Kansas lawmaker's shocking words insult women

October 09, 2001|By Jill Jacobs

NEW YORK - Kansas state Sen. Kay O'Connor, a self-described "old fashioned conservative lady," recently admitted that she "does not celebrate the enactment of the 19th Amendment in 1920" - a woman's right to vote.

"We have a society that does tear families apart," said the Republican legislator, who originally entered the workplace to assist with her daughter's medical expenses. "I think the 19th Amendment, while it's not an evil in and of itself, is a symptom of something I don't approve of. The 19th Amendment is around because men weren't doing their jobs, and I think that's sad."

Perhaps the 19th Amendment "is around" because we live in a society that values all of its citizens, including women, and what they have to say. While archaic remarks of this nature generate concern, they are particularly shocking when made by a female government official, a direct recipient of the benefits of those rights she is denouncing.

The 19th Amendment was adopted only after a long and arduous battle by those who came before us, many of whom didn't live to see the benefits of their struggle. We live in a society where women can become practically anything they choose. Some elect to work out of choice, while many, like Ms. O'Connor, work because of economic necessity.

Perhaps Ms. O'Connor is pulling a "Falwell." (Definition: A public figure who uses political, personal or religious ideology during inappropriate times to further political and personal agendas in the guise of seeking a better democracy, religion or society.)

Or maybe she thought it was an appropriate time to denounce the basic rights of women while jumping on the family values bandwagon - a practice that seems to imply that most of our social ills result from weak family structure.

Further, Ms. O'Connor doesn't appear to be concerned about any backlash that may result from her acknowledgement. To wit: "If I don't get re-elected, my only punishment is to go home to my husband and my roses and my children and my grandchildren," she said. "And if the trips to Topeka get to be too much and my husband asks me to quit, I would."

That's part of the beauty of this country. We can choose to work or stay home and tend our gardens and families, or both.

Jill Rachel Jacobs is a writer living in New York City.

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