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Ellen Goodman

Come on up, you boors, and get your Equal Rites awards


And so once more we will gather tomorrow to celebrate August 26, the 93d anniversary of that historic day when women finally won the right to vote. Our optimistic foremothers fervently believed that the vote would empower women to transform the world.

Our generation is, well, a touch more skeptical. Indeed, we commemorate this day in our own quirky way by assigning our one-woman jury to give out the Equal Rites Awards to those folks who are still doing their best to take us backward. Ah, so many contenders, so few awards, so . . . the envelopes please.

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In the honor (or dishonor) of voting suffrage, we begin with the coast-to-coast winners of the Double Standard Prize for Shameless Pols. In New York our standard-bearers are Anthony Weiner, the sexting ex-congressman running for mayor, and Eliot Spitzer, the hooker-consorting ex-governor running for comptroller. In San Diego, Mayor Bob Filner, facing 16 charges of sexual harassment, refused to exit for months. (Close your eyes now and imagine them as Antonia Weiner and Elinor Spitzer and Roberta Filner). For the prize we dub them — we hope — losers.

Alas, no such hope for South Carolina, where voters deserve the Backlash Trailblazers Badge for electing Mark Sanford to Congress. The former governor went AWOL with his Argentine honey while professing to be hiking the Appalachian Trail. We send an ethical GPS to the majority who lost their way at the voting booth.

But enough politics, let’s go to the front lines. The Battle of the Sexes Ribbon goes to Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski. The Air Force’s chief of sexual assault prevention stands accused of assault after a woman said he grabbed her breasts and buttocks in a parking lot. Friendly fire anyone?

WWSS? What Would Saxby Chambliss Say? The senator from Georgia squarely blames military rapes on the “the hormone level created by nature” among young soldiers. For this muscular reasoning, we give Chambliss the Testosterone Poison Pill Award, making sure it’s hard to swallow.

Was there testosterone in the Iowa Supreme Courthouse? The state’s supremes beat all competitors for the Blind Justice Award when they agreed that a dentist could fire his assistant because her beauty was “too tempting,” making her “as an irresistible attraction.” Are those robes the justices are wearing? Or burkas?

Speaking of which, we go overseas for the Knight in (Tarnished) Armor Award, won hands and legs down by a Sumatran mayor who proposed a law to make women ride motorbikes “sidesaddle” because it’s improper for them to sit on a bike with legs spread. We send Suaidi Yahya a bike helmet so he can protect what modest brainpower is left.

But for the Ayatollah Award, usually won by an, um, ayatollah, we return home to the land of the free, the brave, and the crafters. Here, the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores is suing so it won’t have to cover emergency contraception for its employees. This time it’s not a mullah but a boss trying to impose his religion.

Wait, the next winner is a doctor! With a fair amount of Xanax, we send the Medical Male-Practice Certificate to Representative Michael Burgess of Texas, who voted for the so-called “pain bill,” outlawing abortion after 20 weeks on the grounds that fetuses masturbate in the womb. Sayeth Doc Burgess, if “they feel pleasure,” they can feel pain. This certificate is good for one anatomy refresher class.

As for another trip down memory lane, let us not forget the Mad Men Award for ad humor. This was won by two senior executives at JWT India for their ad bragging about a Figo’s trunk space. They showed women bound and gagged and stuffed in it. Ho. Ho. Ho. We send them a pickup truck full of renovated funny bones.

Boys Will Be (Tech) Boys Citation? This goes to Samsung, which introduced its latest smart phone with a chorus of ditsy dames using it to dry their nails. We take a photo of that with our iPhone.

But we do not download that rap song by Rick Ross that wins him the Misogyny in Music Songsheet for his lyrics about spiking a woman’s drink with the drug ecstasy. “Put Molly all in her champagne/ She ain’t even know it/I took her home and enjoyed that/ She ain’t even know it.” We send our pal Rick a doo-wop chorus of disapproval.

If Rick is the pre-feminist past, what do we make of Princeton’s tiger mother of the year, Susan Patton? She wins the Post Feminist Booby Prize for warning undergrads of future spinsterhood: “Find a husband on campus before you graduate.” For taking us back to the future, we print her a T-shirt: “Mother Doesn’t Always Know Best.”

Finally, and with deep regret, we hand out the Dubious Equality Award for the woman who most achieves the least-praiseworthy kind of equality with her male peers. It goes to Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer. The same CEO who brings her baby to the office delivered a family-unfriendly fiat to employees: Give up telecommuting or give up your job. For attaining but not changing the C-suite mentality, we award her half a loaf.

And with our own loaf half-filled, we sign off with Susan B. Anthony’s final public words: “Failure is impossible.”

Ellen Goodman is a founder of The Conversation Project.
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