I have been given to understand that a) Kim Gandy, currently President of N.O.W. (National Organization for Women) wants to become head of the Women's Bureau at the Department of Labor and that b) today, February 8, 2009, a number of bloggers will be discussing whether appointing her to the job is a good idea. That Ms. Gandy wants the job is a total rumor to me; if she does, I can't say that the choice thrills me.
The choice of Gandy does not thrill me because she holds great power at N.O.W. (from the N.O.W. site: "Gandy also is president of the NOW Foundation, chair of NOW's Political Action Committees, and serves as the principal spokesperson for all three entities"; and I think she used that power to have N.O.W. sell women down the river when N.O.W. broke with its usual practice and made a general election presidential endorsement, picking Barack Obama, somebody who used and tolerated sexism and misogyny to gain the Democratic Party's nomination. I use the expression "sold women down the river" with all its metaphorical baggage: the image of humans being treated like chattel sold down to the Delta to be auctioned off. I think N.O.W. had very little evidence of Barack Obama's commitment to women's empowerment, little evidence of even his commitment to women's reproductive rights (the usual excuse used by mainstream women's groups to go out of their way to support his candidacy). And still, under the leadership of Gandy, N.O.W. went out of its way to auction off women's votes, encouraging them to turn out and make sure this man, who never once denounced the nutcrackers and the media comments and the misogynistic rappers singing him into office, became President of the United States of America.
On the other side of the ledger, Kim Gandy has clearly spent the better part of her life working on issues important to women; she's probably quite knowledgeable about working conditions for women and in a position to hire high quality staff. So Gandy is not a bad person and she's not anti-woman. But she made a Faustian bargain at high profile moment. The dynamics of the general election were such that women's votes really mattered. And lots of women were and still are furious at the Democratic Party for depriving Hillary Rodham Clinton of an equal opportunity to win the nomination at the Denver Convention by abiding by the Party's own rules and traditions. Under these circumstances, N.O.W. should have remained agnostic. As an organization that does not usually trade in presidential endorsements, refraining from making one would not have made news. Going out of its way to endorse Obama is what made news, and Gandy made that decision. In a year when every poll showed any generic Democrat beating John McCain and almost every poll consistently predicted Obama beating McCain, there really was no reason - even for those who believed that McCain would be a worse president for women than Obama - for women's organizations to line up behind Obama. The only reason to do so would be fear of reprisal if they did not; or if their leaders hoped for a seat within the administration after the election. N.O.W. and, if rumor is correct, Ms. Gandy acted for the latter reasons.
I believe that once a person shows a capacity for major betrayal - in public or private life - that person cannot be safely relied upon to act in a reasonably trustworthy way again. So I was not surprised that it turned out that Bill Richardson had apparently not been totally forthcoming with the Obama administration about the corruption charges against him back in New Mexico. If Richardson would deceive the Clintons to further his aims, why would he not do the same to Obama?
If Kim Gandy was willing to sell out women who expected really very little of her - just that she stick with usual practice and show organizational restraint in an election that was wracking many women with distress - I can easily predict that she will sell out women who expect harder things of her, such as real fighting for women's interests in an economy that is bad for everybody but worst for women.
That said, making a deal with the devil does not make Kim Gandy the devil. Of course neither does it make her another Mary Anderson, the first director of the Women's Bureau of the Department of Labor.
Mary Anderson (served 1920 - 1944)
"As the world evolves, so too does the growing role of women who are proving their infinite capabilities in today's complex workplace, and exhibiting a new usefulness now and for the future."
Also from that citation:
From a domestic worker to factory employee to trade union leader, Swedish-born Mary Anderson was a tireless champion of women in the workplace. Director of the Women's Bureau for a quarter century, she was the most influential of all women in Federal service. Her leadership in fact-finding and standards-setting established her as the Nation's foremost authority in the struggle for women's rights and the improvement of their lives and working conditions.
At the start of the 20th century the Women's Bureau was headed by a woman whose commitment to women's equal opportunity in the workplace transcended party politics. Why should we expect anything less from the Director appointed at the start of the 21st century?