The Future of Feminism

Kristin Teigen

I woke up this morning, groggy and on West Coast time, in Indianapolis, Indiana. Now, why would anyone leave Portland to go to Indianapolis? Well, it’s not for the raceway. I’ll be a Portland delegate to the National NOW Conference. This year, the organization will be deciding who will be its president and vice-presidents (there are three) for the next 4 years.

As a former staff person for NOW, I’m excited to be able to see old friends. As the mother of two small children, I’ll just be happy to have a hotel room to myself. The weekend will not necessarily be all about fun and relaxation, however. There is a pitched battle for the helm of NOW that puts the old guard in direct conflict with the new, a battle that rings familiar -- much of the cultural and strategic realities are similar to the 2008 presidential primaries.

On the one hand, we have NOW presidential candidate Terry O’Neill, who was NOW’s Vice-President for Membership from 2001-2005. She ran the fundraising programs in the early years of the Bush Administration and despite an incredibly fertile environment for fundraising in the feminist community, she didn’t last into the second term of current President Kim Gandy, who is now facing term limits.

Ms. O’Neill is endorsed by the current president of Oregon NOW, Linda Klinge. Good, right? Well, not so much. Ms. Klinge’s last significant endorsement was for John McCain and Sarah Palin, following Hillary Clinton’s departure from the presidential race. She traveled the country, working for Palin and spoke out for her in the media. For Klinge, a woman, no matter her Neanderthal beliefs, was apparently better than a feminist, pro-choice man.

The other candidate for NOW’s presidency is Latifa Lyles, who took over as Vice President for Membership in 2005 and has had to raise money as the members calmed down under a Democratic Congress, as many political dollars were diverted to the presidential race and as the global economy collapsed. She has done an admirable job. The old guard is saying she’s too young, too inexperienced, too different, and just doesn’t understand how things should be done. Sound familiar? Yeah. I’m proud to join Kim Gandy and feminist icon Ellie Smeal in supporting her.

The fights of the 2008 presidential primary have, for many, been long forgotten, as Hillary Clinton is now a central player in the Obama Administration and reconciliation has, for many people, taken place. Despite this, the struggles of the primary overshadow some aspects of the feminist movement. Supporting Hillary Clinton was, for some, a litmus test (as an early Obama supporter, I guess I failed this one). Some of Clinton’s strongest supporters, outraged by Obama’s success, founded a new organization after the election called the New Agenda, which has been lambasting Kim Gandy for her strong support of Obama following Clinton’s defeat. How dare she support a man? It’s a type of politics disavowed by Clinton herself and something I’ll never understand.

The criticisms of the New Agenda will be heard in Indianapolis, along with doubtless others. Feminism is such a broad term that NOW can never “do” or “be” the right kind for everyone. Despite this, the organization remains among the most vital and vocal advocates for women. Today, it needs to be strong for coming challenges, as those the Right become more violent. It also needs to stay powerful for the extraordinary opportunities of the Obama Administration.

From paid leave to gay marriage to continuing to protect a woman’s right to an abortion to workplace discrimination, feminists still have a long journey ahead. I hope we will choose a leader who will skillfully lead us along the way.

UPDATE: Sadly, Latifa Lyles lost the presidency tonight by a mere 8 votes, leaving many progressive, multi-issue, diverse feminists looking for a new home for their money and energy.

Comments

  • feminist (unverified)
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    great post! keep us updated.

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    Why does NOW elect its executive staff for four-year terms?

    Most organizations elect a board of directors, who then hire staff. By electing staff to four-year terms, doesn't that reward politicking rather than managerial competence - and eliminate the motivation that comes from the desire to keep your job and perform every day?

    Very odd, very odd.

  • rw (unverified)
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    Interesting point, Kari. Would you consider tweeting or flicking or ... emailing the President or Board of NOW to learn the whys of this? Indeed, it could really be interesting to speak to the Founders and learn directly from them the whys.

