Wednesday, Jun 20, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Rose Russell

Listen, women have plenty to say, too

TERESA Heinz Kerry sure has something to say. And I doubt if the media, the public, family, friends, and foes ever wonder what it is she really means.

"By now I hope it should come as no surprise that I have something to say," she told the Democratic National Convention Tuesday night.

That she does certainly is no shock after she dissed a newspaperman, telling him early in the week to "shove it."

By most standards, such talk isn't what the public expects from the spouse of a candidate whose eyes are set on occupying the White House.

But no American citizen probably ever thought that the vice president of the United States would ever use "a really bad word" - as Ilana Wexler, the 12-year-old from California who addressed the convention, described Vice President Dick Cheney's comment - on the Senate floor. And I won't bring up the time then-presidential candidate George W. Bush hung a "bad word" on another journalist.

Ms. Kerry's straightforward comment was mild by comparison, but still it created quite a commotion. Apparently, observers long familiar with the interesting wife of Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. John Kerry, are well acquainted with her frankness. The rest of us just getting to know her find her invigorating.

Nearly 90 years since the first woman was elected to Congress, 84 years after women obtained the right to vote, and three decades after women joined the workforce in large numbers, the public still expects the spouses of presidents and presidential candidates to act as bobble heads.

Kind of reminds me of a time when children were expected to be seen and not heard.

Well, dig up, those days are gone. The usual traditional role of the first lady began to quickly slip away in more recent years when New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton had the job. As the most astute and best known woman in American politics, Senator Clinton was the first first lady to win a seat in the U.S. Senate while her husband was still president.

Now, if Senator Kerry wins the election, Ms. Kerry will shatter more of the view that first ladies in recent decades are mostly mum, coy, and passive.

And so what is expected of the first lady at the still-dawning 21st century? It's up to her, really. Whenever this country gets around to electing a woman for president, if she's married, I doubt her husband will remain quiet, unexpressive, and in the background.

If the wives of presidents and candidates for president want to be demure, fine. But don't expect too many repeats of Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford, or Rosalynn Carter. Perhaps Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush were assertive, even if not in the public eye.

And while no insult is intended, whether or not Laura Bush likes it, she really is a picture of a 1950s wife in white America. Nothing wrong with that, if that's her preference.

But that's not Ms. Kerry's style. Her varied experiences make that impossible. She's Portuguese, born in Mozambique, educated in South Africa and Switzerland, and she speaks five languages. As a naturalized citizen whose native land was a dictatorship, she appreciates American liberties far more than some Americans want American-born women to.

"I have a very personal feeling about how special America is. My right to speak my mind, to have a voice, to be what some have called 'opinionated' is a right I deeply and profoundly cherish," she said Tuesday.

She looks forward to women not being labeled "opinionated" when they have something to say, and to a time when vocal women are also considered "smart and well informed just like men."

It's been said this week, but I repeat: Teresa, you go girl.

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