Introduction to award presentation
by Karen Zittleman
While people cannot always tell from looking at us, Ellie Smeal and I share a common background. It's true. Look closely. We both have Midwest roots. I was born in Wisconsin; Ellie in Ohio. Recognizing that blood is thicker than water, David suggested that I might enjoy introducing Ellie. I'm honored. So let me share with you what my fellow Midwesterner has accomplished while visiting the east coast.
Ellie was the first to identify the voting "gender gap" and popularized its usage to enhance women's voting clout. Former Washington Post columnist Judy Mann was the first reporter to use the term "gender gap." Not surprisingly, Judy has also received a Myra Sadker Equity Award. Amazing coincidence? I doubt it. Fighting for fairness is a collective effort, and Myra is helping us identify an all-star equity team.
In the mid-1980s a Newsweek/Gallup Poll reported that 56% of women in the United States self-identify as feminists. Ellie was so emboldened with those numbers that in 1987 when she co-founded a cutting edge group dedicated to women's equality, the group took the name Feminist Majority. The organization's task is to empower the majority -- women and men who support equity. As president, Ellie brings her gift for inspiring hope and action. I'm confident that Ellie will share a myriad of ways for each and every one of us to engage in equity efforts in and beyond schools.
When many said it could not be done, Ellie led the first national abortion rights march in 1986, drawing more than 100,000 activists to Washington, D.C. This April 25, Ellie again will have America marching. The Feminist Majority is one of several groups organizing the March for Women's Lives. Women and men, adults and children will march on the Mall in support of women's reproductive rights worldwide. I know Ellie will want to see you there! Remember her gifts for inspiration and action!
What about equity in schools? Ellie more than understands how gender bias shortchanges the lives and opportunities of female and male students. Ellie also takes action. Early in her career, before gender issues were even a blip on our professional radar screens, Ellie was a preschool director and you can bet that hiring non-sexist teachers was a challenge -- and one of her top priorities. Her vision of educational equity continues. Last year with Title IX under attack, Ellie created the Feminist Majority's Educational Equity Program, led by none other than Sue Klein, a longtime supporter of gender equity and friend of Myra.
For tirelessly charting paths of equality, the World Almanac chose Ellie as one of the most influential women in the United States; she was named as Time Magazine's "50 Faces for America's Future" and she has been featured as one of the six most influential Washington lobbyists in U.S. News and World Report. Ellie has been on the forefront of almost every major women's rights victory -- from the integration of Little League to eliminating gender segregated help-wanted ads. She has led in the efforts to pass the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Equal Credit Act, Civil Rights Restoration Act, Violence Against Women Act, Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, and Civil Rights Act of 1991. As former 3-term president of the National Organization for Women, Ellie led the drive to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), the largest nationwide grassroots and lobbying campaign in the history of the modern women's movement. She has kept busy during her time on the east coast!
Well before 9/11, and before most Americans truly understood what the Taliban meant, it was Ellie Smeal and the Feminist Majority who drew US and world attention to the Taliban's brutal treatment of women in Afghanistan. Their Campaign to End Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan helped stop the U.S. and United Nations from officially recognizing the Taliban. For these efforts to protect and liberate Afghani women, the Feminist Majority was nominated for the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.
Myra always advised her students to "Fight for Fairness." For over 30 years, Ellie Smeal has done just that. Like Myra, Ellie's efforts are brave in inception, persistent in execution, and sweeping in effects. With pleasure and gratitude, I present the Seventh Annual Myra Sadker Equity Award to Eleanor Smeal.