August 26, 1920 – the day American women finally won the right to vote – was 96 years ago. It took suffragists 72 years to secure that right. Along the way, they endured ridicule, violence, arrests, imprisonment, solitary confinement and force feedings. Many believed the vote was the first step toward full equality for women in all aspects of their lives.
It’s taken 96 years for us to see the day a major party gives us a chance to vote for a woman candidate for President. Along the way to this historic moment, our efforts to pass the Equal Rights Amendment fell three states short of the 38 required to put it into the Constitution on June 30, 1982 so women are still not constitutionally equal in modern America – in some ways we remain second class citizens.
America began with women as second class citizens. Abigail Adams, who was married to John Adams, one of the founding fathers, argued against the exclusion of women in public life even before there was a country for those citizens of any class.
In 1776, as John and other members of the Second Continental Congress were declaring their independence and writing new laws, Abigail urged him to “Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors.” She said that men are “naturally tyrannical” so why not deny them the power to tyrannize women. John responded, “We know better than to repeal our Masculine systems.”
In other words, forget about it.
We ended up with “all men are created equal.” But even that wasn’t really the case. The men were white men with property – that left out the poor men and definitely excluded slaves. That’s the white male privilege we’ve come to recognize. It existed at the conception of our nation (and before that) and persists to this day.
When the suffragists began their campaign for the vote, they believed it would lead to an equal society. The Declaration of Sentiments from the 1848 Seneca Falls Women’s Convention included a list of grievances that resulted from the tyranny of men over women. Some of those grievances we could still list today, 168 years later. My personal favorite: creating a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women.” The good old double standard. We see it everywhere and especially in the treatment of the first woman who may be our next President.
As evidence of this double standard, look at the candidates’ campaigns, and especially their plans and positions on issues important to women.
Hillary Clinton’s website is overflowing with plans dealing with women’s reproductive rights – repealing the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funds being used for abortions), promoting sex education and her likely appointments to the Supreme Court. Donald Trump’s website doesn’t list reproductive rights as an issue but it does have this statement from him in a press release:
Let me be clear—I am pro-life. I support that position with exceptions allowed for rape, incest or the life of the mother being at risk.
On early childhood education, Clinton’s site is again replete with plans from universal preschool to improving the quality of child care with investments to reduce the cost to working to increase the wages of child care providers and early educators and increase funding for Early Head Start programs. Donald Trump’s website had no mention of early childhood education but if you’re interested, you can check it out on Education Week’s website.
When it comes to women in the workplace, Hillary Clinton’s plan is a feminist dream. She’ll work to close the pay gap, pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, and promote pay transparency, fight for paid leave and quality, affordable child care and increase the minimum wage. Issues of concern to working women are MIA on Donald Trump’s website. But in an interview, he said, he supports equal pay for women conceptually but doesn’t “want it to be a negative where everybody ends up making the same pay, because that’s not our system.”
On LGBT rights, Hillary will fight for full federal equality for LGBT Americans, protect transgender rights, end so-called “conversion therapy” for minors, take on bullying and harassment in schools, honor the military service of LGBT people and continue to promote human rights of LGBT people around the world. Donald Trump, in the words of the Human Rights Campaign, supports policies that “would expose LGBTQ people to more discrimination.”
This comparison of positions and statements could continue — but I think you know where it’s going.
If she wins, Hillary Clinton will represent the realization of the hopes of Abigail Adams, the suffragists and every woman who fought for equal rights. It will prove that women’s votes can make a difference for women, their families, the nation and the world. But she can’t do it alone.
Hillary Clinton also knows that Congress and the American public have a major role to play. If you support her, you must elect people with the same values who will be her allies. You’ll want to let her know that she has the support of the public, Members of Congress and the Senate, and that you have to have her back. You can’t wilt in the face of the backlash her election will surely unleash.
Progress isn’t achieved once the votes are counted – it’s only the beginning. Register to vote and commit to voting for progress this November today, if you haven’t already. That’s the best way for us all to honor Women’s Equality Day — and fight for the future the suffragists envisioned.