Last night, the lovely and talented LadyBoomerNYC informed me that a Ken Burns documentary on Women’s Herstory was showing on PBS. “Not For Ourselves Alone,” the story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, is a moving, inspiring and heartbreaking documentary of the two titans of feminism’s 50-year friendship, and of their lifelong struggle for “a little bit of justice”: votes for women. Tragically, Stanton and Anthony both died before their victory was achieved, although they did see their efforts resulting in a steady improvement in the daily lives of women: women were accepted into medical school, entered politics, became more prevalent in the workforce, and even received the vote in four Western states.
What struck me about the documentary was that in so many respects, it was still so relevant to our struggle for justice today. Yes, we women have had the vote since 1920, thanks to the heroic efforts of Stanton, Anthony and their American sisters of all shapes, sizes, colors and social classes; but was that vote not rendered meaningless by the actions of the RBC on May 31, 2008? Or by that sham of a Convention in August, when states and delegates that went for Hillary Clinton in the primaries were called for Barack Obama – and some states were not even heard from in the roll call? And now, the Obama acolytes who rigged the 2008 Democratic primary are going to be in charge of “reforming” the primary process for 2012, perhaps to stop another presidential bid by Hillary Clinton (which other observers besides myself are now thinking may be possible). Once gained, that “little bit of justice” is proving more difficult to hold onto than we thought.
My husband and I were often brought to tears by the unbelievable strength of these two women, and by the sacrifice that Stanton and Anthony committed themselves to in order to achieve their goal. Afterwards, my husband said something interesting. “It’s like the struggle for civil rights for African Americans,” he said.
I agree that on some level, all struggles for social justice are the same, with the disenfranchised group fighting to be recognized as human beings with the same rights as every other human being. But the comparison, while true on the surface, upset me on a deeper level. It sounded like he was saying that fighting for women’s rights, for the ERA, for equal pay for equal work, for the 30% Solution, was not good enough to stand on its own.
No one questioned why Barack Obama got 98% of the African-American vote. But heaven forfend we women should admit that we were voting for women because they were women. We were racist, sexist and “thinking with our vaginas” for doing so. A more obvious double standard could not possibly exist.
The patriarchy has made sure that the persecution of women for being women has been constant for thousands and thousands of years. Financially, women can never seem to catch up. We are still not making the same amount of money as men for doing the same work in The Land of Opportunity, and globally, women make up 70% of the world’s poor, ensuring that we are perpetually at a disadvantage in terms of social mobility and opportunities for advancement.
Legislatively, the ERA has still not been ratified.
Socially, the three major religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, all have incorporated the subjugation and oppression of women into their holy rites. Some factions of Christianity (like the Episcopalian Church in whose choir I sang for many years) have moved past their earlier practices, and allow women to become ministers; some (like the Catholic Church) have refused to take this step. The Reform Movement of Judaism is known for its tolerance and openness to women, yet the Orthodox Jews still refuse to allow women to become rabbis, or even sit in the same shul as men. By far the most misogynistic of the big three is Islam, the fundamentalist version of which allows women to be raped, beaten and killed by their male relatives and husbands, using God as an excuse.
Tied to both Islam and Christianity is the horrific practice of female genital mutilation, which takes place mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East (although it’s becoming more common in Great Britain now too), and which has irreparably harmed 130 million living women worldwide. Yes, you read that right. 130 million – and those are just the ones now living.
Yet in spite of the fact that we are still not given the rights of full human beings in America, we women are expected to stand aside and let other oppressed groups go first. In 2008, we were expected to nod our heads in agreement as an unqualified, inexperienced, elitist, misogynistic narcissist was touted as a historic force for change because of his skin color. We were supposed to act like this man was a feminist despite his obvious and repeated sexism towards his female opponents. We were supposed to be horrified at the chutzpah of Hillary Clinton, who dared to think it was her time instead of his. How could a woman ever believe she should step to the head of the line? And that Sarah Palin, she was even worse than Hillary because *gasp* she was pro-life!
I believe Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, if they were alive today, would say this: Our oppression is unique. Our needs are unique. It is enough to fight for women only. Anthony would say that it is permissible to make the hard decisions to keep ourselves to ourselves, to ally with women who disagree with us on some issues. (I believe she would especially approve of The New Agenda’s stance on reproductive rights.) Stanton would say that it is all right to be a freethinking warrior, to understand the patriarchal nature of society and to fight against it every day of our lives.
It’s right, it’s good and it’s the only thing that will work.