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Women Want
the Opportunity to Climb

March 12, 1971 — 105th annual Minnesota Newspaper Association Convention, Minnesota Ballroom, St. Paul Hilton Hotel, St. Paul MN


It is an honor to appear before the Minnesota Newspaper Association, and to bring this distinguished group of professionals the latest vibrations from Washington on sex.

Needless to say, we could not have chosen a more fascinating after-dinner preoccupation,. Since I come from a city with a man shortage, I am indebted to you for reversing the situation this evening. What a lovely ratio!

As I was scanning this audience, a line from the Broadway musical, “My Fair Lady,” came to mind. Do you remember Rex Harrison’s complaint about Eliza Doolittle exasperating behavior? He traced it all to the fact that she was a woman.

Men, he concluded, are a marvelous sex.

I agree. And no matter what you may hear, read, or see on television, most of us in the women’s movement agree.

I believe it says something very impressive about your Association that this predominantly masculine group seeks to inform itself tonight on the women’s issue — an issue which has set off one of the most profound soul searchings of our time — in the United States and throughout the world — and is giving us, as human beings, new insights to ourselves and to each other.

Much of the ferment is erupting in Washington. We reporters in the nation’s capital are chronicling the legal, economic and social pressures, directed against Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court, to enhance the status of women.

I can report that some progress is being made, and hopefully we shall see more. It will come about, I expect, with the understanding and cooperation of fair-minded men.

But first, may I salute you as innovators for inviting the female of the journalistic species to speak here tonight. They tell me this is a historic first — and let us hope I avoid making it an ignominious last.

Seriously, I value this opportunity to communicate on a subject of importance to you as employers, as thought leaders, and as men.

I understand your Association is pioneering also in setting up a Press Council to open a dialog between the public and the news media. I congratulate you for courage and vision, and wish you every success.

When I spoke with Bob Shaw about coming here, I told him I would be happy to take questions after these remarks. Bob thought the group was too large for that. However, this is a broad subject, impossible to cover in half an hour, so I will be available afterward if any of you seek further information.

One of the most remarkable aspects of today’s women’s movement is the speed with which it has erupted. In two short years women’s groups, ranging in philosophy from radical to conservative, are popping up all over . . . a body of research and literature has grown up . . . books on feminism are rolling off the presses . . . colleges and universities are launching women’s study courses . . . demonstrations, “rap” sessions, parades, are commonplace . . . new leaders are emerging . . . new thinkers . . . a scattering of men are joining the movement . . . volumes of documentation on the second-class status of women in our society have been built up in the reports of Congressional hearings . . . . an intelligence network is keeping women activists informed by at least four very professional newsletters.

So much is happening, in fact, that it may be time for editors to consider assigning full-time specialists to cover the women’s movement in the same way specialists dig in on civil rights, economics, and foreign affairs.

Moreover, it is clear to me, as a political observer, that the women’s issue not only was a factor in state races last November, but will have an even greater impact in the 1972 Presidential contest.

It is apparent to most of us who cover the White House that the Nixon Administration has been rather slow to recognize the political whammy in the women’s movement.

On the Democratic side, however, as least one Presidential hopeful, Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana, is making an open bid for the women’s vote by pushing the equal rights amendment.

For some women all this may be moving a little too fast. They feel like those monkeys who were shot into outer space. When they realized where they were, one monkey turned to the other and moaned, “What a way to make a living!”

The second monkey snapped back, “Yes, but it beats hell out of the cancer research lab!”

Despite the barrage of publicity, it is sometimes difficult to find men or women who really understand what the movement is all about.

For instance, David Susskind can usually be expected to listen with sympathy to any expounder of liberal cause on his TV talk show. But when it comes to women’s liberation, he can hardly conceal his annoyance. He puts it down with sarcasm and ridicule.

Mr. Susskind is not alone. The response from the average male ranges from amusement to intense hostility. Rarely does it include the open-mindedness with which men discuss other issues.

To many men, the issue is either one they cannot take seriously (because they have been trained since birth about women’s proper place, and any further discussion of it is frivolous), or it is an affront to their masculinity perpetrated by a handful of uppity women.

