Women under Carriages, under Street Cars, and under BusesPosted: June 29, 2008
Important anniversaries are on us. This quote by the second first lady of the United States, Abigail Adams, is as fresh and pertinent as it was when she penned this in a letter to her husband in 1776.
From the birth of this country down to present day, women are the forgotten citizens. When they assert their rights, some war, some other movement, a disease, some other man or even the rights of proto-humans are placed before them and many just fall in. We take care of our gay brothers suffering from aids while the last few states fail to ratify the ERA. We support the abolition movement to free and give rights to Black Americans and votes to black men while we’re considered property way into the 1970s and cannot achieve the vote until 1920. We march. We do all the behind the scene work and organizing. Then, when we ask for the vote, for our place in governing, for our right to lead, we are told that would be expedient to larger movements. This is true of black civil rights movements, labor movements, peace movements or antiwar movements, and the founding of our nation and so ad infinitum.
We are not only approaching our annual celebration of Independence Day. We have come upon the 160th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention. The women who met during that July suggested this addition to the Declaration of Independence and penned their own tome the Declaration of Sentiments.
It was signed by a number of women leaders including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. The first women’s rights conference in the United States Convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York on July 19 and 20, 1848. Few will be celebrating this historic gathering or probably even know of it. One hundred and sixty years after the convention, the equality that Elizabeth Cady Stanton demands still eludes us.
“The eloquent Frederick Douglass, a former slave and now editor of the Rochester North Star, however, swayed the gathering into agreeing to the resolution. At the closing session, Lucretia Mott won approval of a final resolve “for the overthrowing of the monopoly of the pulpit, and for the securing to woman equal participation with men in the various trades, professions and commerce.”
This is the same Frederick Douglass who later threw women under the carriage for Black male suffrage. In 1869, an amendment was proposed to Congress that guarantees “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
Douglass told women to wait since it was easier to get the proposed amendment through congress if it guaranteed black males the right to vote, but not women. This is exactly what happened. Women had to wait.
For over two centuries, American women had few civil or political rights. Wives had to do what they were told by their husband. Until 1884, a wife was officially listed as one of her husband’s possessions. Women stayed slaves for years after the emancipation proclamation was signed.
When I was at university, I noticed this strange pattern. Every time women say it is our turn to be recognized for all this work and we deserve equal pay, equal rights, and equal respect, men change the subject and put some other movement in between us. If you look through history, many women’s rights movements have been cast aside for peace movements or labor movements and later for civil rights movements that basically favored the rights of gay men or black men.
When asked what the role of women was in the Black Panther Movement, the answer was: “The only role for women in this movement is horizontal.” This continual divide and conquer strategy has left us waiting at bus stops for buses that we are later thrown under. Much of the impetus of the women’s movement in the 70s was distilled to civil rights for gays after Stonewall and the Aids crisis. Gay bashing and Aids struck gay men hard but much of the work and nursing was done by lesbians who abandoned the fight for the ERA and protection of the sanctity of women’s individuality as the religious right’s attempts to water down Roe v. Wade increased the humanity of proto-human life while decreasing that of breathing, living women.
The odd thing is that none of these movements are bad causes. The development of a democratic nation, peace, abolition, Aids research, or suffrage for black men all have merit. The fact that these are ALL good causes is not what bothers me. The larger point to me is that these movements sprung up during active women’s rights movements and suddenly took precedence.
Senator Shirley Chisholm has always been one of my personal heroines and clearly recognized that women’s rights were not a priority for this nation. She was always quick to note that she had experienced more sexism in her life than racism. Please read what this great champion of women’s rights said as she fought for passage of the ERA.
“Mr. Speaker, House Joint Resolution 264, before us today, which provides for equality under the law for both men and women, represents one of the most clear-cut opportunities we are likely to have to declare our faith in the principles that shaped our Constitution. It provides a legal basis for attack on the most subtle, most pervasive, and most institutionalized form of prejudice that exists. Discrimination against women, solely on the basis of their sex, is so widespread that is seems to many persons normal, natural and right.
Legal expression of prejudice on the grounds of religious or political belief has become a minor problem in our society. Prejudice on the basis of race is, at least, under systematic attack. There is reason for optimism that it will start to die with the present, older generation. It is time we act to assure full equality of opportunity to those citizens who, although in a majority, suffer the restrictions that are commonly imposed on minorities, to women.
Whenever women make progress, men step in with some other distraction and create disunity. I see this same pattern today in the Democratic Party ONE HUNDRED and SIXTY years after the Seneca Falls Convention and well over TWO HUNDRED years after Abigail Adams.
Women, please stop and think about this before you donate your time to peace movements, misc. civil rights movements, ANY kind of movement. We are the work horses of all of these movements, yet how many of these movements turn around and provide us ANYTHING but lip service? Think of the DNC, what have they done recently to stop the hemorrhage of reproductive rights? support equal pay laws? stop SEXIST attacks on women candidates? Which women in this system (yes, YOU Nancy Pelosi, yes, You Candy Crowely, yes, you Cindy Sheehan, yes, you Donna Brazille, yes YOU, Governor Sibilius, yes YOU Senator Mary Landrieu, yes you Secretary of State Rice,yes, YOU Gloria Borger, …) will willingly sell out their own sex to be acceptable to the boys and get recognition in a movement or a profession not of our own design whose rules are set up so that we ultimately fail.
Just THINK ABOUT IT when you celebrate this Fourth of July. Look at your daughters, your mothers, your grandmothers, your granddaughters, and the women around you and THINK about it. What movement did I join that stopped me from asking for basic human and democratic rights for women? Think about what happened to Hillary Clinton this primary season and ASK yourselves will you compromise YET again?
How much is that compromise worth to you?