Mark-Viverito made right call on HPV news

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New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito revealed on August 17, 2014 that she has "high-risk HPV" and will undergo a biopsy. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

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Liza Featherstone Liza Featherstone

Liza Featherstone is the author of "Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Workers' Rights at Wal-Mart."

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito revealed on Twitter this week that she has high-risk HPV, a sexually transmitted infection that can lead to cancer.

Her honesty, which a few have decried as TMI, casts the spotlight on a health problem people normally don't like to discuss and, if nothing else, serves as a reminder to women to visit their gynecologists and get lifesaving Pap smears.

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Mark-Viverito has joined an increasingly visible breed of NYC power brokers: unmarried female politicians.

Like Mark-Viverito, Public Advocate Letitia James, too, is unmarried. When she won the election in 2013, BuzzFeed observed that she was "a single woman and a single black woman, which is almost unheard of in politics . . ." The writer hadn't noticed that the three women running to replace James on the council also were unmarried (and black). Laurie Cumbo won the seat.

Zephyr Teachout, who is challenging Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in September's Democratic primary, is single, but told me she is uncertain whether to emphasize that in her campaign.

Many female politicians are discreet about their private lives. But Mark-Viverito did some good by going public about hers. Married women also get HPV, but imagine the uproar if a married female politician publicly admitted having a sexually transmitted infection. Many people have praised Mark-Viverito's candor, and the backlash has been mild. One tabloid could only manage to call her HPV tweets "Way too much information" and "bizarre" -- tepid insults by NYC standards.

Unmarried women politicians also could engage a large but neglected part of the electorate: According to the U.S. Census, 60 percent of NYC women are unmarried (the data includes "women" who are age 15 and older). Still, unmarried adult women constitute a significant voting bloc.

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NYC is too diverse to require our politicians to lead white-picket-fence lives that resemble a '50s sitcom.

We often encourage politicians to let their lives be part of the public debate. As a candidate, Mayor Bill de Blasio did by talking about NYPD's stop-and-frisk and his fears for his biracial son.

Let's hope we've come far enough to allow women to do the same.

Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill.

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