A woman’s reaction tends to be different, but often no less hostile. Those who consider themselves “feminine,” and have prospered by being so, feel superior and scornful of “feminists.” Their attitude is “I’ve made it by accommodating men and working my wiles upon them. The fact that these women are complaining proves they lack charm and feminine instinct.”

And many women quite honestly feel secure, happy and protected in their present roles of wife and/or mother. They resent the current trend that appears to belittle that role.

On the assumption that many of you may be mystified by the whirlwind, or disturbed by it, or infuriated with it, may I put one or two things in perspective.

When you read about bra burnings or trumpetings by some women to destroy our society and rebuild it from the bottom up, doing dire things to men — do not be deceived.

The outlandish antics, as we here know, get media coverage. They are not — repeat not — broadly representative of the women’s movement. They are extremist fringes, as the black panthers are to the civil rights movement.

The well springs of the women’s movement go back a century. When women worked to help free the slaves, they saw similarities in their status and that of the blacks.

More recently, when young women from the campuses went south to join the civil rights movement, they found themselves identifying more easily with the blacks than with the white boys. They knew how it felt to shut up, to take a back seat, accept segregation, exclusion from clubs, restaurants and meetings, to lower their sights and take work which was “realistically” open to them, to cope with imputations of natural inferiority, and to see themselves portrayed in print and picture as stereotypes rather than individuals.

For a hundred years the movement has been growing. It is deep, intense, and it is accelerating. It has been and still is powered by influential women organizations representing millions of female lawyers, educators, business and professional women, back women, republican and democratic women. In fact, the women of the two political parties, in an extraordinary move, have joined forces to push for equal rights. It has swept up the women — and many young men — on campuses. It is reaching into the home.

The women I have mentioned are not kooks. They are potent establishment groups. They are not strident. Their weapon is the law of the land. They are taking cases on behalf of women up through the courts — as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People did on behalf of blacks — and breakthroughs are being made.

Many of these women activist are turned off, as you gentlemen and ladies may be, by extremist tactics.

But you will have to look long and hard to find a woman who disowns the concept — no matter what tactics are employed to convey it — that she be treated as a person in her own right, rather than as an appendage to a man, or an individual whose legal position is inferior to that of a man — which is the role our society and our laws traditionally have ascribed to woman.

If women are to move ahead, it is important for fair-minded men to understand that the movement is not a crusade to take over the country or to dominate men.

It is an effort to win a fair share of the nation’s economic rewards and political leadership — a share women have been denied by old fashioned attitudes and prejudice — but a share to which our numbers, our education, our training, our experience, and our qualities as human beings fully entitle us.

It is most emphatically not a war against men. It is a battle against a system which downgrades half our citizens, women, and places a crushing burden on the other half, men, bringing on a disproportionate share of ulcers, heart attacks, and early deaths. As such it robs the entire society.

No society is so rich that it can afford to waste educated brain power. Yet that is what we do with our women.

Dr. Estelle Ramey, the distinguished physiologist, wrote recently that women also have noticed that some of our men are willing to pay almost any price for the privilege of getting out of the house, away from the wife and kids, out into the world where the action is, to any job, however dull, anywhere but the security and comfort of the home.

Could it be possible that scrutiny and comfort are not the pinnacle of human happiness? Many of us think so. After all, women in harems have reached the ultimate in security and comfort — they don’t have to worry about anything. They just have to wait their turn.

When Bob Shaw spoke with me about coming here tonight, he said, “Tell us how a woman really feels about this.”

Well, I suppose there are a lot of things I could say about how I feel personally — about how it feels, after a twelve-hour ay on the campaign trail with no time for a meal ,to suffer the humiliation of being turned away from a restaurant because you are unescorted . . . or how it feels to know you are as well qualified, perhaps more so, than the next person, and to have a prospective employer look you in the eye and say, “I prefer a man in that job.” (Can you imagine what would happen if he said that to a black?) . . . or how it feels to learn that you’ve been called a lesbian because you are interested in equal rights for half the population of the country, women.

But these are personal views, and subjective. You will be more impressed, I believe, by a poll taken in January by Louis Harris. It was the most far-reaching survey of women’s attitudes done so far.

In releasing it, Mr. Harris said:

“What we are reporting today is a state of mind among women comparable to black attitudes in 1962, just prior to the emergence of Martin Luther King, or among college students in late 1967, just prior to the surfacing of young people behind Eugene McCarthy in 1968.

“The underlying mood of women in America today,” Mr. Harris said, is one of conflict, frustration, deep division, and change. And yet the enemy barring the gates to the liberation of women is not men, inflexibly blocking the way, but women’s lack of confidence in herself.”

Mr. Harris did not find women ready to kick over the traces of their motherhood and wifehood. But he did find that 64 percent of them want more day care centers, and one fourth of all women with children under twelve would go to work if day care were available.

A plurality of women also feel that “most men find it necessary for their egoes [sic] to keep women down.”

These are real storm signals, in Mr. Harris’ view. Women can be expected increasingly to express resentment at being judged by something other than what is inside their heads. They want to be appreciated for their minds as well as their bodies.

When President Nixon named thirteen of us to a task force on women’s rights and responsibilities in late 1969, some of us discovered for the first time the shocking fact that the laws and courts of this country are hostile to women.

A woman does not have the right, as a man does, to retain her own name in marriage.

She may not maintain a domicile apart from her husband.

Prostitution laws punish a woman for selling her body, but not the man who patronizes her.

Women have been given longer prison sentences than men for the same offense in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and an unknown number of other states.

To top it off, the Supreme Court has never accorded the protection of the 5th and 14th amendments to female citizens, as it has to blacks and others. It has upheld or refused to review laws and practices making discriminatory distinctions based on sex.

The report our task force submitted to the President was called “A Matter of Simple Justice.” Some of you may have seen it. It contains a moderate program of change designed to wipe out some of the existing legal inequities between the sexes. It made 22 recommendations and called for a national commitment to changes that will bring women into the mainstream of American life.

More than a year has passed since the report was submitted. What have the results been? Has it done any good?

I suppose if I were writing a headline, I might say, “Report goes over with Nixon Administration like a lead balloon.”

But in checking the recommendations point by point recently, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there has been action on about a third of them. It came about largely in response to the fierce lobbying and pressure of women’s groups, but certainly the Administration can claim a share of the credit.

Here are some of the accomplishments:

For the first time in history, the Justice Department has filed suit to give women equal employment rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Moving against Libbey-Owens-Ford Company and the United Glass and Ceramic Workers Union (unions, incidentally, have collaborated in the discrimination against women) — moving against the company and the union, the Justice Department won a consent decree giving women employees equal access to jobs from which they had been barred, and a system of redress for past inequities.

The Justice Department also filed a brief on behalf of Mrs. Ida Phillips in her suit in the U.S. Supreme Court against the Martin Marietta Corporation. The firm had denied Mrs. Philips a job because she had pre-school-age children. The Court ruled that unless the same personnel policy applied to men, it was a violation of Mrs. Phillips’ civil rights.

Secondly, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare has moved to cancel federal grants to colleges and universities whose hiring and salary practices discriminate against women.

One pain of having its federal money withheld, the University of Michigan became the first to adopt a plan designed to wipe out sex bias on its faculty. The University of Pittsburgh followed.

Complaints are pending against more than 100 other educational institutions, including Harvard, the entire state university system of California, New Jersey, and many others, including I believe the University of Minnesota.

Thirdly, day care for economically deprived kids would receive $386 million in federal money in the first year of President Nixon’s family assistance plan, if Congress passes it.

These are some of the recommendations in our report which are moving toward reality.

On the negative side, the White House is still letting men make the decisions on the women’s issue. Presidential Counselor Robert Finch handles the problem, when it is handled, as does Presidential consultant Leonard Garment. The priority it is given is indicated by Mr. Garment who refers to himself as the President’s “odds and ends” man.

Our task force also urged passage of the equal rights amendment to the Constitution, which would ban sex discrimination by the government. The Administration has paid lip service to this, but has not pushed it.

