Every.single.time I hear a story about the Suffragettes I am awe struck with admiration. I love when their life’s work anniversary comes around and people remember. It’s not just the decades on decades, they persevered to legalize the women’s voting rights; I am awed they never let opposition presented as criticism, hatred, and even brutality (google pictures of force feeding suffragettes) deter them. Layer that with black women having to find their own way through that movement with their continued fight for their legal right to vote no matter where they lived in the United States.
I always stop and listen to every story, even if I know how it rolls. They did all this for me, for daughters, for sisters, for mothers. They deserve to be remembered.
In the 2017 a Meryl Streep movie, The Post, there’s one line that spoke louder than all the others. It went something like, “I wasn’t just ignored, I wasn’t even seen!” She was speaking of the way women were perceived, more precisely not perceived. Marginalized is defined as treating a person, group, or concepts as insignificant or peripheral. For too long we weren’t even a consideration to some. We were not on the radar.
My mother was born before women were guaranteed the right to vote. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around that America was 150 years old before women could vote. I was 10 years old by the time black women were guaranteed the right to vote with the Civil Rights bill. I was almost 40 when the Violence Against Women bill was signed and domestic violence was no longer considered a ‘family issue’. It took until 1994 before men could no longer legally beat their wives!
I came of age in an era when women were once again emerging from being marginalized. Yes, working outside the home had been normalized. This time it was related to male coveted business, and leadership roles. Some may remember when women’s work styles were essentially a feminine version of men’s business clothes. It had be done.
I am sure there were women who grew up with every belief they had the same options as men. I went to a Catholic school in which the religious culture, by its every doctrine, spoke of revering women while at the same time sidelining them.
My mother was a strong, well read woman but silently held limitations and subtilely passed those to me. It isn’t that I was told I couldn’t be something. It was more no one thought or knew to dream of more for me. It wasn’t considered. Early on I didn’t know to dream more for myself. Women’s long worn career paths, if we chose to even take one beyond marriage, were primarily teaching, nursing, or secretarial. Each are important fields but if you check, still predominately female. It’s not about devaluing those but feeding the souls of women as diverse in interests as there are career paths. Not every woman my age was bound by the 1970 established expectations. I had classmates that went on to be doctors, lawyers but hardly the norm.
Messages growing up bombard us from all sides. Our family culture, our educational culture, our religious/spiritual culture, our circle of friends culture, and our broad societal culture each whispering or shouting to us on some level. For me, it was the shifting culture of our society, along with watching my 2 older sisters step into the realm of being more, that cleared the brush for me to see more.
At home my mother didn’t dream of more than marriage and children for me. Attending college was normalized but not specifically for a sustaining career. My educational system didn’t know to dream of bigger purpose for my social, organizational and leadership skills. My religious culture didn’t know to do anything but view me as a support person. I was guilty of falling in line with those unspoken limitations. My eyes were scanning out farther, but I left high school on the secretarial tract and I was quite shitty at shorthand.
In the early 1970s, women were rising up and changing the societal culture. My sisters were listening and talking about it. My mother was quietly listening too. Some teachers spoke words of encouragement to me, but few. Some women emerged, aimed for more and retreated to the familiar. Some emerged and shined light on their own paths. It became a movement of choices. Not that we had to, but that we could, if we wanted to. The latest frontier is women in coding, in science, in math, and surely the highest office of our country. I long to hear, “Madam President….” and not have it be a TV series.
Just the fact there are still men who don’t think birth control should be paid for by insurances tells you there’s still risk. Men who still fear our power and choose to call us names. I worry that young women, in their teens or 20s take much of this for granted. The realm of possibilities has been expanding for many years now. I believe there are those banking on female complacency as they quietly chip away. We must all keep listening to and honoring the suffragettes of 100 years ago, of 40 years ago, of 20 years ago. Today is no time to sleep or rest on accomplishments. There are still too many who can not dream and many dreams unconsidered.