2008-10-01 / Book Review

Congressmember Takes On Rumors Of Women's Issues

Rumors of Our Progress Have Been Greatly Exaggerated: Why Women's Lives Aren't Getting Any Easier—And How We Can Make Real Progress For Ourselves and Our Daughters Modern Times (Rodale Press trademark) ISBN-13 978-1-59486-33327-1 254 pages; $24.95
BY LINDA J. WILSON

C ongressmember Carolyn B. Maloney (DQueens/ Manhattan) has

put a twist on American humorist and social commentator Mark Twain's famous quote, "Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated" and written a book "whose title is a conversation all by itself", according to one blog writer. Rumors of Our Progress Have Been Greatly Exaggerated: Why Women's Lives Aren't Getting Any Easier—And How We Can Make Real Progress For Ourselves and Our Daughters exposes the myth that women in American society have achieved equal status with men. Women, Maloney points out, are being paid a little more than threequarters of men doing the same jobs. Women are still far behind men in issues that include health care, educational opportunities, poverty and reproductive freedom. For example, America ties at number 39 in the world with Ecuador in percentage of children enrolled in early childhood education programs that are not only critical to child development, but also enable women to balance work and family. In the Introduction to Rumors, Maloney notes, "The wage gap is narrowing at a snail's pace. Reproductive rights are more restricted than at any time since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. Sex discrimination complaints, although falling, are higher now than they were after the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings." Eighty-eight years after American women were guaranteed the right to vote in national elections by the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, an equal rights amendment has yet to be ratified by a majority of the states. (No, the ERA does not mandate unisex bathrooms or women on professional football teams. It states simply: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification."

In Rumors, Maloney addresses this shocking state of inequality. She introduces "amazing women who infuse decency into everything they do and exude human values in a world that badly needs them" such as Debbie Smith, a rape survivor who helped Maloney pass a bill that is expected to jail 50,000 rapists with the help of DNA, Wal-Mart employee Betty Duke whose fight against gender disparities in hiring practices has evolved into the largest class action sex discrimination lawsuit in American history and Astoria's own Anna Kril who started a support group for women suffering from breast cancer because she keenly felt the lack of one when undergoing a double mastectomy. One of Maloney's two daughters addressed the issue of women's selfimage in junior high school when she pointed out that to match a Barbie doll's proportions, a woman would have to be six feet tall, weigh 101 pounds and have a 39-inch bust, 33- inch hips and a 19-inch waist. "This isn't normal. This isn't how a woman's body is supposed to look," the daughter rightly declared. Yet millions of young girls in America are being bombarded through advertising, radio, television and movies with messages that tell them a normal female body doesn't make the grade.

In eight chapters Maloney introduces women who have made a difference, outlines the goals that must

be achieved to make America the most woman-friendly

nation in the world and informs readers about legislation currently in the works that will most impact women. Most important, she presents "take action" guides to show readers how they can help to make real progress for themselves and other women. Readers have no excuse for folding their hands and saying "But I don't know what to do about this."

This book is not a diatribe for manhaters. Maloney makes it clear that men are welcome to join in the fight for gender equality; indeed, it would benefit men to do so. Chapter 6, "The Pretty Woman Myth" tells the story of Norma Hotaling, once a drug-addicted prostitute who started the first "John School". This extremely successful program has rehabilitated the men who buy the services of prostitutes more effectively than prison time ever could. Programs combating domestic violence give boys an opportunity to grow up in an atmosphere where men and women are treated with equal respect, making them less likely candidates to be victims of violence at home or on the street themselves.

The book is extensively footnoted and referenced; Maloney gives no opportunity for claims of sloppy or careless research to arise. Rumors perfectly outlines an imperfect situation and presents real solutions— if those who read this book choose to avail themselves of them. Its only problem is its emphasis on what Hillary Clinton must do to win the Democratic nomination. When this book "hit the street" in publishing parlance, the Democratic Party had made Barack Obama its presidential candidate, underscoring the gap between the time a manuscript is submitted to a publisher and actual book publication. This by no means diminishes the book's value. Rumors is required reading for every woman—and every man as well—who ever encountered Robert Kennedy's comment "Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say "Why not?" Maloney and the women she describes in this book are saying "Why not?" This book not only says "Why not?", it also spells out "How". It should be required reading for every woman and every citizen who wants to see America realize its full potential as truly the land of the free. The women we meet here, including Maloney herself, have already established it as the home of the truly brave.

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