Sweet Column: Pelosi, hear her roar.
Because Nancy Pelosi will be sworn in today as the first female speaker of the House, "I think more women will get jobs like hers, which is great." That's according to one of Pelosi's granddaughters, Madeline, who is 8 years old.
The Arizona second-grader spoke at a women's "tea" for Pelosi on Wednesday, one of a string of celebrations spread over three days marking Pelosi's historic ascent.
Pelosi becoming speaker helps every woman with any ambition, no matter her politics or ideology. There are few women at the highest levels in the various silos of American power -- be it corporate, non-profit, academic, military, religious, political and probably some other categories I forgot. As many firsts as there have been, many still remain, including a female in the White House.
"For all women, it just raises our credibility to have a woman as a visible national leader," Ellen Malcolm, the president of Emily's List, told me. Emily's List, one of the nation's biggest political action committees, supports viable female candidates who support abortion rights. But Malcolm's point transcends partisanship. Pelosi's new and powerful position "will help all women; women now will be taken more seriously," Malcolm said.
The Pelosi tea was a tribute to former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, who died last year, and one of the songs in a slide show about Richards was the cowboy classic, "Don't Fence Me In." The musical metaphor was on point.
"We have arrived," declared Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) from the stage.
Ellie Smeal, the president of Feminist Majority, told me Pelosi becoming speaker "is really a crack in the marble ceiling. She will be seen nationally, constantly." Pelosi, noted Smeal, "is the first truly national female leader."
It's a given that the Democrats, who won control of the House and Senate, will emphasize their own issues. Between today and Jan. 18, House Democrats want to pass legislation on ethics, raising the minimum wage, stem-cell research, making prescription drugs cheaper, cutting interest rates on student loans, and ending tax breaks for oil companies. Pelosi told the crowd at the tea "this Congress is going to be about children." Clearly, women's issues will take a higher profile. Marcia Greenberger, the co-president of the National Women's Law Center, told me they won't have to play defense so often to "keep the gains we have already made in place."
Pelosi wielding the gavel, however, means more, and that is what's important to women of all political stripes. The nation will see, read and hear about a woman in control. It means, I hope, that it will make it harder to marginalize women when it comes to the perception of who can be a leader.
When I was a guest on MSNBC's "Hardball" on Dec. 29, host Chris Matthews asked me, "Why does Nancy Pelosi get such a bad press? She gets a terrible press. Every decision she makes looks bad in the press." I said: "It is unfair. I do think it has to do with that she's a woman and there is a double-standard here. And if you met her in person, she is warm, she is intelligent, she can communicate well."
That Pelosi wears spike heels and dresses to kill feeds some stereotypes. (And I want to point out, before everyone sends me e-mails about a double standard, that I wrote about where Hastert got his suits when he became speaker.) "I think when women break through barriers the world always wants to revisit these gender stereotypes," Malcolm said. "There has been a lot of conversation about Nancy's Armani suits, just like Hillary's hair."
Over time and with more exposure to Pelosi, Malcolm said, "the gender stereotypes will quickly disappear."
Pelosi as speaker can be the first woman in the country to dominate the news, where female images have been few because there are only a small number of women who hold elected or appointed powerful positions. Hastert preferred to stay out of the spotlight. I'm not sure what path Pelosi will take.
Pelosi will put a face on power. It will be a woman's face. She will be quoted. She will make decisions. She will build consensus. She will be strategic. She will make mistakes. She will continue to be tough and make it acceptable for women to be strong. If she wasn't, Pelosi would not become speaker today.
Hear her roar?