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    Kari,

    NOW does this because it gives the membership the power to decide upon its leaders -- small "d" democracy. The elected leaders are then responsible to the membership with regard to everything to its priority issues to money raised to strategies used. The membership remains engaged by electing regional, state and local leaders which the represent their various constituencies to the national office. This ensures that certain regions or specific constituents don't get too much of a hold on the power within the organization.

    The motivation to do well comes from having to frequently face the membership and prove yourself and believe me, based on what's going on today, the basic issue of competence and skills is a huge factor in how the leadership is chosen.

  • LT (unverified)
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    As a 62 year old woman, I have seen various stages of feminism. Sandra Day O'Connor graduating from law school, going on interviews, and being asked her typing speed. Women in college to become teachers or nurses because only a few women back then had any other careers.

    Women who had dropped out of college to get married returning to college in the 1960s when their kids were in high school or college.

    I graduated from college in 1969.

    Norma Paulus, once our state rep., and other women legislators of the 1970s working together to bring Oregon laws regarding women and finances into the late 20th century. (They did that, btw across party lines because they were all women facing the same problems.)

    In the mid-1980s there were debates about whether women always deserved the vote over men or if individual voting women had the right to make that decision themselves. What if a male Democrat ran against a female Republican? What if you knew the candidates in a primary and had long ago made a decision that one was better suited for higher office than the other?

    When Norma Paulus ran for Governor, there were 2 major women's groups making endorsements: NOW and Oregon Women's Political Caucus. OWPC endorsed Norma with very little debate. NOW asked both the candidates to interviews and asked them tough questions.

    In 1986, there was an open Congressional seat in the 4th district and a heated primary. Of course, only voters in the 4th District could actually vote in that primary. But there were women active in politics in other cong. districts expressing strong support for the woman state senator running in that primary. Another woman serving as a state senator from Mult. Co. said of the primary, "Anyone who doesn't support Margie Hendricksen doesn't support women!".

    To which the response of many women was "Are you saying a true feminist takes orders because she shouldn't think for herself? Whatever happened to the idea that feminism means the right for women to make their own decisions?".

    4th District voters decided they wanted that outspoken man from the Lane County Comm. instead. He is now the dean of Oregon's Congressional delegation--Peter DeFazio.

    Flash forward to 2008. The story about Linda Klinge is the story of what some would consider the underside of feminism. Elsewhere on BO there is a post about Betty Roberts, a legend in Oregon politics. I campaigned for Jim Redden for Gov. in the 1970s (the year Straub won the governorship), even though Betty Roberts was one of the primary candidates. There were women I encountered who said "How dare you be a woman and supporting a man for Governor?".

    What really bothered me about the Hillary Clinton campaign was this:

    *my oldest friend graduated from Wellesley in Hillary Clinton's class, and attacks on Hillary in the 1990s caused some suburban Republican women to support Bill Clinton because of those attacks. Did that mean I was "required" to support Hillary and not even look at any other candidate?

    *I have worked on too many "insurgent" campaigns to accept a candidate simply because the likes of Terry McAuliffe try to force everyone to believe a candidate such as Hillary Clinton is inevitable and no good person would support anyone else.

    *I prefer campaigns with a grass roots component and an attitude of asking for (rather than demanding) votes, to those which are organized as top-down.

    But I was supposed to support Hillary Clinton anyway because truly feminist women always support women?

    Sorry, the Hillary campaign reminded me of the battles of the 1980s.

    The question is this: who are the true feminists? Are they the folks who follow a rigid set of rules and never think for themselves? Do some women have the right to tell other women how true feminists behave?

    Or has the goal of feminism always been that women be allowed to make their own decisions?

    Remember, there is a biography of Abigail Scott Duniway titled LADIES WERE NOT EXPECTED. There are women alive today who were born around the time Abigail was the first woman to cast a ballot in Oregon.

    My belief is that Michelle Obama is the role model many of us hoped for: a brilliant career woman who married and decided at one point in her life to be Mom first while her kids were little, but is outspoken and activist in her own right.

