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Feminist News


October-20-14

Jay Leno Receives Mark Twain Prize, Salutes Mavis and Her Work for Women's Rights

Former long-time host of "The Tonight Show" Jay Leno saluted his wife, Mavis, for her work on behalf of women's rights around the world when he was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor this weekend at The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

The Mark Twain prize is awarded for comedic achievement, and the event, where Leno performed a monologue and paid tribute to the many comedians he has worked with throughout his career, brought together supporters of the The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as well as leading comedians and performers. The "Tonight Show" team that worked with Jay for over 20 years, including Tonight Show producer Debbie Vickers, were in attendance. The Lenos were also saluted at a pre-event brunch at the home of Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden.

Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, attended both the brunch and the event at The Kennedy Center. "Who says feminists don't have a sense of humor? The one thing I have learned from my years of knowing Jay Leno is that he not only loves a good joke, but he has a deep commitment to helping others," Smeal said of Leno's accolade. "He deserves not only the Mark Twain Prize, but recognition for his longstanding support of women's rights and human rights."

The Lenos are both ardent supporters of the Feminist Majority Foundation's work, and Jay called Mavis, who is on the Foundation's board of directors and has chaired the Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls since 1997, his "conscience." Long before most Americans even knew where Afghanistan was, the Lenos held events protesting gender apartheid in Afghanistan and galvanized celebrities and national leaders to speak out and organize against the US and UN recognition of the Taliban. Under Mavis's leadership, the Feminist Majority Foundation's Campaign For Afghan Women And Girls was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. Mavis continues to chair this campaign and bring awareness to the continuing need for international support for Afghan women and girls as well as the need to eliminate violence against women and girls worldwide.

For the past nine years, Mavis and Jay Leno have also hosted the Feminist Majority Foundation's annual Global Women's Rights Awards, which this year was pulled from its traditional venue, The Beverly Hills Hotel, in protest of the Sultan of Brunei's new Taliban-like penal code which calls for the stoning to death of gay men and lesbians as well as the public flogging of women who have had abortions. The Lenos not only immediately pulled the event, but also publicly led a rally across the street from the hotel before the event. Their actions sparked a worldwide protest.

Media Resources: The Washington Post 10/20/14; Feminist Newswire 4/30/14, 5/2/14; Feminist Majority Foundation