How far we’ve come; how far yet to go
8/19/2016, 2:55 p.m.
With a woman heading the Democratic Party’s presidential ticket, it may be challenging for us to remember that women have had the right to vote for less than a century — and black folks less than that.
The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that gave women the right to vote was certified on Aug. 26, 1920, just 96 years ago. At the insistence of the late Bella Abzug, a congresswoman from New York, Congress designated Aug. 26 as Women’s Equality Day in 1971. The first part of the joint resolution of Congress reads, “Whereas the women of the United States have been treated as second-class citizens and have not been entitled to the full rights and privileges, public or private, legal or intentional, which are available to male citizens.” Reading the words reminds me how far women have come, how far we still have to go and how little the status of women of color is included when we speak of the status of women.
How far have we come? Few would have predicted that an African-American would win an election and effectively lead the United States for eight years. Few would have predicted that a woman would have more than a fighting chance of winning the U.S. presidency.
And yet the very campaign that signals progress is also one that illustrates how much more work needs to be done before women’s equality is attained. Too much of the rhetoric around Hillary Clinton’s candidacy is downright sexist. She should be judged by her positions and there should be absolutely no talk about her looks, hairstyle, attire or tone of voice. No man could stand the kind of scrutiny she has had to endure. No man has ever been subject to such scrutiny.
The continuing saga of sexual harassment at Fox News is another example of the distance we must travel to reach women’s equality. The company’s former CEO, Roger Ailes, is accused of multiple counts of sexual harassment. One wonders how many other companies have similarly hostile work environments and how often women, simply attempting to earn a living, are placed in the position of having to manage unflattering comments, downright harassment, coerced sex and even rape.
There are documented cases of women being raped in the military then being dishonorably discharged because they can’t work with their rapists. And let’s not get started on what happens on some college campuses. That a judge in Palo Alto, Calif., sentenced a Stanford University student to a scant six months in a rape witnessed by another student is amazing. That the perpetrator’s father actually decried the sentence as too high a price to pay for a few minutes of “action” speaks to how much work we have to do to reach women’s equality.
What about black women’s equality? It chagrins me that the late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s historic run for president has been all but ignored in much of the media frenzy about Mrs. Clinton. However, it does not surprise me given the many ways African-American women’s contributions are sidelined, marginalized or simply ignored.