    I grew up hearing stories of women going back to work when their kids were teenagers and enforcing chores on those teenagers to help run the house and learn the value of work. Were those women feminists? Or not, if such stories happened in the 1940s or 1950s and NOW had yet to be created?

    And what does feminism (which had a reputation at one point of being mostly white women) have to say to women of color and of various ethnic backgrounds? Or women who work in low paying jobs? What has NOW done to help women with the strength for such jobs become construction workers or other skilled trades?

    Great debate to be having. Think about the careers of Barbara Roberts, Darlene Hooley, and others of their generation. What do their life stories have to contribute to this discussion?

  • backbeat (unverified)
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    Nice post, thank you very much for representing people like me at the meeting. A much sincere MWAH.

  • rw (unverified)
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    K - did not mean to demean you or downplay you. Perhaps I did not read your article well enough. I was thinking about the deep history of NOW and how it would be nice to add commentary by the originating women to what you have offered here. I am sorry if you think I was sidebarring you and playing the status hierarchy game by addressing Kari viz what HE said... sometimes I find it of value to learn the thought process and deeper hx from the original players... it also adds depth and context to those of us who came later.

    Anyway, I figured I should direct this to you, since you answered only Kari, yet I was also interested. I find at times I am misperceived.

    I like that the concept was EXACTLY that you would have to remain politically sensitive to your base, so to speak, in terms of being reelected by membership instead of tapped and chosen by leadership. Boards are hand-selected and so are hermetically-sealed political process. Election-based situations such as this CAN be the best of the best if carried out sensitively and with integrity.

  • Wilma (unverified)
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    "As the mother of two small children...." - K

    Were you artificially inseminated, or did you adopt?

  • rw (unverified)
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    What is your point, "Wilma"?

    If it's what I believe it is, what a perfect, stone-age name you have selected.

    If it's an innocent and neutral question, still: does it matter? This is not the adoption thread. THis is the NOW thread! :)

  • WRAHR (unverified)
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    Why didn't you mention that membership is down remarkably since your choice, Latifa Lyles, has been responsible for that? When you say that her opponents say she is "too different" what is that code for-African American? Is there the implication that The New Agenda and LInda Klinge are racist? Seems like the Obama supposed "feminists" are having some problems getting their stories straight. We need a bit of reality- experience does matter-unless of course you believe in fairy tales.

  • rw (unverified)
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    I see we have a trollette on the feminism thread hoping to start a fist fight between factions of female?

  • Wilma (unverified)
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    "This is not the adoption thread. THis is the NOW thread! :)" - rw

    So she must have been artificially inseminated then... As a feminist, I just hate to see womyn insinuating they're breeders, and in the company of men - especially white men, who have done more combined harm to this planet than all of the natural disasters combined.

  • MaureenDowd (unverified)
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    Substance has triumphed over style with the election of Ms. O’Neill as the president of NOW. This article misstates facts about the creation of the New Agenda. It was not to protest against the success of president Obama, rather the organization was created in August 2008 to fight against the kind of sexism and misogyny that was first directed at Hillary Clinton during the democratic primaries and later at Sarah Palin by the media and both the liberal and conservative activists. NOW did not say a word at the countless insults that Hillary and Sarah received last year, these insults had every to do with their gender or physical appearance and little to do with their politics. NOW finally came out against sexism in the media after the elections! I guess better late that never. May be with the new president the bleeding will stop and recruitment will go up.

  • rw (unverified)
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    Wilma: give it a rest. You are a fake. Honestly, please engage this topic witn respect. K?

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    Those who say Latifa Lyles is without substance, and that she is the cause for the membership decline, are profoundly and outrageously mistaken. Terry O'Neil had the membership job BEFORE Latifa, while the anthrax hit. Then, the presidential campaign drew away money and the global financial crisis hit. Despite this, NOW is one of the few national nonprofit organizations that has not laid off staff. As for substance, when asked how much money they have raised, VP candidate Sonia Ossorio answered $1million -- her counterpart, Bonnie Grabenhofer stammered and stuttered and didn't answer the question.

