Before you decide this is just another political blog—and who cares—stop for a minute and think about this: In your lifetime, women will not achieve political parity in this country. In your lifetime, women will never have an equal voice in running our nation, the state where you live, or your community.
These statements are based on projections from a report issued about the state of politics by Women Donors Network. According to their survey of 42,000 elected officials, 71% are men, and 90% of these are white men. Why does that matter? It matters because it is these same individuals who are making decisions and policies that affect many aspects of your life such as birth control, date rape, and domestic violence, or women’s sports, paid family leave, and sexual harassment in the military. You don’t have to look very far to find concrete examples. The recent closing of abortion clinics in Texas or the recent blockage (one more time) by the Senate of the Paycheck Fairness Act should suffice.
Some would argue that women have made progress, and we have.There are now 20 (out of 100) women in the U.S. Senate and 79 (out of 435) in the U.S. House of Representatives, but that’s a far cry from equity in numbers or influence. Even women holding these elected positions emphasize the need to level the gender playing field.
The battle for women’s equality began in 1848 with the movement to obtain voting rights. (The picture at the right is of Susan B. Anthony being assaulted for attempting to vote).
Securing the 19th Amendment to the Constitution took 70 years. Many of the women who worked towards obtaining voting rights for us never lived to see it become a reality. Success required a positive vote by two-thirds of the states. It was a close call, but the amendment was finally ratified in 1920.
Last month, the Paycheck Fairness Act failed to get enough votes to overcome a Republican filibuster to advance in the Senate to final passage. It required 60 votes but received only 52. Reasons given for opposition included concern for women — the worry that it would discourage employers from hiring women and that it would increase lawsuits.
Men in elected positions continue to claim they are protecting us. What they really mean is that they are protecting us from ourselves.
In reality, the Paycheck Fairness Act was designed to close continuing loopholes in portions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) which was passed in 1938 (76 years ago), and the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (51 years ago) which amended the FLSA “to prohibit discrimination on account of sex in payment of wages by employers.” Yet, women today still earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.
In 2020, it will be 100 years since women achieved the right to vote, but voting alone hasn’t been enough. In addition to the women’s vote, we need the women’s voice. Most importantly, we need many more women in elected office. We also need women to work in campaigns, to help raise funds for women candidates, to write letters to sitting officials, to work in legislative offices, and to sit at policy tables.
If you’re a millennial, and if the history of women’s rights continues to slowly repeat itself, you’ll be close to 80 years old before changes needed today for women and families in our country become a reality.
Or as a cohort, you can create a different history, a history of women’s political leadership. Young women today are the best educated, most savvy and talented generation of women ever. You have skills and strengths and opportunities that outdistance previous generations. As a result, you have the chance — and I would argue, the obligation—to finally right the 100 years of gender based inequality.