NOW President Terry O’Neill speaks out against Letterman and Polanski

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We celebrated when Terry O’Neill won in an upset victory to become the new president of NOW and we are celebrating now.

Men behaving badly. It wasn’t a topic that Terry O’Neill expected to find high on her agenda as new president of the National Organization for Women, but she’s tackling it with zest and determination.

Elected as NOW’s leader in June, O’Neill had plenty on her plate already – notably trying to gauge the impact on women, for good or ill, in the multiple proposals for health care overhaul. Then along came the Roman Polanski and David Letterman controversies, and she charged briskly onto a new front.

Polanski “is a convicted criminal pedophile” and making excuses for him is “dangerous talk,” O’Neill declared recently after some luminaries in Hollywood and Europe questioned a move by Swiss authorities to detain the film director for possible extradition to the United States. He faces a charge dating from 1978 of having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl.

Four days after the Polanski statement, O’Neill fired another salvo after Letterman’s on-air revelation – prompted by an alleged extortion attempt – that he had sex with women working for him on his “Late Show.”

“As ‘the boss,’ he is responsible for setting the tone for his entire workplace – and he did that with sex,” O’Neill said. “In any work environment, this places all employees – including employees who happen to be women – in an awkward, confusing and demoralizing situation.”

The decision to speak out about Letterman prompted a flurry of e-mails to NOW headquarters, many commending O’Neill and many criticizing her. One message accused O’Neill of “man-hating,” while another praised her for raising the workplace issue on behalf of daughters and their parents.

Despite her other priorities, O’Neill doesn’t see the two incidents as a distraction and views her statements as part of “an important conversation to have.”

“Men behaving badly is exactly the problem in this country,” she said in an interview. “It’s not a diversion – it’s at the core of why women are unequal, why they are kept in second-class citizenship.”

O’Neill didn’t drop the topic after issuing her statements. NOW urged its supporters to rally outside movie theaters in support of victims of rape and sexual assault, and O’Neill wrote to the president of CBS, which airs the “Late Show,” requesting a meeting and urging the network to appoint more women to its board of directors.

CBS declined to respond publicly to O’Neill, but noted that women are presidents of several of its key divisions, including CBS Entertainment, CBS Films, CBS Sales and Simon & Schuster.

O’Neill also wrote to Letterman’s production company, Worldwide Pants Inc., which replied on Thursday.

“As an employee of David Letterman’s since 1985, I have personally found the work environment on his shows to be fair, professional and entirely merit-based at all times,” wrote Worldwide Pants CEO Rob Burnett, who said Letterman has never been the target of a sexual harassment claim.

O’Neill, 57, linked the Polanski and Letterman controversies to a broader trend that has troubled her in recent years – nasty, gender-based attacks on women in public life, such as Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sarah Palin, Michelle Obama and new Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

“We’re living in a time when women who put themselves forward as leaders are subjected to vicious misogynistic attacks – it’s very analogous to sexual harassment in the workplace,” she said. “The message to other women is, ‘Stay in your place.”‘

Thank you, Terry O’Neill for speaking out against the misogyny and please keep it up.  Men behave badly quite often.  We must all have zero tolerance.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/10/17/MNFO1A6N7J.DTL#ixzz0UFQJiKSU

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