    And ... another incorrect statement. The New Agenda formed from PUMA efforts and has done practically nothing but trash NOW and apologize for Palin. Instead of focusing on Oregon, Linda Klinge is focusing her efforts on serving on a steering committee for a New Agenda fundraiser where? lessee...NEW YORK!!

    The continuation of the lies -- the only real reason O'Neil's ticket won... is really sad.

    And RW --we're always OK --sorry I didn't address my response to you, too..just a little dazed I guess...

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    oh, but the remarkable and brilliant woman of substance, Latifa Lyles, would thank you for saying she has style. Does she ever...in every sense of the word!!

    Thanks!!!!

  • Julie Jenkins (unverified)
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    It's obvious, after 40 years, that NOW wants to be given equal rights, as opposed to taking them.

    I mean, does anyone doubt that women could just say, "no more; starting now, I'm equal", and not get it? The few stay-at-home-frauds that still exist aren't enough to tip the balance anymore. Just don't have any commerce (read: don't put out) with the male world until it gets real. As old as Lysastrata.

    Is it unladylike? Maybe it's like saying, "if you cared you'd buy me flowers and take me out". You could do it yourself, but it means more coming from him. Is this why we are waiting for the lege to give us rights, when we've got our own "credit"?

  • tmk (unverified)
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    I'm nearly 62 and a life long feminist. That means to me someone who is, acts and expects to be treated as an equal. Not more deferentially, not less. Equal. Anything that negatively impacts on the right of the person to make his or her own personal choices or sets up barriers to achievement is to be fought against.

    I didn't even know that NOW still existed so this all seems to be a tempest in a teapot to me.

    I originally supported Hillary. BUT I could see that Obama would do a great job. From what I see Hillary is working hard for the good of the country. These are educated, enlightened people and I am happy to have them both. Palin was an idiot. Whether one is a woman is not determinative of who I will support. Feminists think for themselves. They don't just look at the gender and trail off like a bunch of ducks.

  • Wilma (unverified)
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    "Wilma: give it a rest. You are a fake" - rw

    No, rw, sorry - you're the fake. You are a FAKE FEMINIST and part of the problem not the solution.

  • Jake Leander (unverified)
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    Wilma,

    WTF? Mentioning one has children insinuates one is a "breeder"? Just what type of people are alright with you?

  • rw (unverified)
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    Wilma, speaking as an epidemiologist, most people ignored the needs of the lesbian community for HIV/AIDS and risk reduction education, as they assumed lesbians never slept with men, and of course everyone thinks us bisexuals are only and simply confused. So they ignored us except as pap for pornographic stimulus...

    The fact is that lesbians, many of them have or even DO sleep with men. You are being a class A troll for reasons that are as yet obscure. It is of course a fact that women may come to the understanding of who they are late in life after their children are grown, or more independent. This holds not just for the woman realizing she is a woman who singularly adn mostly loves other women...

    The mother of two small children you are attacking may well have had a relationship with a man; may well be fully bisexual; may be a woman who loves women but occassionally is in intimacy with men. It happens. And it is a normal aspect of human sexual orientation along the psychosexual continuum.

    Congrats on the little rugrats, K. Enjoy them forever. Mine towers over me and he is still a delight and a sweetness to my life.

  • rw (unverified)
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    tmk, you spoke well. My sentiments g'zackly.

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    yeah, not that it's anyone's business...but I happen to be one of those bisexual women who fell in love with a man (a man who is a feminist through and through, who gets up with kids in the middle of the night and wears his feminist revolution t-shirt everywhere). If women who create kids with men are the enemy, well, there goes the feminist movement. echoechoecho.

  • rw (unverified)
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    I hear ya K.

  • rw (unverified)
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    By Wilma's definition, feministsts are not women who love women. They are women who hate men.

    Sigh.

  • BAC (unverified)
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    I think Terry O'Neill won because she out organized Latifa Lyles. NOW elections are about how many people you can get to the polls, and how many "undecided" votes you can sway once you get to the conference. Of the more than 400 voting members there were approximately 100 undecided voters. For whatever reason, a majority of them decided to vote for O'Neill.

