Tomorrow August 26 is Women's Equality Day in the United States.
August 26th is the anniversary of national woman suffrage. Across the seventy-two years between the first major women’s rights conference at Senecca Falls, New York, in 1848, and the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, thousands of people participated in marches through cities like New York and Washington DC, wrote editorials and pamphlets, gave speeches all over the nation, lobbied political organizations, and held demonstrations with the goal of achieving voting rights for women. Women also picketed the White House with questions like, “Mr. President, what are you going to do about woman’s suffrage?” “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?” This was the first time in history that a group of people picketed the White House.
The woman suffrage amendment was introduced for the first time to the United States Congress on January 10, 1878. It was re-submitted numerous times until finally in June 1919 the amendment received approval from both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Over the following year the suffragists spent their time lobbying states in order to have the amendment ratified by the required two-thirds of the states. On August 24th, Tennessee, the final state needed for ratification, narrowly signed the approval by one vote. The vote belonged to Harry Burn, who heeded the words of his mother when she urged him to vote yes on suffrage. The U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed the amendment into law on August 26, 1920.
So its been 87 years since one vote decided that women's voices were not inferior to men's - at least when it came to the voting booth. The years since have demonstrated that the political decree has had some positive impact, but has done little to alter the prejudice of hard hearts. Women are still despised by some, still paid less, still held back at work, and still forced into stereotypes. To echo Elizabeth Cady Stanton, equality is seeking for women to be judged by who they are as an individual and not solely by a relationship they may or may not be involved in (as she said "In discussing the sphere of man we do not decide his rights as an individual, as a citizen, as a man by his duties as a father, a husband, a brother, or a son, relations some of which he may never fill."). I would expand that we are whole people and the relationships we are involved in help create who we (women and men) are as individuals, but are not the sum total of who we are. So I am a wife and a mother (and daughter, sister, and friend), but those relationships do not define what roles I am capable of fulfilling. All aspects of my life including my talents, intellect, and passions (as well as my relationships) form who I am. And I appreciate it when I am valued and respected for who I am holistically, and not just seen through the lens of mother, or wife (or college grad, or Pastor). So then, why is it that some corners of the church are the last place where the value of a person is recognized? Why is the call for an equal voice (in practice as well as theory) still an issue? It took 72 years of active campaigning for American women to be counted as worthwhile people, and it has taken (so far) 87 years to get that message heard. And while much has been achieved, there is still a very long way to go.
Labels: Gender Issues