Tuesday was the centennial of women’s suffrage, and there has been no year in which it’s more important for women to exercise that right than 2020.
The bloody fight it took women to get to the 19th Amendment, and the continuing fight for equality, should be commemorated. Today, 57 years after the Equal Pay Act, American women still are paid about 80 cents on the dollar compared to men at the same level, women remain more likely than men to live in poverty, and even with the Blue surge in the House in 2018, women still hold only 23% of the House and 25% of the Senate.
But, inequality for women cannot be blamed on their voting. True, it did take some time for women to overcome immense social, and in many cases violent, physical, barriers placed in front of them by the patriarchy. For decades, women lagged behind men in voter turnout because of these barriers, and in mid-20th century America — for some, early 21st century America — it was expected women would defer to their husbands for political choices.
In 1940, when asked how women would vote on election day, George Gallup, namesake of the Gallup Poll, predicted they’d vote “just exactly as they were told the night before.”
That may have been the case for most in 1940, but since then women have largely broken the shackles of misogyny — at least in their voting habits — and have surpassed men in exercising this civic right and responsibility.
Women have turned out in greater percentages in every presidential election since 1980, and in greater numbers since 1964. In 2016 women outpaced men by 63% of registered female voters to 60% of registered men, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.
And women haven’t just found their footing in voter turnout. They also have broken free of their male counterparts’ dominant choice of party.
Beginning in 1980, women began to turn away from an increasingly socially conservative Republican party to embrace the Democrats, and since then a majority of women voters have opted for the Democratic ticket in every presidential election, by a margin that continues to grow. A Pew Research study published Aug. 18 — the anniversary of women’s suffrage — found in 2018 and 2019, 56% of women registered to vote identified with the Democratic Party, while only 38% identified with the GOP. Pew found those margins have been growing since 2014.
So, American women can and should celebrate their superior voter turnout numbers, and finding their own voice in the Democratic party — and in increasingly steering that party toward more compassionate, equitable and just policies.
Even in this time of celebration for women, though, America needs them to step up even more. No, America has no right to ask more of its mothers and daughters. But, if we are to salvage what is left of our republic, and build it into something it never has been — a republic of freedom and equality for all — we need women to dominate this election. Not just show up. Not just outpace men by three or four percentage points. Dominate it, in a way misogynists have been fearing since 1920.
Look back at 2016. Sixty-three percent of registered women voters cast ballots in an election that, by all expectations, should have given us our first woman president. That means 37% of women did not vote — which still puts them ahead of men. No, I am not blaming the flaming turd circus of the last four years on women. All of America failed that test.
But, what might we look like today if women had really taken the reins in 2016? If they’d turned out by 64% instead of 63%, we’d probably be in a very different place. Again, I’m not blaming, but pointing out the awesome power yet to be tapped in the female electorate. In 2018, America sent an unprecedented number of women to Congress, with only 55% of women voting — the percentages for men and women are always lower in non-presidential elections. But, imagine how the House and Senate would look today if women decided to buck the mid-term trend, show up in unprecedented percentages, and topple the patriarchy.
Those opportunities are past, but there may not be another opportunity, for any of us, if it is not seized, and seized with a vengeance, by women this November. It’s hard to exaggerate the dire outcomes if this nation does not drastically alter course this fall. But, if women decide they’ve had enough of being driven into the gutter by men, and take the wheel, there is hope.
If America’s mothers and daughters decide to dominate this election, and show up in entirely unprecedented percentages, they have the power to do far more than just remove Trump. They have the power to do more than reverse the harmful effects of four years under a racist, incompetent, would-be dictator.
If American women truly step into their power this November, they can — and should — fundamentally reshape the face of American politics, and more importantly, American policies. They have the power to make us what we always should have been. And I sincerely pray they use it.