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    Well, or elections are won because the other side spreads misinformation, lies and also attacks honorable leaders. That's another way. Not so much my favorite. Yeah. Not so great.

  • LT (unverified)
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    First of all, Kristin, the election result could mean a number of things. I once went to an organizational election where the weakest person won for what were very sensible reasons.

    2 main candidates. First one contacted every voting delegate in the meeting room to ask for their vote. 2nd one at one time in his life had alienated everyone in the room with sarcasm and polarizing behavior. Too bad, too, because 2nd one gave a much better speech.

    Here in 2009, what I have to say about the above is that this is why activist women long ago dropped out of the "feminist movement"--- better uses of their time where there was less polarization.

  • Linda L. Klinge (unverified)
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    Kristin, Thank you for taking the time to write this striking report on the National NOW Conference this past weekend. I looked for you to discuss the situation at NOW while in Indianapolis, but I did not see you in the Northwest Region area.

    It sounds like you are incredibly angry and I am very sorry about that. Let me set the record straight for those of you who frequent this blog:

    I am a feminist and have been a NOW leader for over two decades. In those two decades I have done clinic escorting, rallied and protested in the streets, lobbied and prepared testimony, attended and organized fundraisers all to keep choice legal. I organized the first gay rights rally in Corvallis and helped organize and moderated the first AIDS Symposium. I cannot tell you the hundreds of hours I've spent at the legislature lobbying for all of NOW's priorities and, in joining with others - groups and individuals - we have had many victories. And while the "battles" may be over, the war is not.

    This past election season was the worst one in terms of misogyny, sexism, homophobia, and race baiting that I have ever witnessed in my many years of activism and I am nearly 60. Hillary Clinton was savaged not just by the media, but by the Obama campaign and her own Party. After she gracefully suspended her campaign and Mr. Obama began his bid for the presidency in the general election, the political target became Sarah Palin. The attacks were not simply focused on her ideology, but on whether her recently born son, Trig, was really her biological child or if in fact he was her daughter's. Then there was the firestorm as to whether she should have even have made the choice to give birth to a special needs child.

    The personal attacks were so virulent that I felt compelled to come to her defense. Not because I agreed with her political stances - although part of them like supporting Title IX are NOW priorities - but because if we continue to allow a climate to demonize and attack women, not for their political views but because of their gender, then it will surely escalate and grow out of control. Especially in this downward economic spiral where hungry, out of work people can often displace their anger onto others.

    Here is another litle nugget of information for you, Kristin. I was born at the end of a bloody revolution in Indonesia. My entire family was incarcerated in Japanese concentration camps and many of them were brutalized or tortured. Those that weren't in what was then the Netherlands Indies, were living under the jackboots of the Nazis in The Netherlands. I grew up on concentration camp stories and fully believe in Pastor Martin Niemoller's famous poem, which is posted in the Holocaust Museum. The one that goes: First they came for the trade unionist, but I wasn't a trade unionist so I didn't speak up. You know that one.

    Second, my sister became pregnant in high school while I was in Jr. High. This was in the mid 60s. No abortion was available. Birth control pills hadn't hit the market yet and were not available at that time. It was a horrendous period in my life, and which I have used to work hard to help keep choice legal.

    In closing Kristin, I want to say this: NOW has lost a huge amount of members under Latifa Lyles' stewardship as Membership VP and whatever fund raising she did for our wonderful organization was not enough to offset the losses. Terry O'Neill is much more qualified to actually turn this situation around.

    My final words: I have sent you an email, which was returned, inviting you to the Oregon NOW Board meeting which will be coming up shortly. Since you are so interested in the fate of NOW and Oregon NOW in particular, I would like to mentor you to become it's president in a few years or sooner, so that you can give our state organization a new face and vibrancy. We need young feminists, like you, at the table. So please, contact me and I will give you more details. Thank you for all the work you have done for women's rights and for NOW, you are truly appreciated.

