Saturday, September 4, 2010

Liberal victory week continues:
Women's rights

Of all the struggles for human rights by groups denied full citizenship, the struggle for women's rights can be said to have come the farthest distance in the shortest period of time. Technically, former slaves were citizens when the 14th Amendment passed, which means the law said black males had the vote back in 1868. We know full well how that law was hamstrung and rendered moot, but it wasn't until 1920 that women of all races were given the franchise. To put it in personal perspective for me, when my grandmother was born, she did not have the simplest right of a citizen in a democracy, but by the time she came of age, that right was hers. My analogous story is that when I was born, it was fully expected that I would be drafted if my country was at war. When I came of age, my country was at war but the draft was gone.

The vote is one thing and equal opportunity is another. The power vested in all male private clubs, which when I was a lad included many of the nation's most prestigious universities, was very slow to be dismantled. In the 1970's, women fought to get an Equal Rights Amendment, but it failed to be ratified by enough states. Some conservative scholars said it was completely unnecessary because women were citizens under the 14th Amendment. In many court cases, liberal advocacy called their bluff, and there were victories as well as defeats.

One of the most remarkable victories of the women's movement was spear-headed by Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first woman of color to be elected to the House of Representatives, a second generation Japanese American woman from Hawaii. She was one of the authors of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which after she died was renamed the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act. The most important section of this law reads as follows:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance...

It made no specific mention of sports, but that is where Title IX made its most notable impact, increasing the funding of women's athletics and turning the United States into a perennial leader in any of a number of women's sports worldwide.

When a very large group is empowered, the law of unintended consequences goes immediately into effect. Consider Sarah Heath, the tough as nails point guard on the 1982 Alaska state high school championship Wasilla Warriors. She had opportunities given her by people like Patsy Mink, people she has happily spit upon throughout her life. She became Sarah Palin, and the myth of the tough point guard has followed her throughout her life, when as an adult, she is without question the whiniest little bitch on the public scene today, making political pronouncements on Facebook and Twitter like some snotty little 14 year old.

Years ago, I read a sports writer who said that there would be real equality between the races in sports when mediocre black players could see the same opportunities that mediocre white players saw. It took no particular courage for a general manager to sign someone like Willie Mays or Frank Robinson or Jim Brown. These guys were as good as it got, and if you wanted to win, you wanted guys like that on your team. Real equality was black journeymen players like A's second baseman Shooty Babbitt, or when the over-hyped lousy quarterback could be black Jamarcus Russell instead of white Ryan Leaf.

In 2010, we are seeing real signs of equality between the sexes in politics. There was a time that to be a successful idiot, you had to the son of a rich powerful man, much like the story of George W. Bush. Now, women who were incompetent as business leaders can try to have a political career like Carly Fiorina, and women who are genuinely dim like Palin, Sharron Angle and Jan Brewer have a chance to have a serious political career.

You've come a long way, baby, but you should have brought a GPS.


Robin Payton said...

I'm so happy you posted this. About a week ago, my foster sister wrote on FaceBook that she is encouraging her daughter to play football in spite of a neighbor's insistence that soccer would be more appropriate for a girl.

There's no realistic way to explain how important this is to me. Or to describe the feelings that were dredged up when I saw the movie A League of Their Own and realized I'd never even heard of women playing baseball outside of schoolyards, IF the boys let them.

We still have miles to go, but I'm happy to see progress - and not just for women.

Anonymous said...

Sarah lub dem green backs!

Distributorcap said...

great post -- if i remember correctly Mink won re-election after she died in 2002.

also another shout out to Shirley Chisholm - first black woman elected to congress in 1968 - helped along by Mink

Margaret Benbow said...

A triumphant and powerful post, Matty. Thank you!