Gandy Delivers NOW Vow at Johns Hopkins University: "We Won't Go Back" By Lisa Mastny Kim Gandy thinks Rush Limbaugh epitomizes the absolute worst of America. She has a personal vendetta out on Newt Gingrich. She can't bring herself to call the congressional agenda anything but the Contract "on" America. In short, she hates politics these days. But, if things go her way, the conservative wave won't even outlast the 1996 elections. As the executive vice president of the National Organization for Women, Gandy is currently at the forefront of a not-so-small revolution of her own, preparing the way for what she calls the most impressive feminist rally in history--the Rally for Women's Lives scheduled for April 9. About 40 people, almost half of them male, showed up in the McCoy Multipurpose Room on Monday for Gandy's talk on "Women, Violence and College Campuses." In her discussion, Gandy addressed a number of the issues to be covered at the rally, including domestic violence against women, anti-abortion violence and the war on poor women. Hopkins was only one of many stops on her whirlwind quest to mobilize students on college campuses nationwide for the upcoming event, when hundreds of thousands of protesters are expected to converge on Capitol Hill and send this unmistakable message to Congress: "We Won't Go Back." "If successful, the mass mobilization will bring our message home to Newt Gingrich, Congress and the people who would send women back to the old days, when we had less opportunity, less hope of educational advancement and fewer employment opportunities," Gandy told the audience. "But we won't go. We won't lose what we've worked so hard to achieve." Since its formation in 1966, NOW has made significant advances in women's rights, including most recently lobbying Congress to pass the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, which recognizes the civil rights violations of gender-based crimes and contributes approximately $1.6 billion in federal aid to their prevention and treatment. Gandy herself is a longtime activist, having held NOW office at the state or national level every year since 1975. Prior to serving NOW, she founded the Louisiana Women's Lobby Network and drafted both the Louisiana Child Support Enforcement Act and the state's first Domestic Abuse Assistance Act. She later opened a private law practice in New Orleans and litigated countless domestic violence, child support, lesbian mother custody and other cases seeking fair treatment for women. But while her personal successes are innumerable, Gandy fears that the broader impact of her work may be shortlived if violence against women is increasingly considered "acceptable behavior" among such influential people as Rush Limbaugh. "Rush Limbaugh is a perfect example of what we're up against now," she told her audience, which cringed at every mention of his name. "This is a man who preaches hate every day and who has made misogyny OK and almost acceptable in this society. And it wasn't before. For a while there, we had succeeded." By degrading blacks, Native Americans and the poor, and by calling women fighting for empowerment "femi-nazis," Limbaugh plays into the fears of unemployed men who are afraid of job competition, Gandy said. "What he's saying to people in this country who think they are or ought to be privileged is, 'This country is your country, these privileges are yours, and these other groups are taking away your birthright and your jobs,'" she said. Even prominent working women often end up the scapegoats of men who are unwilling to accept female aggression and intelligence, Gandy said. "Men lash out because they are afraid of the corporate B-I-T-C-H, a woman 'Being In Total Control of Herself," she said. "If a woman is in control of herself, then she is 'out of control' because she is not controlled by a man. She is aggressive and independent and, therefore, deserves punishment and whatever comes her way, men say." By addressing both male and female audiences on the issue of domestic violence, Gandy hopes to create broader awareness of the sources of such crimes as rape and wife-beating, which have consistently increased over the past 10 years although violent crime rates have gone down. "The roots of domestic violence grow at an early age, and we are socializing young boys to be cannon fodder," she said. "When a baseball coach tells a little boy that he throws like a girl, or his peers tell him he's a sissy because he won't fight, he's going to think it's a bad thing to be 'girly.' He learns that if you can't use violence to control someone and defend yourself, then you are the worst of all things, which is feminine." Such attitudes regularly lead to gender inequalities in sentencing and criminal procedure as well, Gandy said. "There are plenty of cases where men get off with work release or home detention because the male judge sympathizes with a husband whose wife cheats on him. It's pretty well documented that women who kill abusive husbands in self-defense tend to get more jail than men who commit violent crimes out of aggression," she said. Gandy hopes that both her talk and the upcoming rally will raise public consciousness about gender-based violence and demonstrate that it is not an isolated issue. She is optimistic that the mass participation, including the over 50 Hopkins students she anticipates at the rally, will contribute to the success of the weekend. "As soon as you experience the feeling of being surrounded by thousands like you, you realize how much power you have," she said. "You get more skills and energy to tackle the problem ahead. No matter what happens, it's going to be historic and it's going to change your life. It's going to change the country and nothing is ever going to be the same again." For more information about participating in the upcoming rally and NOW events, contact Hopkins affiliate Keri Hicks at 516-3136.
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