Gillibrand calls for more women to raise their voices and get involved in public life

As one of only 20 women currently serving in the Senate, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has focused on addressing sexual assault in the military and on college campuses. In her new book, "Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the World," she encourages women to express their views and be heard. Gillibrand joins Judy Woodruff to discuss her experience and advice.

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    Finally tonight, we're joined by the junior senator from New York State, Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand. During her tenure, she's focused on fighting sexual assault in the military and on college campuses.

    Senator Gillibrand recently published a new book, "Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the World."

    Senator Gillibrand, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND, (D) New York: I'm delighted to be on.


    So, you say in the introduction that, among other things, what you want to do in writing this book was to get young — women and girls to believe in themselves just as much as men and boys do.

    So, my question is, you're saying that, in 2014, when we have had three women secretaries of state, we have a woman head of the Federal Reserve Bank, we have got 20 women in the Senate and so on and so on, that women still need to have a lesson in how to have confidence in themselves?


    Well, it's even more than that.

    It's just telling women how important their voices are, that their life's experiences, their views, how they feel about an issue isn't necessarily being heard at all these decision-making tables, whether it's the boardroom, where we only have 16 percent women, or CEOs, where there's only 3 percent, or Congress, where there's only 20 women.

    Any woman, if she expresses her views, if she is heard on what she cares about, she can change the outcome, whether it's the PTA meeting or whether it's in Congress.


    It's kind of a self-help book. And you even say that in here. Is that unusual, for a United States senator to be writing a self-help book?


    Well, I wanted to write the kind of book that I like the read.

    I really love reading biographies and memoirs that tell me how a woman got from A to B, how she made those decisions, what were the challenges, what's her life advice. And so I made a point to include details and stories as mere anecdotes, so that a woman can not only see herself, see her own challenges, but realize how important her aspirations are, and that her hopes and dreams are important, and that, if she's heard, she can actually change how decisions are made and what the outcomes actually are.


    One of the things you write about in the book — and this has gotten a lot of attention — is the sexism you have encountered in your career, including all the way to the United States Senate.

    You at one point describe a comment from man, and you say he was — quote — one of your "favorite older members of the Senate" — who, after you had had a baby, he looked at you and he said, don't lose too much weight — quote — "I like my girls chubby."

    How did you respond?


    I really — I just smiled.

    But that was a point in my career where I'm quite senior. So, I shared these stories as anecdotes, so women can understand when they are experience something like this in the workplace, not only does it not have to define them, but they can push their way through it, to elevate the conversation to talk about some of the larger challenges we face.

    And I share stories some about when I was younger in my career, where those kind of comments really hurt, where I felt like I was being judged not on my work, not on my efforts, but on my looks.

    And when you're a young 20-something lawyer, you don't have the tools. You don't know what to do with that. But I felt undermined. And so I want those — I want that reader to say, I'm not alone. I can not only push through this and some day be that guy's boss, but it's something that doesn't have to define me.


    Do you think this is an issue mainly with an older generation of men, members of Congress, or is this with younger men as well?


    You know, I think it all — I think it stems from the same problem of are, we valuing women in the workplace? Are we valuing women at home? Are we valuing women's work wherever it's taking place?

    And when you're looking at this challenge with the NFL, and women are not being valued, when you're looking at challenges with sexual assault in the military or sexual assault on college campuses, victims aren't being believed, survivors are being blamed, it all goes to this notion of, are we valuing women?

    And then you combine with that with the fact that we're making 78 cents on the dollar for the same work as our male colleagues, that's problematic. And so my anecdote to this is if women can be heard and have their opinions be heard in these decision-making places, you can change outcomes.


    Just quickly, you mentioned the sexual assaults in the military.

    You worked very hard on that issue. You got over 50 votes. But it still wasn't enough. Is this something — this is basically taking charges of sexual assault out of the chain of command. Is this something that's really had its moment?


    No. This is just the beginning.

    And with a lot of these battles, when you're talking about basic civil rights, civil liberties, when you're talking about equality, these can be generational battles. And sexual assault in the military, I believe, in order to have transparency and accountability, you have to take the decision-making out of the chain of command, give it to the hands of trained military prosecutors who have no skin in the game, who don't have biases.

    And if we can continue to push for that reform, we will have a stronger military for it. But that's an example, and I shared in the book, of where survivors' voices were heard, whether men or women. This is what they are calling to happen, that they need transparency and accountability to have any hope of justice.


    A question about women, about — the midterm elections are just a few weeks away now. Democrats clearly benefit most of the time from the women's vote. People talk about the gender gap.

    But it is also the case that men vote most of the time, the majority of them do, for Republicans. Don't Democrats have a problem with the men's vote, and, if that's the case, why?


    I don't think so.

    I think this election is going to be about who we fight for. And we are fighting to make sure that people get equal pay for equal work. We're fighting for basic social safety nets to make sure everyone has a chance to reach their full potential. And all of these ideals I think are going to determine the outcome of these elections.

    And I think our candidates are stronger. And I think that's going to show by holding the Senate and continuing to have victories in the House as well.


    I want to ask you about what former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is saying in his book that's just out.

    Among other things, he's critical of President Obama's leadership in foreign affairs. He says he — quote — "too often avoids the battle, complains and misses opportunities."

    Does Leon Panetta have a point?


    Well, in my job as the overseer of the Armed Services Committee and also as part of Congress that I think should be engaged and involved in whether we are declaring war and what kind of military engagements take place, I voted most recently against the president's idea to arm rebels, because I didn't think it would be successful.

    And I really concerned — I was concerned with the unintended consequences. I didn't have faith that these so-called moderates would hand the weapon over to the better fighter the minute the battle got tough. And I don't want those weapons used against our men and women.

    But I also believe the president does need authorization to engage in bombing in Syria. I don't think the existing authorizations for Iraq and fighting al-Qaida is — is sufficient for the missions he's having in Syria right now.

    So I am of the view that he needs to come to Congress and ask for that authorization before he continues this particular strategy.


    But is Leon Panetta right when he says the president holds back?


    Well, Secretary Panetta was in his Cabinet. So, he has his own views.

    My job is to provide oversight over the administration. And on this particular issue, I think he should be coming to Congress for authorization.


    All right, a couple of other questions I want to ask you for our Web site.

    But, for now, thank you, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.


    You're welcome.

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