NOW President Calls On Women To Be Leaders

By Joe Musumeci Special to The Hoya

Women have not only a right but a responsibility to become leaders in the next century, said Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization of Women, at the Georgetown University Conference Center Friday.

Ireland addressed a predominantly female audience as the keynote speaker of the event prior to joining a panel discussion with three other prominent female leaders.

Ireland kicked off her remarks mentioning her personal background as a stewardess in the days before they were called flight attendants, as she worked her way through law school at the University of Miami. She noted how the experience of taking trash from people and thanking them for it prepared her for moving to the nation’s capital.

Ireland next reflected on a few of the most important issues in American women’s history, including the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, the struggle to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment through the early 1980s and women’s congressional victories in 1992.

Ireland noted the significance of each specific event for the advancement of women in American society. She said that at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, the radical plank in the Declaration of Sentiments was that women should obtain the right to vote. Ireland said that pressure and public ridicule of the participants resulted from their attempts to change the norms of society. Ireland said difficulties have faced those at the forefront of social reform in all ages.

In mentioning the end of the campaign for the ERA, Ireland explained how the process served as “a light bulb the week after the defeat.” She referred to three states that decided not to ratify the amendment where females supported it but males were opposed to it. Ireland used this example to rally women in demanding that they have a voice in the political system proportionate to their numbers.

Ireland said females represent a fifty-one percent majority of the U.S. population but remain underrepresented in important political, social and business institutions, a situation that should serve as a motivation for change and progress.

Referring to 1992 – dubbed the “The Year of the Woman” – Ireland mocked the idea that “we’d be happy with one year,” and encouraged continued efforts in the advancement of women.

Ireland had some positive comments regarding President Clinton, praising his decision to nominate the first female attorney general of the United States. Clinton first nominated Zoe Baird but was forced to withdraw the nomination. While the Senate was interviewing Baird, it was discovered she had failed to comply with tax regulations involving the wages she paid to the woman hired to take care of her children.

Ireland questioned whether the Senate would have subjected a male candidate in a similar situation to similar inquiries. Ireland speculated that a similar candidate named “Joey Baird” would not have been grilled to such an extent about the intricacies of his childcare providers.

She also said that the only way that Clinton was able to nominate a female for the position of attorney general who could successfully secure the appointment was to choose a “childless woman with a dirty house.” The audience responded with laughter as Ireland then referred to Janet Reno by name.

Reno remained part of the focus of discussion as Ireland addressed the fact that the sexuality of women in powerful positions is frequently a subject of media discussion. Ireland quoted and praised Reno’s typical response to questions of her sexuality, in which Reno refers to herself as, “an awkward old maid with a great affection for men.”

She emphasized that as a woman in a distinguished position, “it’s not a question of whether, it’s when someone will ask you if you’re a lesbian.”

Ireland praised the presence of Roberta Achtenberg, the highest ranking openly homosexual appointed government official, in Clinton’s administration. Achtenberg is assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Ireland used Clinton’s now famous “bridge” analogy in her closing, suggesting that the students of today “be a bridge” to a more positive tomorrow by contributing to the efforts of progress. She also referred to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., focusing on the idea that he knew that he wouldn’t see the ultimate results of his work. She advised the members of the audience that progress on a particular issue is not made because it is inevitable, but only as a result the efforts of its proponents.

Absent from Ireland’s remarks was any reference to the press release issued by NOW the day before Ireland spoke. Ireland’s statement in the release voiced NOW’s support for Juanita Broaddrick as she comes forward with allegations of sexual assault against the president.

The release also urged the President to avoid a “nuts or sluts” defense in the midst of these allegations. It described a “nuts or sluts” defense as “the argument that she [Broaddrick] either made it up or asked for it.”

Ireland’s appearance Friday higlighted the fifth annual Georgetown Public Policy Institute Symposium, a student-coordinated event designed to stimulate discussion of public policy issues. The forum was entitled “Breaking Barriers: Women Leaders in the 21st Century.”

A panel discussion and questions from the audience followed her remarks, with topics ranging from the potential of a female candidate in the presidential election in 2000 to the biological abilities of females and males as parents. Dr. Leslie Whittington, associate professor of the GPPI, moderated the discussion.

Last year’s symposium focussed on local government issues, with speakers including former Mayor Marion Barry, Jr., Alice Rivlin, current chair of the Control Board, and Former Chief Financial Officer and current Mayor Anthony Williams.

Friday was Ireland’s first appearance at Georgetown. She has resided in the District since 1987.

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