Women Battle for the Soul of America

15 October, 2020

The Women's March was a worldwide protest on January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump

The Wom­en’s March was a world­wide protest on Jan­u­ary 21, 2017, the day after the inau­gu­ra­tion of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump

Colum­nist Maryam Zar argues that women will define the bat­tle for the soul of the Unit­ed States, at a time when con­ser­v­a­tive vs. lib­er­al val­ues lit­er­al­ly mean the dif­fer­ence between life and death. If the lat­ter pre­vail it would mean that the U.S. is final­ly in the real game—think of what women lead­ers are accom­plish­ing else­where, for exam­ple New Zealand’s Jacin­da Ardern tak­ing charge of the coro­n­avirus cri­sis, with only 25 deaths in N. Zed as of Octo­ber 15, 2020, or the accom­plish­ments of women lead­ers such as San­na Marin of Fin­land, Angela Merkel of Ger­many and Tsai Ing-wen of Tai­wan. The US is still in the 1950s as far as this goes, and Kamala Har­ris as vice pres­i­dent, and poten­tial­ly Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States, could sig­nal a sea change, at long last. —TMR

Maryam Zar

The nom­i­na­tion of a con­ser­v­a­tive fed­er­al judge for the Supreme Court seat vacat­ed by Ruth Bad­er Gins­berg, and the ensu­ing nom­i­na­tion hear­ing on a Repub­li­can-con­trolled Sen­ate floor, with the his­toric vice pres­i­den­tial can­di­date on the Demo­c­ra­t­ic tick­et, Kamala Har­ris, as a sit­ting sen­a­tor, brings into sharp focus the Trump lega­cy on women and their place in our 21st cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can society.

From the first days of its tenure, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion drew a line in the sand for women. Fol­low­ing his inau­gu­ra­tion in Jan­u­ary 2017, women took to the streets of major cities in record num­bers to protest the insis­tence that their rights were inher­ent­ly less wor­thy of pro­tec­tion.  In Amer­i­ca, this protest against a clear and present threat to hard won rights had its nexus in the right to privacy—as cod­i­fied in Roe v. Wade. This was the land­mark Supreme Court case in 1973 that grant­ed Amer­i­can women the lim­it­ed right to ter­mi­nate an unwant­ed preg­nan­cy, under their 14th Amend­ment right to pri­va­cy.  It gave women the ele­men­tal pre­rog­a­tive to con­trol how they pro­cre­ate. The court con­sid­ered pre­vail­ing reli­gious and moral views in the polit­i­cal dis­course of the time, but decid­ed they were not applic­a­ble to the judi­cial sphere. Fast for­ward 40 years, and we are still unset­tled about the foot­print of reli­gious dog­ma, as applied to the pol­i­tics of women.

If women get paid 65 cents to the dol­lar, it is root­ed in the con­ser­v­a­tive belief that they are less respon­si­ble for the costs of liv­ing; if women have less con­trol over the base­line pur­pose of their bod­ies, it is because con­ser­v­a­tives believe they are ves­sels for pro­cre­ation; if women ask for child­care to help advance their careers, they are told by con­ser­v­a­tives that they are uncar­ing or inca­pable; if women are vio­lat­ed or sex­u­al­ly assault­ed, they are exco­ri­at­ed for dress­ing inap­pro­pri­ate­ly or invit­ing the vio­la­tion – and ulti­mate­ly told by con­ser­v­a­tives to endure it. For all these rea­sons and more, near­ly four years ago at the onset of a Don­ald Trump pres­i­den­cy, women took to the streets with pussy hats and signs of protest. Some saw those hats an emblem of empow­er­ment. Some saw them as sym­bol­ic of a mockery. 

