September 23, 2004

Speakers Debate President Bush's Policies Regarding Women's Issues

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Two local political activists debated on the Bush administration’s policies toward women yesterday evening in McGraw Hall. Prof. Zillah Eisenstein, a member of the politics department at Ithaca College, presented a negative view of George W. Bush’s presidency in regards to women’s issues. Mark Finkelstein ’70, the Tompkins County Republican Party chair, argued for a positive view of the Bush administration.

Eisenstein focused her speech on recent military activities and expenditures, citing them as negative for women in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world.

“‘W’ stands for war and world domination, not women,” Eisenstein said.

Additionally, Eisenstein emphasized that none of the nominees were female. Her critique of women’s rights issues argued a negative position on Bush but also pointed to general societal issues regarding gender.

“In our society there’s lots of freedom, but not much equality,” Eisenstein noted. Conversely, Finkelstein mainly discussed issues of national security and the war on terror. After saying that politics should not be divided by race, sex or sexuality, he argued that the concept of women’s issues stereotypes women and assumes they have the same position on political issues. Finkelstein also cited a recent New York Times and CBS News poll that showed 48 percent of women voting for Bush while 43 percent planned to vote for Kerry.

The debate was sponsored by Students Acting for Gender Equality, Mock Election 2004 and the Student Activities Financing Committee. Emily Marchese, the co-president of SAGE, stated that she wanted the debate “to be elevated, to look at things in different perspectives.”

After realizing that all of the Mock Election events involved male speakers, Marchese and other members of SAGE decided to run a series of four events on women’s issues, all with women presenters. SAGE attempted not to give the evening a feminist spin, aiming for a more general discussion about women’s issues.

Eisenstein has written nine books on political theory, sexual equality and gender. She also has published numerous articles, conference reports, essays and editorial pieces. Describing herself as an “anti-racist feminist activist”, Eisenstein came highly recommended to SAGE by the Department of Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Cornell.

Finkelstein hosts the public-access television show “Right Angle.” He graduated from the Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations and holds law degrees from the State University of New York in Buffalo and Harvard. He formerly held two state positions under Gov. George Pataki from 1995 to 1998. Finkelstein has been the Tompkins County Republican chair since early 2001.

Both panelists discussed the powerful women in the Bush administration, taking different stances on the role Condoleezza Rice, Laura Bush and other high-level female officials play in politics. Eisenstein said that these women take an anti-feminist stance in not helping women in the United States or abroad. After discussing a high-level official who took time off from public office to raise her high school-aged son and returned to work after he left for college, Eisenstein argued for inexpensive day care to allow women to work out of the home.

Finkelstein argued that women had the right to represent different viewpoints. He also stated, “women have been given important offices, literally sitting next to the president.” Separately, after saying that Republicans use misogynistic language to undermine women, Eisenstein discussed her hope that Democrats would be people who stand for social justice, world peace, and their best selves, regardless of race, sex or class. In rebuttal of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Eisenstein stated, “I like girlie-men.”

Contrastingly, Finkelstein told the audience that most people will not decide their election votes by women’s issues. Consistently pointing out the issue of national security, the events of Sept. 11, and recent terrorist activity in Iraq, Finkelstein stated, “you will not be concerned about equal pay or equal work if you or your family members have been beheaded.”