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What Ted Kennedy Did For Women

August 26, 2009

What Ted Kennedy Did For Women

Kate Torgovnick's avatar Posted by: Kate Torgovnick Filed in: news
1:00PM, Wednesday August 26th 2009

Ted Kennedy DiesAP

It’s easy to remember Edward Kennedy for the soap opera that was his life: His two brothers were assassinated five years apart; he survived a plane crash in 1964; he lost two beloved nephews in rapid succession in the 1990s; and rumors of alcoholism constantly followed him. And when I say the words “Ted Kennedy” and “women” in the same sentence, only one probably comes to mind: Mary Jo Kopechne, the 28-year-old campaign aide he was probably trying to sleep with, who was sitting in the passenger seat of his Oldsmobile when it careened into a river on Martha’s Vineyard in 1969. Kennedy escaped from the car and left Mary Jo behind, not calling the police until after her body had been discovered. (Required reading: Joyce Carol Oates’ Black Water, which tells the story, fictionalized of course, from her perspective.) To say it wasn’t his best moment is a gross understatement.

Yes, these are the details about Ted Kennedy that are titillating to talk about. But since the announcement of his death this morning, I’ve found myself thinking about the not-so-salacious details: his record over his 46 years in the Senate. For a dude, Ted did a heck of a lot for us ladies.

  • In 1972, Ted was a big champion of Title IX of the Education Amendment which said that, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” This is the law that requires that women’s sports get equal funding to men’s in public schools. So if you played high school softball, thank Ted.
  • Ted Kennedy made it one of his life missions to get the Equal Rights Amendment added to the constitution. (For those of you who slept through this part of history class, this amendment, which states pretty simply, “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States,” was written by suffragette Alice Paul back in 1932. It’s still never been ratified.) He brought up the amendment in every Congress since 1982.
  • In 1984, Ted went to bat for Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to run for vice president, defending her for being a pro-choice Catholic and, some say, hurting his own standing with Catholic voters in the process.
  • Ted was one of the architects of the Family and Medical Leave Act, signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1993, which guarantees you job protection while taking time off to care for newborn children. Before this law, it was up to individual businesses how much time off to give new parents and whether they’d take them back afterward.
  • Over the years, Ted has a pretty great record on protecting abortion rights. NARAL Pro-Choice America gives him a 100 percent positive rating.
  • Ted is the Senator who did the most pushing for the Matthew Shepard Act, which strengthened existing laws against hate crimes against women, gays, lesbians, and transgendered folks, and let prosecutors penalize folks who commit them with much stricter sentences.
  • He also had a large hand in the Violence Against Women Act, which gave $1.6 billion to investigate and prosecute crimes against women.
  • This is another one that hasn’t actually been signed into law yet, but it’s been brought up in every Congress session since 1994—Ted Kennedy sponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would be an extra safeguard against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • And most recently, Ted was all for the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which lets women sue for each discriminatory paycheck they receive.
  • comments
    frisked's avatar

    wrote on August 26 2009 @ 01:43 pm: [report]

    he still purposely let someone die.  (to save his own ass, no less.)  that negates every good thing he ever did.  it really does.

    writergirl's avatar

    wrote on August 26 2009 @ 01:58 pm: [report]

    @frisked—Here!  Here!  I was trying to compsose some tactful way to say it and couldn’t.  Well done.

    Goldfinch86's avatar

    wrote on August 26 2009 @ 02:03 pm: [report]

    He made a mistake while he was young, although a big mistake at the cost of another persons life, something that can never be forgiven or undone. But really YOU TWO get off your #&@$% high horses, he helped more people than you realize and although that will never make up for a life lost I would think part of doing all these good things was in some part trying to make up for the woman he let die and his guilt. Neither of you are tactful.

    _jsw_'s avatar

    wrote on August 26 2009 @ 02:11 pm: [report]

    He didn’t purposefully let someone die. He stupidly drove while almost undoubtedly intoxicated and was in an accident that caused his passenger to drown. He was grossly negligent in notifying authorities.

    However, that is different than “purposefully” letting someone die. I doubt he swam to shore and played on his harmonica as she was drowning. I think he was simply unable to rescue her. Had he tried, most likely they both would have drowned.

    To say that accident – as grossly negligent and wrong as it was – offsets every thing else he has done for millions of people (did you even read the article or have you actually followed his career) is also wrong, in my opinion. Had he not been involved or had he at least acted properly afterwards, he likely would have gone on to become President. Obviously, he didn’t. But he surely did a lot to help the underprivileged and women after that bad night.

    There are a lot of people who, after intense personal tragedies – like his situation – often do things that are ill-advised. Sometimes, others are hurt as a result. But that does not alone make them evil people. It usually just means that they’ve been pushed over the edge. What he did was wrong. But it doesn’t offset all the good he did.

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