Eighty-eight years ago, women won the fight and earned the right to vote in the United States. A few short weeks ago we recognized Women’s Equality Day with the knowledge that the United States is one of only eight countries that have yet to ratify the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
According to the CEDAW Web site, 185 countries -- more than 90 percent of the United Nations members -- are party to the Convention. “So what?” you say. We can still vote, attend university, play sports and work outside the home. Women are better off than ever right?
Well, maybe yes and maybe no. CEDAW is a universal definition of discrimination against women and negates any claim that no clear definition of sexual discrimination exists. By not recognizing this document, our nation joins the ranks of countries such as Iran that treat women with disdain, disrespect and, frequently, violence.
"The Army has awarded the rank of Four Star General to the first woman ever."
Maybe it’s just us jumping to conclusions, again, but we sense an increase of violence toward women in this country. Maybe it’s not an increase but just more reporting by women who have had enough. After all, there are more agencies and safe house organizations available to women who need to escape dangerous situations. And there are some who feel safe enough to file police reports, as police agencies have increasingly offered sensitivity training to their officers.
Regardless of cause, the headlines are full of violent attacks on women by men, and women who have met atrocious deaths at the hands of husbands and boyfriends who we guess just never saw divorce as a better alternative to life in prison!!
Now coming off an election in which we see victory and reason to cheer on many levels with the election of a man who will no doubt be more inclusive of women than previous administrations -- Yippeeee!! Obama won!!! (Okay, now that we have that out of our system) -- we don’t want to sound all gloom and doom.
"We rank 69th in the world in percentage of women holding national political positions."
Rumor has it, for instance, that Hillary Clinton may be the next secretary of state, and the Army has awarded the rank of Four Star General to the first woman ever. All progress we gladly recognize.
However, worldwide (yes, we must think globally as we are all sisters and brothers on this planet) there are 100 percent more men than women in political parties. And while there are increasing numbers of women in national assemblies -- an average of 18.4 percent -- that is still a meager increase of 8 percent over the past 35 years.
And it should come as no surprise that there is a direct ratio between the number of women in higher legislative positions and attention paid to women’s issues. Hence, the opposite is true -- with more men in power seats, their issues take front and center.
How does the United States rank in comparison with other nations you ask? We rank 69th in the world in percentage of women holding national political positions. Women make up 16 percent of Congress, and there are nine women governors. At the current rate of electing women to higher office, it will take 100 years to achieve parity with men.
"There are implications for the LGBTQI community that won some and lost much across the country."
Some of you may be groaning by now and reflecting upon the most recent presidential campaign in which there were two women in serious contention for the highest ranked, most politically powerful offices in our country. We bet you are thinking here again that’s progress, isn’t it?
Yup, it is. And we were most pleased with that fact, even if we weren’t happy with the persistent devaluation of both of the women. Clinton couldn’t win with the media regardless of what she did. She was either too emotional and sensitive or too coarse and not “feminine” enough.
Too many times we felt more attention was paid to her “thick ankles” than to her astute grasp of the political process and the issues. Historically, women have been judged unfit to govern because they are too emotional or their emotions roller coaster up and down, while men have traditionally been depicted as reasonable and rational regardless of their true temperaments.
Sarah Palin was tossed to the proverbial wolves as a vacuous soccer mom or depicted as “just one of the boys” with her enthusiasm for winter sports and hunting (She received more flak for her love of hunting than did Cheney for shooting a fellow hunter.).
Comparing these two women is of course unfair because they have little in common politically, educationally or socially. However, both came under scrutiny for their wardrobes, hair styles and domestic skills more often than for their policies and leadership abilities. We heard none of that about the male candidates.
It seemed to be enough to state that McCain was a good soldier and is a great family man and that Obama is also a great husband and father. We don’t doubt those facts, but those aren’t the issues that voters reflect upon significantly when voting for a man. Women face a Catch-22 situation of emotional vulnerability versus the cold and aloof perception of firm capability that is not in equal measure for male counterparts.
Well, anyway, the election is finally over, and most of our readers are probably just as relieved as we are.
"On the negative side, of course, were the queer-marriage bans passed in three states, most significantly California’s Proposition 8."
However, there are some things to be learned from this longest and most historical, modern election campaign, and there are implications for the LGBTQI community that won some and lost much across the country.
On the plus side, there were more out lesbian/gay candidates running for office and more actually elected than ever before (167 elected and/or re-elected).
On the negative side, of course, were the queer-marriage bans passed in three states, most significantly California’s Proposition 8, which now threatens to overturn the California Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage.
With mega funding from Mormons, Catholics and evangelicals, the California queer community was unprepared for such a loss following so closely on the heels of 18,000 same-sex marriages. Many lawsuits and court actions are sure to follow, in conjunction with demonstrations and acts of political activism.
“Right on!!!” we say. It’s time to stand up, shout out and refuse to tolerate discrimination any longer.
Oh yeah, what does this have to do with discrimination against women? It’s simple.
"On the plus side, there were more out lesbian/gay candidates running for office and more actually elected than ever before (167 elected and/or re-elected)."
Our political process represents the hetero-normative pattern of the heterosexual family. The imperative of femininity is associated with the emotional and nurturing woman/mother who couldn’t possibly be stable enough to serve in the political arena (sort of similar to the mother/virgin conflict now isn’t it?!). And the men are the stalwart, steady leaders who make decisions and control our direction.
What will happen to that structure if same sex-folks can marry? Who will lead and who will follow? And what about the children? How will they ever learn to self identify if they grow up in a system that no longer mandates the binary gender pattern and permits the free flow of gender identity and gender roles sans stereotyping?
We think that would be a definite improvement for everyone and a defining moment for our culture, but we also know that social change comes slowly. We must continue to fight for women’s rights and demand respect based upon skill and accomplishment rather than sexuality.
We continue challenging the norm with full awareness of potential threats of violence. And yet we know that women and lesbians are powerful (the increase in women voters was a major factor in Obama’s win in Pennsylvania) and must not be deterred from sharing an equal place in the world arena.
We deserve nothing less.
Helen Harrell and Carol Fischer can be reached at and .