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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Margaret Keesee-Forrester, April 21, 1989. Interview C-0065. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Women legislators form a bipartisan alliance for women's issues

Keesee-Forrester argues that she believes women will continue to have a more prominent role in politics, but suggests that finding ways to work together, across party lines, would be crucial to their success. She describes in particular the bipartisan alliance women legislators unanimously formed in 1987 in support of the Marital Rape Bill as an example of women politicians coming together to work for a common goal of improving situations for women. Although elsewhere in the interview she emphasizes the individuality of women and asserts that it would be impossible for female politicians to form a cohesive unit within the legislature, here she offers insight into how bipartisan efforts for particular women's issues could be successful. Moreover, she emphasizes the continuing need for women legislators to support one another in what was still very much a "male bastion."

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Margaret Keesee-Forrester, April 21, 1989. Interview C-0065. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

KATHRYN NASSTROM:
I guess I've been asking a series of questions in some areas that are taking place right now and asking you to think about the future. So I just have one more along that line, which would be, in the context of what you said and what's going on now, do you have a sense of what the future holds for women in North Carolina politics? What do you see coming up ahead?
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
Well, I think that women will continue to be elected. I hope our numbers will increase. As I indicated before we started talking, one of the things that I had worked hard at, my last terms in Raleigh, was trying to get to know those women in my party that I would probably have never gotten to know otherwise if we hadn't been in the General Assembly together. I think they initially probably felt uncomfortable with me because they knew that I had a feminist streak, and that I would disagree with them on some issues such as abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment. And so they had been made to feel a little uncomfortable. You know, "You don't know if you want to talk to her." Same idea that some of the men had projected onto them, I'm sure. So I knew that they were feeling some discomfort even being in Raleigh because it's still a male bastion. We are a minority. And that we can be very supportive of each other and help, so that you don't have to repeat the same mistakes and understand the process. That we do have a lot of issues that we can work together on. So I made a point to get to know these women and have meals with them and sit with them at lunch, develop a trust level based on respect. I respect you even though you disagree with me. The Marital Rape Bill came up in 1987 and when several of us discovered that all of the women were supportive of this bill, it just gave us a tingly feeling because we've never had an issue come before us, during my time in Raleigh, that all the women agreed on. Never. And so when we sensed this, I went especially to my Republican women friends who had felt somewhat isolated from the other women in Raleigh, because I had gotten along with all the women in the past. And so I said, "Listen, we're going to get together. We're going to sign a letter. We're going to pass it out to all of our male colleagues telling them that we all support this bill, and we're asking for their support, because we can't pass this bill by ourselves. We need their support." Well, we all decided that we would sign this letter. We put it on the members desk in the chamber, and then an article came out in the newspaper talking about how the women . . . And they started naming and how even though we disagreed on some things, how we were all getting behind this issue, and that we were signing a letter, blah, blah, blah. Well, one of these ladies came to my office after this article appeared in the newspaper, and she named this male legislator who had come to her office and wanted to know why she had signed that letter with those liberal women and why didn't she come and talk to him before she signed that letter. Well, this lady was indignant. She was madder than hell that this man would presume that he was going to tell her how to vote. Well, we started laughing. I mean, here's a woman who is pro-life and myself, and we are laughing our heads off about this man who had the audacity to insinuate to her that first of all, we were a bunch of liberals, and why should she be signing a letter with us, and didn't she know that there was an underground movement out there. And that we were trying to get the men and on and on and on. And I said, "You know, this is the old divide and conquer. They're trying to separate us." It's like, "Don't let those women get together for a quilting bee. They might talk about something." I mean it's like you can't let women, don't let the women get together. They might find that they can work together. So we just had a ball. We were going around, all different factions of women, talking to men. Because each one of us could go to certain men within our own party and talk to them and say, "Look, we need your help on this. All the women are supportive. We all believe this is important, and we'd even go so far as to say that if we can't get this bill passed, if it's defeated, you're going to have to explain it to the voters before the next election. Probably, you don't think that a women should have to, you know, why should a women have to be raped by her husband?" The men didn't want to have to deal with it in an election. They don't want to stand up there, the candidates, and explain why they were opposed to it. So that was an example of how women could get together, disregard their disagreements, and focus on getting an issue passed that they believed in. And all of a sudden, it was like, if we can do it once, we can do it again. We have got to stop letting the men, because I'm sure they're loving it, every bit of it, because we'll sit there in the chamber - I'd watch some of these men, how one day they'd be voting against each other, the next day they were holding hands, the next day it was good buddies, patting each other all over the shoulders and signing off on each other's bill, and the next day, they'd be arguing against each other. There wasn't a set program. It wasn't like I have to dislike Joe so-in-so because he disagrees with me on this issue. He's for the sales tax, he's for raising the sales and use tax or whatever. They could work together. They walked out that chamber door and left it inside the chamber. Women have not always been able to do that. We've taken it as a personal affront if you couldn't agree, and so I think that, to me, the last two terms were rewarding in that I was able to get to know these women, and they were able to get to know me and realized that I was not the enemy, that the men were the ones who could really, if they could, work against you. One woman told me that she was at a function and had gone up to a male colleague. They were getting together a foursome; this was someplace like Pinehurst or Southern Pines, and she played golf, and she said, "Can I join in?" And this man said to her, "I have to serve with you, but I don't have to play golf with you." I mean she said she felt like she had been punched in the stomach or slapped on the side of the head. He was just so insensitive to her, and I think that that's the sort of thing that all women, whether you're a liberal, moderate or conservative, have had some man say, "I ain't got time. I don't have to deal with you, honey." And so it was really an emotional feeling for all the women in 1987, and I hope that we can continue to work together.