For setbacks to women: The envelope, please

August 24, 2007|By Ellen Goodman

BOSTON -- So, we gather once more to pay homage to our foremothers by celebrating Aug. 26, the anniversary of the passage of suffrage.

What a year it's been since we last met. We've seen the first female speaker of the House, the first female president of Harvard University, and who can forget Bill Clinton, striving to become the first First Laddie?

Nevertheless, we continue our time-honored tradition, celebrating this day by announcing the cherished Equal Rites Awards to those who have labored over the last 12 months to set back the cause of women. As always, our one-woman committee worked hard to sift through all the candidates.

Thus, without further ado, the envelopes please:

We begin by looking to Japan, where the Shinzo Abe government wins the Knights in (Tarnished) Armor Prize. There, the prime minister refused to apologize for the Japanese army's use of "comfort women" as sexual slaves in World War II. That was after his health minister called women "baby-making machines." And finally, the bodyguard for his gender equality minister was arrested for allegedly molesting a college student on a train. We send the land of the rising sun a sunset clause.

What can we give the winner of this year's International Ayatollah Award? Our man is Ezzat Attiya, the creative Egyptian cleric who issued a fatwa saying that there was one way around the religious taboo against unmarried men and women working together. Women can breast-feed their male co-workers and legally become family. We would offer Mr. Attiya a special breast pump to accompany his fatwa, but we don't want him to milk the idea.

Unfortunately, we must return home for the Patriarch of the Year Prize. It goes with disappointment to Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, whose opinion restricting abortions rested on the retro notion that women needed to be protected from "regret," "grief" and "sorrow," even if it meant protecting them from their rights. We send the paternalistic justice a hook to bring him back to the 21st century.

Do you miss Tammy Wynette? Well, the Stand By Your Man Prize goes (temporarily) to Wendy Vitter, wife of family values Sen. David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, who admitted to a "very serious sin in my past" after his name was found in the alleged "D.C. Madam's" black book. In a 2000 interview, Ms. Vitter said, "I'm a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary [Clinton]. If he does something like that, I'm walking away with one thing and it's not alimony, trust me." Stay tuned.

Now for the Desperate (To Get) Housewives Prize. This goes to the British researchers who report that housework reduces the risk of breast cancer. For urging women to scrub their way to better health, we offer them the dustbin of history.

Doctors, doctors, everywhere. Our Male-Practice Award goes to the former surgeon general, Richard H. Carmona, who belatedly confessed to toeing the White House line on abstinence-only education while knowing it was bunk. We give him a Post-It for his new life: Just Say No.

Our Post-Feminist Prize goes to Money magazine for its financial advice on how to close the pay gap: Marry rich.

Money offered an investment manual on how to be the wife - first, second or trophy - of a gazillionaire. It says, "Wear small diamond earrings." We say, watch out for the prenup.

If you cannot marry money, send it up in smoke? The Marketing Ms.-Adventures goes to the ever-deserving R.J. Reynolds. This time, it is selling Camel No. 9, a cigarette with the aura of Chanel in a black package trimmed in fuchsia or teal. Our prize is an elegant coffin nail, colored pink.

Finally, we rest our hopes in the next generation. Sort of. The Our Bodies/Our Daughters Award goes to Mattel. The folks who brought you Barbie are collaborating on a new line of makeup: for 6-to-9-year-olds. For this we award them and all their ilk a special cosmetic for the next year: egg on their face.

Ellen Goodman is a columnist for The Boston Globe. Her column appears Fridays in The Sun. Her e-mail is ellengoodman@globe.com.

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