Vp Issue 9: “Laura Flanders”

[Originally published in Vp issue 9 interview by Jill Sobule (2005)]

[Originally published in Vp issue 9 interview by Jill Sobule (2005)]

I have been the subject of many an interview. Some are a joy and others are like death itself: “Who were your biggest influences?” “Why aren’t you more famous?” And the worst: “What’s your favorite color?” So when Velvetpark asked me to interview Laura Flanders, I was honored, excited, and really scared. Could I do it? Laura Flanders was intimidating to me. She is way smart, funny, and has this incredibly sexy accent. Her book, “Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species,” has been on my bedstand for a couple of months so at least I sort of knew my subject (plus I Googled her a lot). 

You open the book with “honorary Bushwoman” Katherine Harris—”George Bush might have never snagged the White House if one woman had been laughed at less.” Did the media and our focus on her scary make-up cover the fact that she was a crook for Bush? We didn’t take her seriously.

I think we all fell into it in one way or another. Everybody was making the same jokes and, frankly, so was I. I didn’t eralize how much there really was already on record about this woman’s crimes and tendencies to lie and deceive, and I felt guilty. And at the time, I did write something saying I’m sure there’s something more to this than what everyone is saying. But I never did the research until I did the book.

Isn’t it similar to our obsession with Condoleezza’s Emma Peel boots on her last trip to Europe?

Yes, the whole “Matrix” look. We wouldn’t have been laughing so hard if it had been Colin Powell or Donald Rumsfeld. Plus they wouldn’t have looked as good.

So do he Bush women really have power?

I think they do, to differing degrees. I think that Gail Norton really has power. At the Department of the Interior she’s in her element and she’s a terrible person. She’s good for the photo-op distraction and she’s clearly aware of that when she poses with endangered species perched on her arm. She’s had a lifetime goal to get rid of the environmental protection legislation of the 1970s. Karen Hughes, I think, has a lot of power. Elaine Cho is, I think, more of a tool.

You mentioned that, in the old days, there was something more honest and nostalgic about anti-feminists like Phyllis Schlafly, as oposed to today’s sleeker, sexier ones.

They said what they believed and it was clear who was who. At the International Year of the Woman conference, at one end of the town women from all over the world were calling for women’s rights and at the other end of town Phyllis Schlafly was calling them dykes and commies and calling for no ERA. Today, they would call themselves “The Upstanding, Pro-Woman Coalition for Better Rights for Women.” You knew who was who. And, now, you’re confused.

And they get much more exposure than their numbers.

Exactly. They’ve really learned how to play the media, the game. The insidious thing about it is that it doesn’t matter who wins the debate. We can prove, after the fact, that they misrepresented the facts, they had no facts, that their allegations were completely unproven—but it’s too late. The argument has already been lost, as long as we are having to respond to them.

How did feminism, as did liberalism, become a bad word?

I wasn’t originally thinking about this, but going back through 30 years of history, I realized “Wow, the women’s movement had six years (from about 1973 to about 1979) and then it was all backlash.” That’s pretty much when all the legislation got passed about equal employment and women’s rights and you can’t be fired because you get pregnant—pretty basic stuff. And Roe v. Wade and affirmation action and all the rest. Ever since then, we’ve been fighting to stop those things from being repealed and destroyed. The Reagan Administration came in and understood that the country hadn’t quite signed on to women’s equality. So by vilifying the women’s movement, they could set back the whole progressive, pro-women’s rights, pro-civil rights, pro-environment agenda of the 1960s and 70s. And the media played right along. Women who had fought for equal pay and access to promotions at the biggest papers in the country were still nervous about being the visible, audible feminists at work. Even those women professionals who were libral were bending over backwards to prove they were not.

You also have women’s organizations that sort of ossified in Washington around the protection of these laws that had been passed in teh 70s. So instead of a movement that’s alive on the ground and constantly redefining where the parameters are—of women’s rights and how we need to change the world to benefit men and women—you had national organizations in Washington DC, the more boring place in the world, the most juiceless place, fighting over laws that had been pased before some of us were even born. You can’t blame them for that, but it does mean that we went from having a movement to having organizations and laws.

We need to reignite the debate, reignite the discussion. We found in the election of 2004 that a presidential campaign can run on gender politics with one side calling the other “girly men.” Women never got heard from and no feminist analysis ever got brought to bear. And the Democrat never stands up and defends himself. He tries to compete: “I can kill as good as the next guy. I’m as macho as anyone.” Instead of saying, “Look, a strong man in the world today works with other people. A strong man in the world today doesn’t lie to his own family. A strong man in the world today defends the rights of women rather than collaborating with warlords. And a strong man doesn’t drive his family budget into bankruptcy.”

It seems to me that in a lot of colleges where I’ve played there was a frat-boy mentality that it was “homo” to vote Democrat. Why does it seem that the right-wing think tanks seem to be so much more effective, more brilliant and sharp?

Well, it’s partly that they’ve had a lot of practice at scapegoating and they’ve changed scapegoats over the years. It used to be blacks and then feminists and now queers. What was amazing about 2004 is that all that ammunition usually used against a minority group or women was used against a candidate so that Kerry found himself cast as a little too fey, a little feminized, perhaps a little hen-pecked by his wife. He was this tall Vietnam veteran, a decorated war hero, and they turned him into a wuss. And the discouraging part for me was how utterly unprepared the Democrats were for it. People all over the country have been fighting these scapegoating tactics successfully for years. I think the good thing about Air America is that you’ve finally got the voice of liberals saying it’s not a dirty word.

I had someone after the election—a liberal Democrat friend (well, no more)—imply that it was “the gays” that cost us the election.

It was literally the day after the Kerry concession speech that Harold Ickes, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager and a Clinton advisor, was said to have said in a conference call that we lost this because of abortion and gay marriage. And then Kerry comes out othe very next day and says we need to recruit and run more pro-life Democrats. Wait a minute—how did we become to blame here? Pro-choice women were the biggest, most generous voting block he had and he’s going to blame us? Gays and lesbians made more difference around the country on the ground, contesting those damned marriage amendments and talking to people about the issues more than Kerry ever did. His idea of combatting homophobia was playing gotcha with Dick Cheney’s daughter. He never explained why he believes homophobia is wrong. He never talked about why legislating discrimination would hurt America’s kids and all of us. He never explained his record of 15 years of voting for a woman’s right to choose. You’ve got to explain why you vote the way you do and have faith that there are people who agree with you.

Do you see somebody, now or in the future, who will pick up the mantle? What about Hillary?

The only person I can think of now is Barbara Boxer. She’s been battling these guys forever and she has constituents fighting for her, egging her on. She’s the only voice I see standing up to these folks. It’s an illusion brought to us by the media that there was ever a different Hillary. She and Bill were always centrist Democrats pulling the party to the right.

What’s on your nightstand—what are you reading right now? Favorite TV show? Music?

I’m reading William Greider’s Soul of Capitalism. It’s really, really good. And I’m reading something fun. I’m literally going to go to my bedstand now. Oh, I’m so predictable. Ana Menendez—it’s a novel, Loving Che. And Hunter Thompson, because when he died, I realized I had never read anything he had written. I’m a big Toni Childs fan so I have her best of collection sitting here. I watch The Daily Show. You’re really going to think I’m ridiculous, but I really do watch The L Word. So that’s predictable. 

What’s your favorite color?



Velvetpark Magazine, Issue 9 (Summer 2005), 19-21.