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Communications prof reflects on Geraldine Ferarro

Nichola Gutgold, Ph.D.
3/28/2011 —

In 2006, Nichola Gutgold, Ph.D., associate professor of communication arts and sciences at Penn State Lehigh Valley, had the privilege of working with Geraldine Ferraro on a book project. As Ferarro's family, friends, and those she inspired mourn her passing, Gutgold has offered her own reflection on this pioneer for women in politics.

 

Lemme Just Say: "Thanks, Geraldine Ferraro!"

 

By Nichola Gutgold

 

When I heard of Geraldine Ferraro’s death, I remembered her generosity when I asked her if she would write the foreword for a book I wrote that chronicles the lives and communication styles of five women who ran for president. At first she declined, but we traded a few e-mails and I expressed to her that when I graduated college in 1984 her vice-presidential bid made me feel as though the world would be wide open for me. Before long she graciously agreed to lend her significant name to my book project.

In her foreword to "Paving the Way for Madam President" (Lexington Books, 2006) she marveled that the "choices are unlimited" for women. No doubt we owe Geraldine Ferraro for expanding our opportunities. She courageously campaigned — and held her own — as the first woman on a major party ticket in 1984. Never shy or retreating, she often directly confronted her critics. Once she phoned the Archbishop of New York directly to explain her position on abortion. Her fast-spoken statements were often accentuated with slang phrases— "Lemme tell ya" and "Lemme just say."

If elected, she promised to protect women’s rights. As a vice-presidential candidate she said, "Women are not better off with a president, an administration, and a party united against the Equal Rights Amendment. When I take my oath of office for my second term as vice president, I want to swear to uphold a constitution that includes the ERA. Name a program that helps women. This administration has tried to slash it. Name a policy that treats women fairly. This administration is against it. This administration is for the gold standard for the economy and the double standard for women."

On the campaign trail she repeatedly reminded voters that Eleanor Roosevelt was thirty-six before she was allowed to cast her first vote. She would add, "Not only shouldn't she have been barred from choosing public officials, she should have been one."

She felt encouraged that women no longer had to live in "either-or" situations. In the foreword for my book she wrote: “We could be whatever we choose to be. We can win Olympic medals and coach our daughters' soccer teams. We can walk in space and help our children take their first steps. We can negotiate trade agreements and manage family budgets. We can be corporate executives and also wives and mothers. We can be doctors and also bake cookies with our six-year-old future scientists."

Her own life was evidence. She was an elementary school teacher; a lawyer prosecuting criminals in the District Attorney's Office in Queens, New York; a three-term member of Congress; Vice Presidential candidate; a candidate for the US Senate; and CEO of a consulting firm. She was also a wife, mother, and grandmother. She always said that politics is not a spectator sport.

She enjoyed the rough and tumble of fighting for the things she cared about. She believed that "becoming president isn't an impossible dream for women. It isn't a matter of if; it is a matter of when."

Lemme just say: Thank you, Geraldine Ferraro, for showing us the way.

Nichola D. Gutgold is associate professor of communication at Pennsylvania State University. She writes about the communication of women in male dominated fields. Her books include: "Almost Madam President: Why Hillary Clinton ‘won’ in 2008" (Lexington Books, 2009), "Seen and Heard: The Women of Television News" (Lexington Books, 2008), and "Paving the Way for Madam President" (Lexington Books, 2006).  She is at work on a book about women on the Supreme Court. This reflection first appeared on Senior Women Web (www.seniorwomen.com).
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