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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby… Or Have we?

As a child of the 1960’s, I witnessed, and personally experienced, discrimination on basis of my gender when I entered the college in 1969. At that time, women were commonly required to demonstrate far superior qualifications (far above those expected of men) in order to even be considered for admission to medical and other professional schools.

We were told:

Men were supposed to be doctors. Women were supposed to be nurses.

Men were superior to women in math and science so they make better engineers, scientists, and so forth.

The vast majority of CEO’s, politicians and people in positions of authority were men, and they controlled the policies and practices that perpetuated the status quo. So, when I joined in the movement demanding equal rights for women (the ERA), I believed I was in on the ground floor of a radical effort. Oh, the naiveté of a young, farm girl.

As I’ve been researching the women’s suffrage movement for my new novel, I’ve learned that I was just one of the countless foot soldiers in a long, wearisome, undertaking.

The first women’s rights convention in U.S. history was held July 19 & 20, 1848, in Seneca, New York. At the time, women were considered property of their husbands with no rights of their own. The convention organizers wanted to overturn the “code of true womanhood” which proclaimed, “Man was made for himself, woman was made for him.”

On July 19, two hundred women attended. Men were not allowed. Elizabeth Cady Stanton presented her treatise, the “Declaration of Sentiments,” based on the Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed that all men and women are created equal. The document detailed the most egregious injustices suffered by women.

Men were allowed to attend the second day of the convention, and about 40 did. The attendees adopted the DECLARATION OF SENTIMENTS & GRIEVANCES. Resolutions were listed. Examples include, married women should be able to hold property in their own name, married women should be able to divorce their husbands and have custody of their children, women should receive equal pay for equal work, and women should have equal access to education and the professions. All of these initial resolutions passed unanimously.

But when the resolution for women’s suffrage was proposed, it met with powerful opposition and was subjected to a lengthy debate. The African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass spoke in favor of suffrage stating that without the vote, women would be unable to change the laws that treated them unfairly. The resolution passed.

Innumerable future-focused, selfless women worked hard for many years to secure women’s suffrage, knowing they probably would not survive long enough to personally benefit from their efforts.

It was 72 years before passage of the amendment granting women the right to vote. Next year, 2020, will be the 100th anniversary of U.S. women winning the right to vote.
Granted, progress has been made on the resolutions passed at the Seneca Falls convention. I am grateful to those who started the women’s movement and to all who have worked for women’s equality, as I have reaped benefits from their sacrifices. But we still have a long way to go.

Today, women still do not receive equal pay for equal work.

Almost every week we learn of Title IX violations involving educational institutions’ failure to address sexual harassment of women, sexual assault of women or inequity in athletic programs.

And, women in power are not immune. as a study referenced in the Harvard Business Review shows.
Interruptions are attempts at dominance. In reviewing 15 years of Supreme Court oral argument transcripts, they found that "women do not have an equal opportunity to be heard on the highest court in the land. In fact, as more women join the court, the reaction of the male justices has been to increase their interruptions of the female justices. Many male justices are now interrupting female justices at double-digit rates per term, but the reverse is almost never true. In the last 12 years, during which women made up, on average, 24% of the bench, 32% of interruptions were of the female justices, but only 4% were by the female justices."

This summer marks 161 years since the Seneca Falls convention, and 99 years since women were granted the right to vote. We still haven’t had a female President of the United States, and women are woefully underrepresented in national and state governing bodies.

I wish I had a simple remedy for these and other examples of the inequality of women in our country. I don’t. But based on our history, we clearly must keep fighting for equal rights – if not for ourselves, for our daughters and granddaughters.

Ann Markim

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  1. A vital struggle which, as you have shown, needs to be constantly fought. This article is both inspiring and shows how far women's rights till need to go, Ann. Thank you.

  2. Thanks, Lindsay. I've always thought it sad that women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who struggled so long and hard for women's suffrage in the United States, didn't live long enough to vote.

  3. Your European sisters cannot believe that the USA still doesn't give women full equality. I hope you get it soon. Great history here. I loved your post.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment. I admit, through the years there have been times I've considered moving to Europe, but I hope my voice will help in the cause here.

  4. It is a shame women are always last to receive any rights, recognition, or justice. I remember when doctors would order Valium whenever their female patients acted upset. They called it "hysteria" and I guess they thought Valium was a good way to "calm them down." matter that Valium is addictive and women actually have feelings.
    My paternal grandmother, Matilda McNeal fought for women's suffrage. She must have been a tough lady. I wish I could have met her.
    Great article, Ann. All the best to you...

  5. Thanks you your post. During the suffrage movement, there were efforts to declare women who stood up for their rights to be mentally ill and institutionalize them.

  6. A wonderful overview of the issue. Like you, I was a part of the women's movement in the 70s. I was fortunate to not be affected as strongly as some, due to work and career choices. (Most were jobs where gender was not a issue nor the pay involved.)

    I will say, my research on the women doctors has uncovered many who traveled and spoke on the suffrage needs. Many came west and worked to secure women's rights here and were fairly successful for their time, while still maintaining a practice. It is a area I continue to research and the book on those in Colorado prior to 1900 will arrive one day. Doris

    1. Thanks for the interesting information. My research on the suffrage movement has been so fascinating, and I've gone down too many rabbit holes to fit into this book.

      One interesting area is that so many women participated in the temperance cause because they had no recourse against abusive husbands and hoped to prevent much of the abuse which was perpetrated when the men were drunk.

  7. Ann, So sorry I'm late--for various reasons, but had to finally comment--hope you get this. I am so looking forward to reading The Legacy. You see I live not far from Seneca Falls, NY. I've grown up with visiting their homes and going through the numerous museums re: all the various women from the area who started the movement and hung in there. Our own museum here in my town constantly has films and lectures regarding each one of them. If you are ever in this area of NYS, you must visit the many buildings and/or museums that honor so many women of the past. It's much more than an all day visit to Seneca Falls. So I am ordering your book and can't wait to get lost in it. I'll never get my WIP finished at this rate.LOL! But I can't wait to read it. Love the cover too. Geneva College (now renamed and close to Seneca Falls)graduated some of the first women M.D.s and I have an upcoming book giving tribute to our strong and determined past sisters, esp. since I was a nurse for so many years. Wishing you much success with The Legacy.

  8. My work-in-progress, THE CAUSE, is actually the story for which I am researching the suffrage movement. I'm sorry if mentioning THE LEGACY at the end of my post, was confusing in that regard. THE CAUSE is about the eldest daughter in THE LEGACY. I'm hoping THE CAUSE will come out next year for the centennial.

    After my research, visiting Seneca Falls is definitely on my bucket list. From your description of Geneva College, it sounds like the whole area was progressive with regard to women's right. I'll look forward to reading your upcoming book. I love stories about our strong foresisters. Or is it foremothers?

    By the way, my mother was a nurse for nearly half a century. I have great admiration for people in the nursing profession.

  9. Ann, I also got your email and gosh if you ever get this way around Corning, Seneca Falls, etc., let me know. It indeed would be terrific to get together. The list of women who made a contributions to Women's rights, equality, and numerous professions in this area are many. I will definitely look forward to THE CAUSE too.