The nomination of Geraldine Ferraro as the Democrats’ Vice-presidential candidate has an importance that transcends symbolic politics or cynical gesture, even if it contains those elements as well. Many women, including those on the left, are moved by Ferraro’s selection. They know what it meant for a woman from an Italian Catholic family to put herself through law school in the 1950s by teaching second grade. And as Angela Davis put it, “Gerry Ferraro is not the first female Vice-Presidential candidate. But hopefully she will be the first one elected.” But the feminist content of Ferraro’s candidacy is more than a matter of identification and pride. Because Antonetta Ferraro, a garment worker, struggled as a single parent to support her children, Geraldine Ferraro has fought for legislation to achieve economic equity for women throughout her terms in Congress. She was the main sponsor in the House of the Retirement Equity Act recently passed by the Senate. Last year she voted for the Congressional Black Caucus budget.
The Democrats’ choice of Ferraro recognizes years of organizing by Democratic women leaders and feminist groups. It also recognized the potential women’s vote. Women have been badly hurt by the Reagan Administration’s policies, from poor women denied public assistance to office workers in the public sector whose jobs have been eliminated. In order to win, the Democrats will have to capture the “gender gap” vote—the women who oppose the Administration on foreign policy, military spending, arms control and women’s rights. They will also have to appeal to women for whom the gender gap has more to do with economics than with ideology. Whether poor women and black women will respond to Ferraro’s presence on the ticket remains to be seen.
In the first weeks of the campaign, Ferraro has participated in the Democrats’ celebration of family and flag, and as Mondale’s running mate she stands on the conservative platform she helped shape. But Antonetta Ferraro’s daughter is not an American Margaret Thatcher or a female Tip O’Neill. Her prominent role in a Mondale Administration would secure more attention for the feminist agenda—not just the mightily assaulted freedom of choice but equal pay, funding for day-care centers, paid maternity leaves, restoration of cuts in public assistance and a renewed Justice Department attack on sexual discrimination in employment and other areas. Fritz Mondale may wind up with more than he bargained for.