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October 26, 2005
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Lifetime Award acceptance speech - Molly Ivins
Let me start by saying a thousand times thank you. And I mean that almost like a mathematical formula: 1,000 x thank you – to the IWMF and to those who make it possible.
Of course, getting the Lifetime Achievement Award makes you start to feel slightly deceased, but I’m maring up. I am humbled and actually slightly embarrassed to be in the company of such courageous women. It’s been one of the great joys getting to know these three extraordinary women.
I think the last time I was ever physically frightened by my work was in 1973 – the last time I investigated a lynching. On the other hand, I regularly face one of the most terrifying phenomena on earth…that would be your Texas legislature.
I am at least a generation older than the other women who are being honored today, and I know that in their countries, it is much harder for women than it is in ours. And even when I started in this business at a time when women were automatically consigned to the “women’s section” – also known as the snake pit – fated there to write about food, fluff and fashion for the rest of their natural lives.
I am not entirely sure that I’ve done anything in particular to escape that fate except to be born big. I always towered over every editor I ever worked for – very hard for them to look at me and say, “Oh, you poor, sweet, dainty, fragile little thing! We couldn’t possibly send you out to cover a riot.” It was always, “Ivins, get your ass out there.”
It does seem to me that in this country women have since proved not only that certainly we can do journalism as well or better than men. The question that now remains is: Do we want to do it differently? I have spent so much of my life working for equality for women that I get a little uncomfortable when I hear people claiming superiority for our sex. Of course, I think the world would be a much better place if it were run by women, but I think it’s bad public relations to say so, so I never do that in public.
But is there anything that women bring to journalism that is particular to us? Not necessarily unique, but some areas where we perhaps have a better grasp, a firmer connection. I suggest it is that women are incapable of forgetting the biological reasons that every human being comes into this world naked and helpless and utterly dependent on others, and that almost all of us die in exactly the same condition. And that every day of our lives in between, we are equally dependent on other people. And consequently, how we treat one another is of prime importance.
We need in this world to handle other people with care, to be caring, to care for them because without that, none of us will survive. I think the illusion of somehow being able to stand on your own two feet and take care of yourself is something that women intrinsically realize is just plain silly. Of course, we live in bad, ugly and angry times. I think it’s probably called the human condition. And one thing I know about is that it cannot be lived through without laughter. And if there is any contribution I have made, it is to prove that laughter actually – if it doesn’t improve the world any – will at least enable you to endure it a lot better. I think that in its way, laughter is a form of courage.
My late friend Johnny Falk, well known Texas humorist and entertainer and freedom fighter. Johnny also, unbeknownst to many people, had another career: earlier in his life, he’d been in law enforcement. He was in fact a captain in the Texas Rangers. His friend, Boots Cooper – Johnny was six when he was captain in the Texas Rangers – and his friend Boots Cooper who was seven was the sheriff. Now the two of them used to do a lot of serious law enforcement out behind out behind the Falk family house. One day, Johnny’s momma, having two such fine officers there on the property, said to them, “Now boys I want y’all to go down to the hen house and get that chicken snake out of the hen house.” Now the boys were all excited about the big assignment. They galloped down there on their brooms, they tethered their brooms, they went through all the nests on the bottom shelf of the hen house and couldn’t find a chicken snake. Now they were of an age and of a size where to see up on the second shelf, they had to stand up on their tiptoes to see if there was a snake there, and there was. Now I have never been nose to nose with a chicken snake myself, but I always took Johnny’s word for it that it will just scare the living shit out of you. And it scared Johnny and Boots so bad that they both tried to get out of the hen house at the same time, doing considerable damage to themselves and the hen house door in the process. They came trailing back up to the porch all shame-faced. Miss Falk looked at them and she said, “Boys, boys, what is wrong with you? You know perfectly well a chicken snake will not hurt you!” And that’s when Boots Cooper said this important thing: he said, “Yes m’am, but there are some things that’ll scare you so bad you’ll hurt yourself.”
And that’s what we do I think, in this country and in this world. We get so afraid, so afraid of some terrible menace, so afraid of crime or communism or drugs or illegal aliens or terrorism that we hurt ourselves. We hurt ourselves. We make ourselves less free. We make ourselves less joyful. We make ourselves less caring because we’re afraid. And that, I think, is why it is so important to celebrate courage and why I feel so honored to have been part of this. Thank you.