York couldn't function. Here's another emailer. Mark writes us from Charlotte. He says, is the increased participation of conservative women valuable?
GILLIBRANDAll women's voices are valuable. And I think the participation they will bring, the diversity of opinion is valuable. I don't agree with those, necessarily, conservative views. But I can tell you, even women who are Republicans are working together with me on a whole host of issues. Susan Collins and I were able to ban insider trading by members of Congress because we both thought that mattered. I think women try very hard, in many cases, of course not always, to find the commonality.
GILLIBRANDAnd with Washington as broken as it is, we need more of that.
PAGEHere's an email from Dorothy. She sends us this tweet, actually. She says, I love that Kirsten Gillibrand's voice is slightly high pitched like mine, and yet she still demands her authority. And from Mike on Twitter, he writes, Senator Gillibrand, please write a book for my young daughters and all young girls.
GILLIBRANDAww. That's so wonderful. Thank you. You know, this book is really written for all women, but I really hope it inspires just one woman, one young woman to realize how important she is and will encourage her to be heard on whatever she cares about.
PAGESenator Kirsten Gillibrand. Thanks so much for being with us this hour on "The Diane Rehm Show" to talk about your new book, "Off the Sidelines."
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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