  • miles (unverified)
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    Kristin, Read your article with interest... but it sounds unfair and unbalanced. Is this an opinion page or real reporting?

    Not what I expected from BlueOregon.

    -m

  • BAC (unverified)
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    The information distributed by Terry's team at the conference came directly from official minutes of NOW Board meetings. So if it's "misinformation" what does that say? Has Kim been misleading NOW's national board? I don't think so.

    There was no "good" side or "bad" side at this conference. There were simply people who on any given day fall into either one of those categories.

    Eight years ago I was campaign manager for the slate that opposed Kim. In every regional caucus meeting between the two presidential candidates Kim repeated false information about staff lay-offs. I asked to speak privately with her about it -- not wanting to "attack" her in public. Her response to my question of "how can you say this with me in the room?" was to loudly attack the candidate I was representing, drawing a crowd. Not once did she admit that what she was saying was simply untrue.

    In this election Kim used the full power of the imcumbency to try and sway the election for Latifa. She campaigned for her during the Thursday board meeting, and from the stage during plenary sessions. Sadly for Latifa, I think it backfired.

    A number of people came up to me following plenary sessions to say they were displeased that microphones had been turned off, preventing NOW members from speaking. They weren't wearing campaign shirts or buttons, so I took that to mean they were undecided.

    All this said, do I think Kim Gandy is a bad person? No. I think for far too long there has been a culture in NOW that is very destructive. A culture that both Kim, and Patricia, have been a part of.

    We have an opportunity to change this, if we have the will.

    BAC

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    So, the official minutes specifically stated that Latifa didn't want a lesbian on her ticket? The official minutes said that the drop in fundraising was SPECIFICALLY because of Latifa, and not because of the global financial crisis, the presidential campaigns, not something that started under Terry O'Neill, and not something that every other organization of its kind was experiencing? The official minutes said that Kim Gandy was not supportive of Hillary Clinton, even though she traveled the country tirelessly for her? The official minutes said that Kim Gandy supported the endorsement of Obama ONLY because she wanted a job with the new administration?

    The official minutes said all of that? Hmm... funny.... really?

    And the microphones were off because Julianne Malveaux and Katherine Ragsdale were waiting to speak...they were off already, as a matter of course, and then when disputes arose, Kim Gandy specifically asked that the microphones be turned ON! Kim didn't cut anyone off...the crowd itself reacted to the extraordinary disrespect that others were showing her during her last speech as president. She only quieted them and did nothing to egg them on.

    Seriously? Why the lies?

  • 70-284 (unverified)
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    You have discussed about very interesting points. I have liked that. According to me, it could truly be fascinating to talk to the creators and become skilled at straightforwardly from them.

  • George Gord. (unverified)
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    The future of feminism: a trash can.

  • miles (unverified)
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    Kristin, The silence is deafening. I've waited weeks and you have yet to reply to Klinge.

    The old attack and hide strategy must be working out well for you.

    -M

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    Oh, Miles. You poor person. Weeks? Wow. You need cable or something.

    To respond to Ms. Klinge is to go to a place that seems kind of sad to me -- how do you get into a discussion, as a progressive Democrat, with someone who supported Palin? Who bashes Obama so thoroughly? Who promised to "turn Oregon red?" Someone, who, in her support of Palin, also supported a man, McCain, who made this joke?

    “Did you hear the one about the woman who is attacked on the street by a gorilla, beaten senseless, raped repeatedly and left to die? When she finally regains consciousness and tries to speak, her doctor leans over to hear her sigh contently and to feebly ask, ‘Where is that marvelous ape?’”

    I mean, really. I'm a progressive Democrat and a feminist. Where do I go with someone who supported a man who made that joke? Yeah, no.

    Now, Miles. Go find yourself a hobby or something. Please.

  • miles (unverified)
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    Kristin, You are appalling. You know nothing about me nor will you ever. If you are the ideal feminist we've lost already.

    Best wishes for a better future.

    -M

  • (Show?)

    Miles,

    I have a great life and no worries for my future. You, Miles, have a great life. THAT's what I hope for...

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