Today’s post hails from the Way Back in Time Machine as we wonder if there is really ever anything new. And not in a good way.
Yesterday, This Day in History July 19th was noted with this: "the Seneca Falls Convention began today (1848). Included in its Declaration of Sentiments was women’s right to vote.”
That convention included a speech by Elizabeth Cady Stanton demanding the right to vote:
But we are assembled to protest against a form of government existing without the consent of the governed – to declare our right to be free as man is free, to be represented in the government which we are taxed to support, to have such disgraceful laws as give man the power to chastise and imprison his wife, to take the wages which she earns, the property which she inherits, and, in case of separation, the children of her love; laws which make her the mere dependent on his bounty. It is to protest against such unjust laws as these that we are assembled today, and to have them, if possible, forever erased from our statute books, deeming them a shame and a disgrace to a Christian republic in the nineteenth century.
We do not expect our path will be strewn with the flowers of popular applause, but over the thorns of bigotry and prejudice will be our way, and on our banners will beat the dark storm clouds of opposition from those who have entrenched themselves behind the stormy bulwarks of custom and authority, and who have fortified their position by every means, holy and unholy. But we will steadfastly abide the result. Unmoved we will bear it aloft. Undauntedly we will unfurl it to the gale, for we know that the storm cannot rend from it a shred, that the electric flash will but more clearly show to us the glorious words inscribed upon it, ‘Equality of Rights’…
The “demand” for the vote would not result in women’s right to vote for another 72 years when the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920. Education and employment protections for women began with the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and were added as a poisoned pill by opponents who wanted the bill to fail. Many of the Act’s protections did not take legal force until the late 1970s and 1980s, and in 2010 women still lack pay equity.
In 1991, I had a personal epiphany after reading Susan Faludi’s book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. I don’t even remember what made me read the book…I generally do not read a lot of non-fiction. Maybe it was the title, maybe it was the itchiness that I had started to have about the 1980s, maybe it was being appalled when it started becoming okay to harass women outside abortion clinics who were seeking legal medical procedures (and my involvement in the counter-protests).
Regardless, it was an incredible eye opener. For those who are too young to know much about the book, here is a review and summary:
From Publishers Weekly: Far from being “liberated,” American women in the 1980s were victims of a powerful backlash against the handful of small, hard-won victories the feminist movement had achieved, says Wall Street Journal reporter Faludi, who won a Pulitzer this year. Buttressing her argument with facts and statistics, she states that the alleged “man shortage” endangering women’s chances of marrying (posited by a Harvard-Yale study) and the “infertility epidemic” said to strike professional women who postpone childbearing are largely media inventions. She finds evidence of antifeminist backlash in Hollywood movies, in TV’s thirtysomething , in 1980s fashion ads featuring battered models and in the New Right’s attack on women’s rights. She directs withering commentary at Robert Bly’s all-male workshops, Allan Bloom’s “prolonged rant” against women and Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer’s revisionism. This eloquent, brilliantly argued book should be read by everyone concerned about gender equality.
What particularly resonated with me in the book was the discussion of the anti-choice movement. Several things stuck out:
1. The organizations are mostly run by men
2. Their goal was to end the right to abortions under any circumstances including life of the woman
3. Their larger goal was to eliminate women’s rights to have access to birth control
It was that last point that stopped me cold.
People with good intentions can have different opinions about abortion. I personally believe that a woman has the right to control what happens with her body and that any limitation on her rights to that should not be allowed. But to declare birth control to be illegal? That said one thing to me:
the anti-choice movement is not about abortion but about controlling women
Since that book was written, things have not changed for the better for abortion rights. The places where women can get abortions continues to become more limited, the restrictions and rules placed by state legislatures on abortions get more and more onerous, the killers of doctors who perform abortions are lauded as heroes and the Tea Party GOP is still funded and energized by the anti-choice religious right.
So why this rant now? Because of this article about a group endorsing the two Tea Party GOP candidates running in the primary for Wisconsin Governor:
If Pro-Life Wisconsin’s recent endorsement of Scott Walker and Mark Neumann is any indication, the two Republican gubernatorial candidates have snuck further right on the abortion issue, no longer supporting any legal right to an abortion, not even in cases of incest or rape or when the health or life of the pregnant woman is in danger. The Brookfield-based group, which maintains that life begins at fertilization, also opposes all forms of birth control, including condoms, birth control pills and intrauterine devices.
No birth control. Ever.
That is the “not even bothering to hide it” agenda of the anti-choice movements and why we as Progressives need to continue to fight.
I am past the age of child bearing but I am not past the age of caring about my daughter and all of our daughters and their families.
The women of the Seneca Falls Convention and the women who fought for 72 years after that gave us the vote. And as long as we have the vote we have some control over our lives and our bodies.
Elections have consequences, and providing safe choices for women is among the things on the table with every election cycle that we have.
Because, unfortunately, to answer my own question: No, we will never be done with this fight.
(A version of this was originally posted on 07/20/2010 at BPI Campus)