Today is a chance to remember how far we have come on the path to gender equality.
It is also a day to remind ourselves how much farther we have to go. The battle for equality is far from over, but we can recognize and be proud of those who have forged the way.
Women’s Equality Day is celebrated in the Untied States every year on August 26th. It commemorates the day in 1920 when the Secretary of State announced that women had won the right to vote.
The struggle these women went through to achieve the vote was immense, and was aptly named the women’s suffrage. It took determined, tenacious women to achieve this—women who dedicated their entire lives to the cause of our vote.
This movement began in the 1840s with a vision for equality at a time when women experienced hardly any in their daily lives. Women were treated as objects and property to be owned by their husbands. It was not until 70 years later, in 1920, that women gained the right to vote countrywide.
These women faced great opposition as visionaries on the feminist front, were accused by their fellow citizens of being too extreme, too outspoken and too seen. Their wish for empowerment was viewed as a threat to society and indeed it was! For if women were to gain equal rights to men, the organization of our world would also have to change.
This suffrage movement began because a small group of resolute women decided to not only ask for what they wanted, but to not back down if they were refused it. They wanted a chance be heard and to vote on the government that affected their daily lives just as much as it did those of men.
The leader of this movement was Susan B Anthony and the first time she attempted to vote, she was arrested. This was how the movement began, women would try and vote and then they would be imprisoned.
Facing imprisonment, they went on hunger strikes as protest, were force fed, physically and mentally abused and when they returned to their homes were often shunned by their community.
But, eventually, they won the right to vote. The Nineteenth Amendment was finally created and now no citizen of the United States can be denied the vote on account of their gender.
Today, we take our vote for granted but we shouldn’t assume that the fight for equality that these women pursued is over. Laws may have become liberal to accommodate all genders, but have our beliefs, actions and societal make-up done the same?
Just like in the mid 1900s, strong women are still seen as threatening. Sexism is rampant, and the media and many other parties reinforce gender stereotypes, supported by the foundation of our culture—a culture that is based on patriarchal values.
I feel sexism when I am called a b*tch for speaking up about what I want and how I will go about getting it, when the same qualities in a man are called leadership skills.
I notice reinforced gender roles when my girlfriends have babies and they quit working to care for the child while their partner pursues their career.
I remember inequality when the man who is doing the same job as me garners a higher wage. And when I ask for a raise I am dismissed, while when he asks, his request gets considered.
While our fight is no longer for the vote, we still have a battle ahead to be equally seen and heard—for our voice to be respected and given just as much power as a man’s.
On Women’s Equality Day, let’s ask how we can support each other to continue the work of reaching a place of equal status for all humans.
Here are a few things we can practice today, to deconstruct old belief systems and an oppressive societal hierarchy, and help us all to move forward as a human race rather then a gender-tiered one.
1. Choose gender empowering language:
Stop using stereotypes in conversations with each other and in our interactions. Instead of b*tchy, use assertive. In place of bossy, use strong.
2. Become educated on the current women’s movement:
Visit a website, have a discussion with someone, or watch a video that informs us on the current feminist movement. Organizations like Equality Now and Woman Kind Worldwide are a great place to start.
3. Use our Vote:
Register to vote and become informed on the process we need to cast our ballot. The AAUW Action Fund is a helpful place to get voting instructions and guidance.
4. Support other women:
Choose to build each other up through our support of each other and our vision for a more equal future. Give the women we know compliments and encouragement for this path we are on.
5. Use our voice daily:
Practice asking for what we want and encourage other women to do the same. We create more powerful change when we are seen and heard.
Lastly, let’s include all genders in this discussion, honoring the fact that we still have a ways to go toward true equality but that the change must include each and every one of us.
Author: Sarah Norrad
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren