From the August 1995 editions of the Vineyard Gazette:

She’s spent much of her life fighting for women’s rights. But political columnist Molly Ivins warns feminists against implying that “there is something superior about women.”

“On the other hand,” she confides in a rich Texas drawl by telephone from Austin, “I secretly believe that the world would be a much better place if it were run by women.”

“I just think it’s bad public relations to say that.”

Obviously, women have never run the world, and they aren’t especially close to doing so now.

But they do have the potential to change the U.S. government – thanks to a group of feminists who fought years ago to guarantee women the right to vote. Their struggle found success on August 12, 1920, when Congress ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

This week, Miss Ivins and two other prominent speakers – Becky Cain, national president of the League of Women Voters, and Ruth Simmons, the newly appointed president of Smith College – will discuss the significance of that event and what’s still needed for women to achieve equality at work, at school and in politics.


Question: how can women be encouraged to report sexual harassment when the nation’s highest-ranking officials successfully dodge such charges?

This was one of the topics explored Thursday night at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown.

Speakers at the event Women and the Vote – Celebrating 75 Years of a Good Idea, considered the progress made by women since they earned the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th amendment.

But they didn’t stop there – they also outlined the progress women have yet to make.

“It is amazing to me,” said Miss Ivins, “that decades after we freed our slaves in this country, women still had no legal rights, no property rights and no civil rights.”

“Until June 26, 1918, in my home state of Texas, according to the constitution of the state, all citizens could vote, except, and I quote, ‘idiots, imbeciles, aliens, the insane and women.’”

Ratification of the 19th amendment in August 1920 was a tremendous victory, Miss Ivins said. But it’s wrong to say that women were “given” their voting rights.

To use the word give is “to minimize the important struggle it took,” she said. “Women were not given the vote. Women took it.”

In a presentation that kept her audience chuckling, the political commentator said that humor is a good defense for women frustrated by sexism.

Still, humor will not solve all the problems facing the feminist movement, she said. She and other speakers complained of a dangerous backlash against feminism and signs that women are not on equal footing with men in many aspects of American life.

Women are more plagued by poverty than men. Working women are, on average, paid 30 per cent less than men. In American colleges and universities, women comprise just 31 per cent of full-time faculty members. Women are underrepresented in the leadership ranks of corporate America and in other fields, even those that include large numbers of women in their workforce.

Ruth Simmons, who is serving as the first African-American president of a top-ranked American college, said part of the answer can be found in schools and universities.

“It’s essential that we create a market in which women will not be deterred from the most ambitious subjects – science, technology, economics and math in particular,” she said. “Many of our very bright young women are lost in those fields because they unknowingly and trustingly enter danger zones that are disguised as safe terrain. There are colleges and classrooms where women are deliberately discouraged in advancing in particular courses of study. And don’t believe that that’s a myth. It’s very real.”

“Persistence in the most challenging areas simply must be encouraged if we ever are to attain our national goal of a safer and more promising future.”

Miss Ivins warned against underestimating the depth of the anti-feminist backlash, a school of thought that portrays feminists as strident, hysterical and frivolous in their concerns.

“Where does that come from?” asked Miss Ivins. “Who are they talking about? If you believe in equal pay for equal work, you’re a feminist. I mean, there aren’t any real high-entrance requirements.

National League President Becky Cain – the local president is Juleann VanBell – reminded the group that women can be politically powerful and that the system can work. She noted that the new “motor voter” law, which allows people to register to vote when getting their driver’s license, is helping bring about the “largest increase in voter registration in American history.”

“In the tradition of our foremothers, we have to again prove that the system can be made more democratic,” she said.

“We can change the tenor of campaigns. We can motivate the turnout on election day. We can convince them that their vote matters. Most important, we can renew people’s faith in the system.”

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox