Address at the Women's Leadership Conference Luncheon

"There really is no such thing as a “women’s issue” that isn’t also a “men’s issue”. Republican recession pits men against women in the struggle for fewer and fewer jobs. Real equality would be as liberating for men as for women..."
Los Angeles, CA • October 11, 1975

I’m pleased, and proud, to address this women’s leadership conference -- in a state where women have been so much more effective politically than in the country as a whole. I know the obstacles you face -- there are still no women in the State Assembly -- but your actions and energy give the lie to those who say that enlightened effort can no longer change things for the better. Before I leave, I want to learn the secret of your success.

Today, the women’s movement must be America’s movement, the changes you seek are changes needed by us all. They must become the new agenda for America. Present policies and non-policies hurt men and women alike, starting from such repressive measures as Senate Bill No. 1, through the Ford Administration’s faith in non-Government -- non-government for the oil companies, the plutonium breeders, the wheat exporters, the food processors, and the defense industry.

There really is no such thing as a “women’s issue” that isn’t also a “men’s issue”. Republican recession pits men against women in the struggle for fewer and fewer jobs. Real equality would be as liberating for men as for women -- and don’t I know that. Men are imprisoned by the very stereotypes that oppress women. The economic rat race and the macho model are the other side of the male dominance coin. What’s involved in this struggle is no less than the most profound of all questions -- what does it mean to be a human being?

That’s why I intend to discuss these issues not just with women but everywhere. That’s why equal pay for equal work, and aggressive enforcement of rules against discrimination, are everyone’s issues. And that’s why I suggested this Thursday, not to a women’s group, but to a mostly male group of union leaders, that the long-standing and total exclusion of women from our highest financial institutions, from the Federal Reserve Board on down, might have something to do with our anti-human economic policies -- and with the feeble Fed regulations supposedly intended to broaden the availability of credit to women.

But a woman on the Board with Arthur Burns -- and stronger rules for sexual equality in the credit market -- represent only the smallest beginning. From medicine to engineering, the professions have too long been male bastions. My own profession, the law, suffers from too few women — from the neighborhood law office to the Supreme Court of the United States. And, until law partnerships and judicial and legislative positions are as open to women as they are to men, we can expect law itself to tilt toward men -- all the way from rape legislation, to rules about maternity leaves and part-time work. So long as working women pay as much as their husbands for Social Security but receive less when they retire, we can be sure our legal system needs change. I will seek that change.

The Federal Government should take the lead by fighting in court instead of looking the other way when Federal contractors default in their affirmative action responsibilities, by setting up day care centers and flexible work schedules as an example to other employers, by searching for talented women and making sure their careers can develop with their abilities. Those are things a Shriver Administration would do.

Nationwide passage of the E.R.A. is the essential first step. I was in Chicago this week and I admire the leadership women in California are giving Illinois and other states in their struggle to join you in the equal rights column. That struggle grows harder as the campaign mounts to rescind support already given.

In the effort to ratify E.R.A., you can count on me -- in this campaign and in a Shriver Administration. But E.R.A. won’t be enough -- any more than the 14th Amendment was enough. Because what we need is nothing less than a transformation of consciousness. That transformation threatens historic -- almost mythic -- concepts, but it promises liberation for us all. So I want to share in that cause -- and that’s one of the reasons I’m here, and one of the reasons I’m running.

I come here to seek your support for the Presidency as someone who’s never held elective office. But leadership in America no longer can be left to traditional groups, to those who have had the opportunity to lead — and failed. The same spirit that opens politics to people with more ideas than political pedigree and political debt can open politics to women and other groups that have traditionally been fenced out. We’ve learned in this country that experience in winning elections doesn’t mean ability to govern. I don’t think that lesson will be soon forgotten. And I think I can bring to the Presidency not only the experience of 30 years as an executive at all levels of private and public life but also a healthy skepticism about received wisdom and stereotyped answers.

It is in that spirit of openness that I ask for your support.

Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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