Women and Citizen Responsibilities

As citizens, we have two major responsibilities. One is to vote, the other is jury duty.

The major purpose of the League is "to promote political responsibility through informed and active participation in government" according to our Bylaws. Women achieved the vote in 1920. We are still struggling in this country to make voting a reality for minorities and members of disadvantaged and disenfranchised groups. Some groups, some states, and the Supreme Court have been whittling away voting rights. The recent step in Massachusetts to allow electronic voter registration for those with a signature at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles is a step in a positive direction.

Regarding jury duty, women in Massachusetts were not granted the right to serve on juries until 1950. I was called for jury duty a month ago, and although I could have been excused because of age, I showed up. I have never served on a jury although I have been called numerous times. The case this time was the allegation that a stepfather had sexually abused his three stepchildren over a period of years. I was ultimately excused because I was acquainted slightly with the prosecutor. We were both members of an Amherst club. I subsequently learned that the accused was found guilty.

Another act of citizen responsibility is serving in elective office. For women and minorities this is often an act of courage. Senator Diane Feinstein was the first woman to become chair of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee. In 2009 under her leadership the committee began the investigation of interrogation techniques used by the CIA, which is supposed to report to the committee. A recent article describes the many obstacles that the CIA and the White House put in the way of the committee carrying out its function. It took courage and persistence by Feinstein and the committee to expose the use of torture. The committee's report, much redacted, now sits in the White House and Senate archives.

Are women capable of participating in a man's world? A Nobel laureate at University College London stated last month that female scientists should be segregated from male colleagues because women cry when criticized and are a romantic distraction in the laboratory. This recalls an American woman of courage in the 1960's, Congresswoman Patsy Mink of Hawaii. Patsy Mink was the first woman of color and the first Asian-American woman to be elected to Congress. She was a champion of women's rights and served from 1965 to 1977 and again from 1990 until her death in 2002. During that time a prominent physician in the Democratic Party's Committee on National Priorities asserted that women's "raging hormones associated with their lunar periods" made women unsuitable for executive positions in government, business, and crises like the Bay of Pigs. He further asserted he would not feel safe in an airplane piloted by a woman. Patsy Mike is reported to have responded, "And what's your excuse?"

Rachel Hare Mustin