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MPR’s John Ydstie reports on a discussion on women's part in ongoing revolution and "separate but equal" in school athletics with members of NOW (National Organization for Women).

Report includes speech excerpt from Anita Waasick, North Dakota Chapter coodinator of NOW; followed by commentary from Mary Lynn Meyer, Director of South Dakota Division of Human Rights, National board member of NOW; and Mary Anne Saday, lawyer, National board member of NOW.


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ANITA WAASICK: I think one of the things that's misunderstood about the women's movement-- and I think that we experienced this during the ERA-- is that we see our place in America as part of the ongoing American Revolution, that our place in America and in the bicentennial celebrations isn't to celebrate the past, but to create the future that we want to live in and we want our children to live in.

I always come back to the point that we're the patriots of today. We're the people that are carrying on the struggle for equal opportunity in this country. The American Revolution may have given us the potential to achieve the kind of country we want to live in. But certainly, the feminist movement is one of the few groups in this country that is still seeking to make that a reality.

JOHN YDSTIE: That's Anita Waasick, North Dakota Coordinator of NOW, the National Organization for Women opening a public meeting at the first annual conference of North Dakota NOW Chapters held this past weekend in Fargo-Moorhead. The conference included workshops on topics, such as lobbying, how to use the bureaucracy, Chapter development, goal setting, and affirmative action.

It concluded with a public meeting Saturday evening at which two members of the National Board of NOW spoke. After that meeting, I talked with the two National Board members, Mary Anne Sedey, a lawyer from Saint Louis, Missouri, and Mary Lynn Meyrs of Pierre, South Dakota, director of South Dakota's Division of Human Rights, and NOW's National Vice President for Finance.

One of the issues we talked about was the idea of separate but equal, as reflected by a separate but equal athletic teams in public schools, an avenue that some states, including Minnesota, have taken in response to pressure for equality in girls and boys athletics. Ms. Meyrs was first to respond. Her comments are followed by those of Ms. Sedey.

MARY LYNN MEYRS: I have difficulties with the concept of separate but equal because it never worked before in the Civil Rights Movements for minorities. But I do think that we need-- This is my personal opinion. We need a period during which efforts can be made to overcome the effects of past conditioning and stereotyping. You don't start out talking about equality in-- let's take a good example-- a track meet where you have two competitors, one female and one male, but one has had a ball and chain around their ankle for 200 years. And suddenly, you take it off. And you say, now run, and the may the best man win.

Because indeed, the child who has never learned to walk without a ball and chain is not likely to be able to win a 100-yard dash. So I think we'll probably experience in this country a period-- an interim period, I think-- where it will be necessary to develop creative systems to overcome the effects of closing off all opportunities for girls in many areas, and give them an opportunity to develop themselves.

I don't think we will always see, however, separate but equal teams. First of all, it's going to be hard to get equal teams because you've got to get the money from somewhere. And one of the greatest fears is that it will be taken from the boys. So economically, one of the easiest things for a school system to do is to simply have an integrated program, and then you don't have to worry about the money. Whether that really provides equal opportunity, I have serious doubts about.

So what we may see is integrated-practice coaching, integrated scrimmages, if you will, but separate competition. Maybe at dual track meets, if you will, or dual tennis matches where the point score will be the total of the girls team and the boys team. And the school will win if both of them are good, and not just if the boys team is good.

Eventually, we will see, I think, integration in most sports as women begin to develop abilities in those sports that they haven't had. And possibly, ability groupings where it will be just as valued to be the champion heavyweight boxer as it is the champion lightweight boxer, and vice versa. The champion lightweight boxer may be a girl. That is not such a foreign thing. That already exists in many sports. The skill within your physical capability is what is valued, and not simply being the best of all, regardless of your weight or size.

So I think down the road, that is perhaps what we're talking about that is economically the most rational, also the best in terms of developing the same kind of healthy competition for both boys and girls. But I don't think you do that overnight. And I think in the meantime, we're going to have to develop some creative alternatives.

MARY ANNE SEDEY: I just wanted to say that this is not, by any means, a settled question, even within the women's movement. NOW as an organization has not yet taken a position on whether separate but equal will be satisfactory to us. I think it's going to be one of the big issues that our national conference this year, and it's something that we're going to have to make some decisions about before we can really even criticize or analyze the solutions that are being proposed. So I think that we're going to find in the fall at our national conference some real hot and heavy debate about that subject, and finally some kind of position emerging for the organization.

JOHN YDSTIE: That was Mary Anne Sedey preceded by Mary Lynn Meyrs, both National Board members for NOW, the National Organization for Women in Fargo-Moorhead this past weekend to participate in the first annual conference of the North Dakota Chapters of NOW. I'm John Ydstie in Moorhead.


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