Debate Commission Is No Match For These Girls

Three teenage girls from Montclair, N.J., have managed to make the Commission on Presidential Debates in Washington, D.C., look like a small-town after-school club that crouches behind a sign that reads, “No Girlz Allowed.”

Forgive my glee.

On Tuesday, Emma Axelrod, Elena Tsemberis and Sammi Siegel tried to deliver to the commission a petition with more than 120,000 signatures of fellow Americans who want a woman to moderate at least one of the presidential debates.

The girls didn’t get very far. Emma explained to NPR’s Audie Cornish: “We were not received. We had let them know on Friday that we were planning on coming to deliver the petitions, but they never got back to us. So when we went to deliver our boxes full of the flash drives that have all the signatures on them, we were turned away and we were not allowed to leave our packages there, either, in case they contained dangerous material.”

Dang right these girls are dangerous — to the status quo. Worse, they keep talking to the media. Next thing you know, they’ll be plastering their notebooks with bumper stickers that read, “Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History.” (Bless you, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.)

Here’s an excerpt from the girls’ online petition, including their boldface passages:

“We already know that no women will be on stage at this year’s presidential debates, but what about in the moderator’s chair? We were shocked to find out that it has been 20 years since a woman last moderated a presidential debate.  …

“Presidential debate moderators have a lot of power when it comes to helping the American public to better understand candidates. Being a moderator is a tough job; the moderator must keep debate flowing, make sure candidates stay focused on relevant topics, and maintain an unbiased stance.

“Men are no more capable of performing these tasks than women — but for the last two decades, only men have been given the job.

“Women and men will never be truly equal in our country until they’re one and the same in positions of power and both visible in politics. We need to take immediate action in order to move towards this change. There is no reason why a woman shouldn’t have a chance to show what she’s capable of by moderating debates in the upcoming election.

“Tell the Commission on Presidential Debates to have a woman moderate one of the debates now.”

We pause for this public service announcement:

To those of you who roll your eyes and say things like “This is an issue?” or “Puh-leaze, let’s talk about something that matters”: We humans are complicated beings, capable of simultaneously caring about world hunger and NBC’s annoying time delay in its Olympics coverage. We even understand that the former is way more important than the latter. Thus, we find your admission to single-mindedness unfortunate and you to be a mind-crushing bore.

Back to the presidential debates: What changes when women ask the questions?

For that answer, we turn to Marilyn Jacoby Boxer, professor emerita of history at San Francisco State University and author of “When Women Ask The Questions: Creating Women’s Studies in America.”

“Women bring life experiences that men can’t or don’t have,” Boxer said in a phone interview from her home in San Francisco. “It’s not just a matter of ‘women’s issues,’ which are really human issues. It’s that we want to talk about more than power and money. The key words for us are care, concern and connection.

“For example, we don’t just look at the housing situation based on financial figures but also at its impact on families and children. We don’t want answers that just give lip service to those concerns. We want to know what you’re going to do to help those families and children.”

There’s also the symbolism of all this. Do we really, in 2012, want girls and young women to see all-male moderators questioning all-male contenders for president of the United States?

Speaking of those male candidates, they keep talking about how important women are in this election. How hard is it for them to step up and insist that just one of those millions of women moderate a debate?

Surely, they don’t want us to think they’re rolling their eyes and saying, “Puh-leaze, let’s talk about something that matters.”

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz ( and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

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