As you may know, the equal rights amendment passed the House overwhelmingly last summer, aided by intensive lobbying from women. It died in the Senate after Senator Ervin attached rippling language. But a new effort by a coalition of women’s groups is under way to get it through the 92nd Congress.

We think the amendment is needed to wipe out existing inequities concerning jobs, education, and domestic law. It would impose as many responsibilities on women as it would confer rights. It would make women liable for military service, although they would not be required to serve in functions for which they are not fitted, any more than men are so required.

When I was here last fall to speak to the Minnesota Press Women, I was impressed with the fact that a number of them are handling jobs not usually regarded as women’s bailiwick. They were covering hard news, or serving as news editors. This, too, is a mark of your open-mindedness and willingness to innovate.

But it is only a beginning.

One of the most important challenges for business and government is to open opportunities for women from the bottom up. It is all very well to name women to the high-visibility top Administration positions, and certainly there should be more of that, but even more important is to make certain that women are considered for promotions at the very lowest level. Just because that girl over there is behind a secretarial desk, don’t overlook her s a promotion possibility. When there is a steady upward floor of talent in the pipeline, it will be much easier to find women for the top positions.

Mrs. Elizabeth Koontz, head of the Women’s Bureau in the labor Department, believes that the most difficult barriers facing women are the invisible ones, all but unreachable by legislation. These are the barriers that will be lowered only when we have educated the human heart. For the real enemy lies within.

It expresses itself in all those unadmitted prejudices, unthinking assumptions, and outworn myths which, often so subtly, oppose the full development of a woman as an individuals.

The grandmother of them all is, “A woman’s place is in the home.” But there are others:

A woman must choose between home and a job; she cannot do both well.

When a woman works, the chances are increased that her children will become neurotic or troubled.

Women are overly emotional; they can’t be cool under pressure.

Women have intuition, but men have the logical, analytical minds.

Women are practical and down-to-earth, but only a man can think abstractly, take the larger, long-range view.

Women just don’t have what it takes.

These are the kinds of prejudices women absorb from the world around them from the time they are little girls. From them a girl learns what is expected of her: that she may do things, but not too well; that she may aspire, but not too high.

These are some of the myths which condition a woman to put limitations upon her own expectations, to narrow her vision of the world and what she might do in it.

The really pernicious aspect of these myths is not that men believe them, but that women do.

I would like at this time to ask how many in this audience have daughters. May I have a show of hands? How many are parents of girls?

Well, as you know, in our society little girls are trained from babyhood to be passive and sweet, and retiring. These are the prized “feminine” qualities.

Little boys are trained to be original and courageous and strong. A woman who shows originality, courage, strength and brains is often demeaned as “unfeminine.”

Little girls, the studies also show are intellectually superior to little boys through high school. Then something happens. Little girls get the idea fast that brains may be a drawback in snagging a man. And so little girls begin putting on the act which will last a lifetime. The act might be title[d], “little old stupid me, and great, big intelligent you.” The woman has discovered that society may penalize her for expressing her talents — and so education, ability, and the money invested in them go down the drain.

Last fall, when President Nixon was campaigning in Chicago, according to a UPI dispatch, he asked a group of women who greeted him, “Are you women’s lib?”

They happened to be members of the Junior League and explained to the President that they concentrated on community volunteer work.

The President said “Good. I like a woman to be a woman.”

Well, the President has had two news conferences since then, and one was limited to foreign affairs. You need strong knees and a voice that would cut through concrete to get recognized in the mob of reporters. In neither instance did I have an opportunity to place a question.

But I hope that some reporter, some day, will ask the President what he meant by that, “I like a woman to be a woman.” 

Did the President mean that the 30 million women who work, who constitute one-third of the country’s labor force, should pull out and go home? Millions of them are heads of households with dependents, are helping put kids through college, or supplementing their husband’s substandard wages. More women than men are in poverty and in need of jobs.

Did the President mean that women should maintain a ladylike silence about the fact that their average earnings are sixty percent those of men and that the gap is widening? Or that a woman college graduate, on the average, earns about the same as a man with an elementary school education?

Did he mean that the women who are drawing unequal pay for unequal work should meekly say, “thank you, mr. employer?

