Momma’s Boys

I recently had the honor of introducing the First Lady of the United States, who was in Boston for an event at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

The evening’s opening act was a panel discussion about women’s health with Stephanie Schriock, President of EMILY’s List; Nancy Keenan, President of NARAL and Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, Executive Director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. Jessica’s infant son was an honorary panelist and nearly as popular as the First Lady.

After hearing from these accomplished women, I stepped up to the microphone, made the requisite adjustments (you may have noticed that every podium in America is made for a 6 foot tall man), and proudly welcomed the First Lady to the city that put then-State Senator Barack Obama on the map when he delivered his historic speech at the Democratic National Convention here in 2004.

Michelle Obama radiated hope and determination as she spoke about the President’s leadership, saying that he has “the backs of American workers.”

At one point during her remarks, Jessica’s baby cried out, and the First Lady laughed, commiserating with the baby about the continuing attacks against women and working families being waged by the GOP.

“We are not fighting for ourselves,” Michelle Obama said, “we are fighting for our sons and daughters, our grandsons and granddaughters.”

My mind turned to Jessica’s son, the recent crop of Team Lee babies (all boys under the age of four), and my own two grown sons. When my eldest was a baby in the Seventies, gas prices were on the rise and Roe v. Wade became the law of the land. While I could not have imagined third generation iPads, smartphones or Facebook, I did envision us living in a savvier, more accepting and more equal world — not a world where something as common as birth control would be under fire.

Certainly, the recent attacks on women’s health aren’t winning over voters. A recent poll by Planned Parenthood and EMILY’s List shows that voters object to a wide range of attacks on access to healthcare and birth control occurring at the federal and state levels. So why do the male-dominated Congress and state legislatures persist in putting women’s lives and health at risk? And more importantly, are we raising another generation of boys to continue these attacks?

Of course, every generation is predicated on the values and optimism of the one that came before. I am proud to have raised my sons to be feminists. In fact, at my eldest son’s first birthday, I sent the mothers home with the first issue of Ms. Magazine instead of party favors. I feel confident that Jessica’s baby and the baby boys being raised by members of Team Lee will respect women and see them as equals. But it’s not just the responsibility of their parents; it’s up to all of us to ensure that when today’s children reach adulthood, the idea of women as second class becomes as old-fashioned as mid-day martinis and smoking in the office. We can’t make real progress at our current pace. Our children deserve more. Our country deserves better.

It’s time to move the clock forward — not backwards. Raising our sons to see women as their equals and raising our daughters to see themselves as equal to men is the first step towards a truly representative democracy — one in which women’s rights aren’t under attack. In the inspirational words of our First Lady: “We stand at a fundamental crossroads for our country.”

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