These days, there are all-too-few-positive talking-head television moments worth noting. That's why Kim Gandy's meeting with conservative Sean Hannity on the Fox News Channel's "Hannity and Colmes" program, was such a special moment. Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), sat down with Hannity on Tuesday, January 8, and cleaned his clock. She was sensational. Give this woman her own television program!
As is his wont, Hannity was all revved up -- notes piled in a neat little stack on his desk. He was ready to ambush Gandy, accusing NOW of producing a video, which Hannity charged advocated taking money meant for the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks and distributing it to feminist causes. The problem with Hannity's opening verbal sortie was NOW had nothing to do with the production of the video or the organization that put it together. Gandy clarified that before Hannity could get the charges out of his mouth.
In fact, the video, titled "The Women at Ground Zero," and was put together by the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund (NLDEF), an organization that was established in 1970 by the founders of the National Organization for Women but has been independent from NOW for the past thirty years (Gandy proudly admitted to sitting on its board). "Women at Ground Zero" is a 12-minute video documenting the heroic actions of women in the face of the September 11 disaster. According to NLDEF's website, the organization "pursues equality for women and girls in the workplace, the schools, the family and the courts, through litigation, education, and public information programs."
Before Hannity could get his juices flowing, Gandy corrected him on the facts and in doing so, seized the reins of the interview. Gandy obviously understands the "Hannity and Colmes" gestalt, and how the best way to deal with the bully-boys of conservative television talk is to go on the offensive and stay that way until it's time for a commercial. I may be exaggerating here, but only a little. If you are liberal or progressive guest on "Hannity and Colmes," "The O'Reilly Factor," "Hardball" -- you know, the programs where the hosts are passionately in love with the sound of their own voices -- take it from me, the best defense is a strong offense.
Hannity's information probably came from a column by Wendy McElroy, headlined "Feminists Hit Ground Zero With WTC Funds Grab." Posted at the Fox News Channel's website on Tuesday, January 8, McElroy charges NOW with crassly promoting its feminist agenda on the backs of the victims of September 11.
Who is Wendy McElroy? She is the editor of ifeminists.com and the author of "Individualist Feminism of the Nineteenth Century: Collected Writings and Biographical Profiles." Her new book, an anthology, "Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century," is scheduled to be published this year by Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute. McElroy also runs her own website, WendyMcElroy.com, which she declares is a site for Individualist Feminism and Individualist Anarchism. She claims individualist feminism "was based on the theory that all humans should be treated as sovereign individuals, regardless of gender, race, or religion."
McElroy quotes a speech "on how women should respond to the war on terrorism" delivered by Gandy on December 11 at the National Press Club. During the speech, Gandy spoke out against "people who cynically take advantage of a tragedy to their own ends." According to McElroy, and confirmed by Gandy during her Fox appearance, the list of people exhibiting shameful behavior by attaching "their own agenda to Sept. 11" included Jerry Falwell, Rush Limbaugh and Laura Schlesinger.
Right off, McElroy charges NOW with hypocrisy: "It is intellectually stunning for Gandy to suggest that her proposals are not part of a political agenda. Especially when NOW's cash-starved hand is reaching out to snatch at the federal relief money intended to aid people in the recovery from terrorism." Then she excoriates NOW for pushing affirmative action during the recovery process: "NOW wishes to use relief funds to promote affirmative action of women to nontraditional recovery-related jobs, such as firefighter and police officer, in which women comprise less than 25 percent of workers."
I'm assuming that McElroy really meant the "cash-starved hand" of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund and not the National Organization for Women. She also confused the two organizations, assuming that they must be related to each other, probably since they both have the letters N, O, and W as part of their acronyms.
In late December, the Washington Post reported that NLDEF had "embarked on a lobbying campaign to steer federal recovery funds toward women in less traditional fields." Another thing that appears to stick in McElroy's craw is that NLDEF's president, Kathy Rodgers, has been named to the transition committee of New York City's new Republican mayor, Michael Bloomberg, giving her unprecedented access for her "feminist agenda."
McElroy points out that Rep. Jane Harman -- the ranking Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security -- has been airing "The Women at Ground Zero," and issued a press release "stating that the role of women 'has been overshadowed' by reports about the 'heroic men.'" According to McElroy, "Harman intends to monitor recovery money spending to ensure gender fairness."
Poor reporting and feminist-bashing aside, the real question here is how willing are we to work for gender equity and inclusiveness in the post-September 11 rebuilding and healing process. The libertarian-feminism of Wendy McElroy will only be satisfied if the dispersal of funds is "gender-blind" -- reminiscent of "color-blind" anti-affirmative action. If there has been discrimination in the hiring and lack of access to jobs traditionally male dominated, so be it. The NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund video acknowledges the contributions of women to the rescue effort and advocates their inclusion in the rebuilding and healing process.
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement, and a regular columnist for WorkingForChange.