Did the president mean that young women who aspire to be doctors, lawyers and engineers, should shift to such “feminine” occupations as secretary, nurse, and teacher?

Did he mean that the law and medical schools of this country should continue to enforce their unwritten quotas against women — quotas which have kept the percentage of women doctors in the U.S. to six percent while the Soviet Union’s medical profession is 70 percent women?

Did the President mean that women reporters, to take one example, should never be considered for positions as city editors or managing editors, as their male counterparts are?

Did he mean that an abiding concern for home and family should cut off a woman — any more than it does a man — from participating in the outside world?

Because if that is what our President means, the youth of this country, and quite a few of the men of this country, are light years ahead of him.

No one argues that the woman who chooses to remain at home should not be free to do so. We applaud her, although she may be a vanishing species.

But the woman who wants to contribute in the outside world should be permitted to make that choice without prejudice and without onus.

Senator Marlow Cook of Kentucky has four daughters and is a member of the subcommittee which held hearings last summer on the equal rights amendment. I covered the hearings and was fascinated when the Senator questions one of the witnesses, a gorgeous blonde who happened to be an honor graduate of Harvard Law School.

The young lady told the subcommittee she had been offered no positions with law firms, although young men in her class whose grades did not match hers appeared to be in demand by prestigious firms.

“Did you pay the same law school tuition as the others?” The Senator asked. “Yes, indeed,” the witness replied.

Then he asked, “Did the University inform your parents that their tuition money would not buy the same thing for you in the job market as the tuition paid for young men?”

“No,” said the witness.

Well, if women are going to be short-changed in the job market, perhaps they should get cut rates on their education, Cook observed.

Senator Cook’s daughters, your daughters, and mine, will reach maturity in a world very different from ours. We grew up in a society which put enormous pressure on both men and women — and particularly women — to marry, as the socially acceptable thing, and to have children.

Today that pressure is falling away as we strive to reduce the world’s population. More than that, man young women coming out of college no longer see marriage as the be-all and end-all of their existence.

As a result our values are changing. They must change in terms of what it is proper for women to do.

Our daughters must be given an opportunity — if they want it — to supplement or to replace the childbearing and child care function with something meaningful.

This is beginning to happen.

Over and over again, men ask me what do women want?

It can be boiled down to a few words:

Women want the opportunity to climb.

Think back for a moment on the jobs you have had. When you got that promotion, didn’t you think at firs, “I can’t possibly handle this?” But you had do. You forced yourself to meet the challenge. By doing that, you forced yourself to grow.

But first you had to have the opportunity.

One of the great things to come out of the women’s movement, it seems to me, is a rise in our self-esteem. The word “feminist” is becoming a badge of pride.

Mr. Harris’ findings notwithstanding, women are discovering that they like and respect and trust each other. They are disproving those silly myths that they can’t work together., that they are temperamental, catty, or have smaller brains than men.

If you think seriously about it for a moment, you will realize that equality for women is linked to many broader questions of social justice. IT is more than an economic issue, more than a social issue, more than a legal and political issue.

Equality for women is a moral issue.

That is the challenge to you as fair-minded men, as communicators, as teachers, as one of the enlightened segments of our society.

One of the brilliant young thinkers in the women’s movement, Lucy Komisar, has pointed out that the game we have been playing for centuries says that to be a man one must possess, one must control, one must dominate. Domination sometimes must be assured by force and violence.

Masculinity is equated with male supremacy.

But the masculinity game can’t have a winner unless it also has a loser. That has been the classic status of women.

And now comes the beginning of a challenge to the masculine mystique of domination. It comes from those who were its first victims — women.

Today women are demanding new definition of masculine and feminine that d not require the dominance of one sex over the other.

We reject all the myths about masculine aggression and feminine passivity. We seek to replace them with values that encourage human relations based on equality, compassion and respect.

The caveman mentality outlived its usefulness when technology made the bow and arrow obsolete.

Today men need a kind of courage that is only exhibited by those who have no doubts at all about their manhood, and that is the courage to assert their humanity.

We love you, and we are counting on your help. Thank you.



Source: Congressional Record, March 17, 1971.