Ireland urges women to speak out

Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), encouraged her audience to be activists concerning the future and urged them to "step a little beyond [their] comfort level" in an Oct. 22 speech at Emory.

Ireland, who recently published What Women Want, came to campus for a speech sponsored by the Student Programming Council. "I wrote the book in celebration of the gains we've made and in hopes of encouraging future activism," Ireland said.

During her remarks, Ireland discussed her own background and her transition from a stewardess--"we weren't called flight attendants yet"--to a corporate attorney and feminist leader. Using her own experiences as an example, she explained the formidable challenges and gains that women and feminists have faced in the 20th century and highlighted some of the difficulties they have yet to overcome.

Ireland's beginnings in the feminist movement started with her experience as a stewardess for Pan American Airlines. When the airline's health insurance refused to cover her husband's dental work because Pan Am "didn't provide benefits for women's families," Ireland said "even I knew something was wrong with that." She first heard about NOW after the experience, calling on them for help in the situation. Since Pan Am was a federal contractor and "President Johnson had just extended an order extending benefits for women under Affirmative Action policies," Ireland "didn't even have to file a formal complaint. The airline called it a `terrible misunderstanding.'"

Ireland pointed to specific progress that NOW has made since those times. "We have made a tremendous amount of progress with sexual harassment laws, equal employment and equal education," she said. "We got illegal job discrimination legislation passed. We got birth control and abortion recognized as constitutional rights ... we've changed the laws, the language and the culture."

While the changes have been numerous, Ireland pointed to current problems in women's rights, especially criticizing certain members of Congress. U.S. Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas), according to Ireland, labeled the House of Representatives "fem-centric" in 1992 despite its overwhelmingly male population. "It's a wonderful word, fem-centric," Ireland said.

"We're facing a lot of resistance and attacks ... the good news is that we have the resources, we can make a difference, and you can make a difference. We have to reach out, face our enemies and strengthen ourselves," Ireland continued.

"I believe in concerted action," she said. "The progress we've made is not inevitable ... you've got a chance to be a role model and a mentor. We all have our own voices and votes; speak up and speak out."

--Danielle Service

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