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Tuesday was the 100th anniversary of the Senate passing the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. While ratification wouldn’t come until August 1920, passage by the all-male Senate marked an important turning point in women’s rights.
But, like the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is overly tempting to view passage of the 19th Amendment as an issue already resolved, rather than a notable, but inconclusive, point in a long, painful and ongoing timeline of inequality in this country.
It is important to remember the work and sacrifices of women like Alice Paul, who was arrested and force-fed in jail for supporting women’s suffrage; of organizers like Rosalie Gardiner Jones, who led armies of protesters in the face of insults and injury from those who opposed equality — both men and women; and of the early leaders for suffrage — women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and the pioneers at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention in New York.
And, we must not forget the suffering these women endured in the cause of liberty and equality. Up to the early 1900s, it was common for women who challenged social norms to be committed to insane asylums. There, they were subjected to the worst kinds of depravity, eventually driving many of them, in the most evil of ironies, to insanity. Women subjected to these hell-holes were far more likely than men to be lobotomized to control their behavior and beliefs.
Women were harassed and beaten by mobs, and by the police, at pro-suffrage marches. On March 3, 1913, more than 100 women were hospitalized with injuries after a march in Washington, D.C.
The final pressure to pass the 19th Amendment mounted after 33 women were arrested for peacefully marching in front of the White House, and spent a night being beaten and humiliated by guards at the Occoquan Workhouse. One woman was beaten unconscious. Another suffered a heart attack under the ordeal, and wasn’t treated by a doctor until the next day.
These women, and countless others, paved the way to suffrage with their suffering and courage. And, we should honor them. But, we dishonor them if we think passage of the 19th Amendment brought an end to their struggle. The wheels of systemic inequality didn’t stop turning, and in many ways — like Jim Crow — just morphed into new mechanisms to subjugate humans not born as white males.
Between 1917 and, in some places, the 1960s, tens of thousands of women accused of sexual immorality were arrested and detained without due process under the “American Plan.” It was a thinly veiled effort to control women who dared to exercise the same agency over their bodies as men, and is echoed today in laws criminalizing women for controlling their own health and reproduction.
Fifty-six years after the Equal Pay Act, pay inequality persists. A 2018 study by The National Partnership for Women & Families found American women are paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to men. The wage gap costs American women about $900 billion per year.
Legislative representation remains woefully short of parity for women. Even with historic gains in 2018, women still hold only 23 percent of the House and 25 percent of the Senate. That puts America at 75th out of 193 countries in a study by the Inter-Parliamentary Union on women’s representation. At the state level, only 29 percent of legislative seats are filled by women — 21 percent in good ol’ Oklahoma. In the judiciary, roughly one in three American judges are women — 28 percent in Oklahoma.
Ground has been gained, but in general, our world — particularly this corner of it — still is controlled overwhelmingly by wealthy, white men. Which raises the question: How have we, as men, done at running things over the last few millennia? Gents, a brief look around doesn’t speak well for us.
The eight wealthiest men in the world control the same wealth as the poorest 50 percent of the human population — that’s 3.6 billion people. We’re teetering on the brink of a frivolous and foolish war with Iran. Poverty and food insecurity remain endemic in one of the wealthiest nations, while we spend $750 billion a year on war-fighting — a rambling parade of folly that’s cost $5.9 trillion, 480,000 lives and 21 million refugees since 2001.
Top health risks, according to the World Health Organization, are obesity in developed nations, starvation in developing nations. We grow more than we can eat, and one in six humans suffer from hunger. It’s estimated one of them dies from malnutrition every second — more than 31 million people each year. Another 1.5 million die each year due to lack of access to vaccines, while the pharmaceutical industry in the U.S. alone rakes in $450 billion a year in sales.
We prioritize corporate profits above all else in our policy-making — I’m looking at you too, Democrats — to support unsustainable goals for economic growth, that wouldn’t be feasible without the slave labor of an estimated 40 million people worldwide. We willfully ignore science, and the destruction of God’s creation before our very eyes, as we gleefully chase corporate profits into the demise of the only planet we have.
Guys. Fellas. Hombres. Let’s be honest for a sec. We’ve been in control. Without dispute, we’ve been running this gutter show. And honestly, we’ve made a catastrophic mess of things.
How would things look if women had a majority of influence and power in our society? If they had parity? I don’t know. But, honestly, could it look any worse? I think not.
In the end, the fight for women’s equality isn’t just a fight for women.
It is a fight to save us from ourselves, and the worst tendencies of our patriarchal society.