I woke up this morning and said to my 10-year-old daughter, “100 years ago today, white women received the right to vote.”
She said, “Just white women?”
“Yes, just white women,” I said. “It took until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to guarantee that people of color could vote.”
I write this on the anniversary of women’s suffrage directly to my fellow white women. It’s important for us to remember that for hundreds of years the only thing keeping us from the ballot box was lies built up by men in power.
The Power of Lies
Some lies were absurd. Pastors asked, “If we give to woman the ballot, shall the equality which woman lost, when she ate of the forbidden fruit, be restored, and shall she be made again the equal of man?” This, an abomination. Academics, doctors, scientists, and politicians testified that women shouldn’t vote because mental exertion could jeopardize reproductive health. Postcards were sent around the world saying, “Girls are doing all the fellows’ jobs now!” implying that women’s suffrage would led to a world of lesbians and single men.
But, some of the lies were so pervasive that many of us still believe them today. Here’s one you might see on Pinterest. A mother’s influence is most needed in the home, not in the street protesting for rights or running for office. “Real” mothers and “real” homemakers don’t want to vote or have positions of power. They are humble and content with their main sphere of influence being their children. What mother today doesn’t buy into this, even a little bit? I would be lying if I haven’t felt guilty for spending an evening writing postcards to my representatives instead of being with my children.
And yet, none of those lies matter. What matters is that the United States is a country built on a government of the people, by the people and for the people. And, women are people.
Listen to the Greater Truth
If you’ve seen Ironed Jawed Angels or Suffragette, you know that women who fought for the right to be recognized as people were punished for it. Police attacked them. They were jailed. They were tortured.
This is why I write this to white women. We were oppressed. As people who were oppressed, we should understand oppression. It’s sly. It’s foundations are built on self-doubt, the kind of self-doubt that believes the small lies instead of the greater truth. These lies say things like, “well, if she had just listened to the police, she would be fine.” Or, “he was a thug, he deserved it.” These are not only lies, but, they ignore the greater truth that people deserve equal treatment simply because they are people.
Black people are once again fighting for the right to be seen as people, people who don’t deserve to die because of a traffic violation or a counterfeit $20 bill. And, they are being punished for speaking out for their own equality. Why? Not because they deserve it, but because that’s how oppression works.
Keep Working for Equality
White women have gained equality to men in many ways – from the jobs we can choose to having a white woman on the Presidential ballot. But our liberation is not to be celebrated without recognizing that oppression still exists. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr, “no one is free until we are all free.” As a country built of the people, by the people and for the people, our freedom is bound up in in the freedom of all people.
Thus, there is no “Women’s Equality Day” until there is true equality. We’re not there yet.