MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
Political wives have been all over the news this week. They've been portrayed as the victims of their husbands' infidelity and as obstacles to their husbands' careers. But what about women who are the politicians?
NPR's Andrea Seabrook sat down this week with the woman who achieved the highest political rank for a female in American history. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi spoke about her experience.
ANDREA SEABROOK: When talking about women in politics, Nancy Pelosi thinks back to her high school debate team. It was 1958, and several schools came together to compete in extemporaneous debate. A young Nancy D'Alesandro watched a friend reach her hand into a fishbowl filled with debate topics on little scraps of paper. She pulled one out and read...
NANCY PELOSI: The question was this simple: Do women think?
SEABROOK: Do women think? For Pelosi, the memory is a reminder of how far she's come. From the daughter of a powerful mayor of Baltimore to a devoted wife and mother of five children, she always kept a hand in politics at the local and regional level. It wasn't until 1987, when her youngest daughter was a senior in high school, that Pelosi ran for office herself.
As a member of Congress from San Francisco, she worked her way up with high-profile posts on the House Appropriations Committee and Intelligence Committee. Then, it was Democratic leader. And in 2006, after her party swept the midterm elections, she became speaker of the House, the first woman to hold the post in U.S. history.
Despite her work, she says, and the broadening role of women in society over the decades, Pelosi can still hear a certain edge in the voices of some men when they talk about her. When they say things like: She's doing it. It's her fault.
PELOSI: I don't know if it's generational or what, but sometimes using she and her instead of the name of the person is not really intended to be mean-spirited, I don't think. It's just the tone that goes with it. So I don't have time to worry about that.
You know, I just don't have time to take offense or hold offense. It's just not important. They're going to do it anyway. And the more effective you are, the more they're going to do it. So you just have to decide, do I care about that, or do I care about getting a job done? And as I say over and over again, we came to do a job.
SEABROOK: A quick Web search shows what she means. Pelosi is demonized and reviled by some whose attacks seem focused on things like her appearance and her ambition, rather than her ideas.
PELOSI: The only concern I have about the attacks that are made on me is that I don't want it to deter other women from saying: I want to go do that.
SEABROOK: After Democrats lost the House majority last November, Pelosi was elected minority leader, and the Republicans took control of the House. Now, Pelosi worries that the attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, which provides birth control and women's health exams as well as abortions, is a setback. But then, she also thinks any leftover sexism in politics will die away.
The public, she says, is way ahead of politics in terms of women in power. And the young women and girls of today prove it.
PELOSI: In my generation, it was like halt. But in theirs, it's full speed ahead. So I don't have any worry about what it means for my children and grandchildren. They'll have every opportunity.
I was thinking of my mother today earlier, and I thought, oh, my gosh, if she were born, you know, some decades later, what she would have done. Just a remarkable woman. But it's about the future. And I think that nothing is more wholesome to the political process and the process of government than the greater participation of women.
SEABROOK: Pelosi's advice to women rising in their careers who meet resistance from someone with other ideas of a woman's proper role?
PELOSI: It's their problem. You know, it's the problem of these people who harbor this anger, and you can't let their anger take you down.
SEABROOK: Focus, she says. Don't get dragged into it. The news showing women in politics more often as problems or props for their husbands' political campaigns, you don't have to believe that story, Pelosi says. Just look at her. She was a girl who chose to use her life and career to answer the question: Do women think?
Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, Washington.
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