In the Sen­ate cham­bers this week where Amy Coney Bar­rett, a moth­er of sev­en, sat to be judged by 100 men and women with ide­olo­gies that spanned the polit­i­cal spec­trum, she was grilled most poignant­ly by anoth­er woman—a lawyer and pros­e­cu­tor herself—with no chil­dren, on the cusp of mak­ing Amer­i­can his­to­ry as the first black and the first woman vice pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States. This moment defines us as a nation. This moment where a con­ser­v­a­tive judge being sur­rep­ti­tious­ly con­firmed for a life­time appoint­ment to the high­est court of the land faces off against a chal­lenger who rep­re­sents the nation­al march toward a more pro­gres­sive soci­ety marked by a diver­si­ty of voic­es in the pub­lic dis­course, rep­re­sents the bat­tle for the soul of Amer­i­ca.  The war of ide­ol­o­gy between them is the bat­tle between lib­er­al­ism and con­ser­vatism, and the out­come will define the role of mod­ern Amer­i­ca in the social rev­o­lu­tion of our time.

The mes­sage of intol­er­ance pro­pound­ed by Don­ald Trump and car­ried out by his appointees has crys­tal­lized over four years to define an ide­ol­o­gy that rejects progress and begs for same­ness. It was the counter-reac­tion to the elec­tion and pres­i­den­cy of Barak Obama—a Black pro­gres­sive pres­i­dent who believed that the diver­si­ty of this nation was its great­est strength.  He pushed the nation toward a more inclu­sive agen­da, he appoint­ed the first Lati­na and the first Jew­ish woman to the Supreme court, he appoint­ed the first black man as Attor­ney Gen­er­al of the Unit­ed States, he spoke about peace to Mus­lim stu­dents in Cairo, and bowed in def­er­ence to Japan’s Emper­or in Tokyo. He brought Amer­i­cans into the Paris Cli­mate Accords, forged a ten­ta­tive plan of action with the Ira­ni­ans and pressed the Israelis for a less aggres­sive pos­ture in the Mid­dle East.  No part of this bod­ed well in white suprema­cist cir­cles, where jobs and oppor­tu­ni­ty were dwin­dling and the cul­prits were diver­si­ty and inclu­sion. The instinct to rail against change was already brew­ing before Don­ald Trump clinched an elec­toral vic­to­ry. His inau­gu­ra­tion gave a bold green light for this oth­er­wise latent move­ment brew­ing beneath the sur­face, to brim to the fore.

Days before an elec­tion where mil­lions of Amer­i­cans have already vot­ed, we see con­ser­vatism mak­ing one last stand as a polit­i­cal major­i­ty, with a female nom­i­nee deliv­er­ing the con­ces­sion­ary words of a sea­soned politi­cian, promis­ing no pre­con­ceived out­comes as she pre­pares to take a judi­cial oath that allows her to impact the course of our col­lec­tive future.  Ques­tion­ing her from the dais is the voice of a new generation—a black woman with the pow­er to clinch a perch that can final­ly chal­lenge same­ness and set us on a course to a more fun­da­men­tal­ly inclu­sive soci­ety, for gen­er­a­tions to come.

This is the bat­tle of our time, and it will be fought intel­lec­tu­al­ly, by women.

Attorney and columnist Maryam Zar

Attor­ney and colum­nist Maryam Zar

Maryam Zar is the founder of Wom­en­found and a City Com­mis­sion­er in Los Ange­les for the Com­mis­sion on the Sta­tus of Women. She was born in Iran and came to the US in 1979. In 1992 she returned to Iran where she worked as a cor­re­spon­dent at a time when the nation was emerg­ing from war. She was the Edi­tor for an Eng­lish lan­guage news­pa­per called Iran News, where she also pro­duced her own page on socio-eco­nom­ic shifts, post-war.  She returned to the States to pur­sue a law degree and cur­rent­ly chairs the West­side Region­al Alliance of Coun­cils. She was the VP of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions for USNC UN Women LA, the found­ing Chair of the Pacif­ic Pal­isades Task Force on Home­less­ness and was an elect­ed Del­e­gate for Assem­bly Dis­trict 50. Most recent­ly, she helped LA’s Office of Inter­na­tion­al Rela­tions launch an effort to col­lect mask dona­tions for Sis­ter Cities and has joined the team at the N95 Project, con­nect­ing PPE to front­line health­care work­ers fight­ing the Covid pandemic.