The Blog

Gender Bias at the DNC

Sure, Democrats say they welcome all, but at an EMILY'S List breakfast, it's no boys allowed.

12:40 PM, Jul 27, 2004 • By MATT LABASH
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Boston

SOCIAL CONSCIOUSNESS isn't typically my bag. Not that I'm self-centered, but thinking about oppressed peoples of the world takes away from valuable me-time. Every now and then, however, one's sense of justice is so violated when witnessing freedoms so ruthlessly trampled, that there is no choice but to loosen the shackles, to storm the barricades, and to do other things that sound like Pete Seeger lyrics.

A few days ago, I received a call from the Atlantic Monthly's Joshua Green. Josh is typically a sunny guy. The world loves him, he loves it right back. But the troubled voice on the other end of the line wasn't the Josh I knew. This Josh, it seemed, was nursing an injury: he had hit his head on a glass ceiling.

In the walk-up to the Democratic convention, Josh had received a call from a staffer at EMILY's List, the political interest group that helps elect pro-choice Democratic women to office. Their working philosophy is perhaps best captured in their acronym: Early Money Is Like Yeast. The staffer wanted to know if any female writers from his magazine would be attending their "Women to Women Coffee," billed as an "informal breakfast for women in the news and women of the news."

Well anyone who knows Josh knows that he loves women. And he also loves coffee. Put women and coffee together, Josh is one happy camper. So he said he'd cover it. But EMILY's List said he couldn't. Not because Josh wasn't in/of the news. Nor because they hadn't made enough coffee. The reason Josh was proscribed from plying the trade he so loves, was for no other reason than that he was not a woman.

"Can you imagine if we tried to keep them out of something?" (By "we," Josh meant men--the hunters and gatherers. By "them," he meant "women"--the Oprah-watchers). Josh said he hadn't felt this lousy since "once in fourth grade, when I wasn't picked for kickball." I had heard enough. Every now and then, you realize that our business occasionally affords the opportunity to right a grievous wrong. I had to take a shot.

I immediately approached a female colleague at my magazine, Emily Ripp, and told her I needed her to make arrangements. Not only does she, coincidentally, have the same name as the group I was trying to infiltrate, but her phone voice is like a soft, summer wind--all female. At my behest, she called and RSVP'ed for the breakfast as "M. Labash."

EMILY's List communications director Ramona Oliver welcomed her/me, sister to sister. She told my collaborator that she didn't need an invitation, all she had to do was RSVP and she'd be on the list. Then she told the estrogenized version of me, that though we'd never spoken on the phone, she liked my work in THE WEEKLY STANDARD. "Love your work," of course, is the polite lie we all exchange like business cards at political conventions. But if Ramona had ever bothered to read my work, particularly on our website, where an unflattering caricature depicts me as a five-o'clock shadowed Serbian war criminal, she would know that I am all man.

Confident I was on the list, I did something I try to never do during the nonstop social swirl that is convention week, I dragged myself out of bed at dawn's crack. As my Boston Irish cabbie, Billy, deposited me in front of the Sheraton after I told him how our gender was being oppressed, he offered a fraternal, "Good luck with the broads." I walked past the conference-rooms full of chirpy conventioneers, stopping to take a look at the badges emporium that had sprung up in the Sheraton lobby. In addition to the expected "Mis-leader of the Free World" anti-Bush slogans, there were enough I-am-woman statements of faith to outfit one hundred waitresses at some sort of feminist Friday's: "The Best Man for the Job Is A Woman . . . We Won't Go Back! . . . Listen to Women for a change! . . . A man of quality insists on equality!

I walked up to the EMILY's List sign-in desk, the smells of flaky croissants already wafting through the hallway. I was ready for some woman-to-woman coffee, and proudly gave them my name. Ramona Oliver welcomed me warmly. Now I knew how Rosa Parks felt, I thought, as I thumbed the "The Facts on Women Voters/Women Candidates" précis while charging into the ballroom. But before I could gain entry, Ramona grabbed me by the shoulder, allowing her hand to trace the cut of my suit lapel. She told me that she hadn't been on a date in a while, but that I was a handsome man. Easy sister, I wanted to tell her. Work first. Play later. But the point of treating me like a piece of meat, it turns out, was to say my kind wasn't welcome at this breakfast.