In honor of the 97th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United Constitution:
Today, some argue, “there is no need for a women’s right’s movement!” They boldly proclaim, “Sure, it used to have a purpose back when women couldn’t vote and had little rights. Now, equality has been achieved for everyone.”
Is this position a “politically incorrect” truth that contemporary feminists just refuse to accept? Or is it a view that blindly fails to understand the conditions that necessitate a modern women’s movement?
To solve this riddle, let us evaluate the origins, key components of the movement, and current conditions to decide if a women’s movement is still needed.
The 1830s was a turbulent period in American history with widespread disagreement over the institution of slavery. Many brave men and women would come together to support the end of institutional bondage. Along the journey, the women’s right’s movement would naturally evolve from the abolitionist campaign.
As women within the abolitionists’ groups began to express equality for ALL, they met resistance–even from many men abolitionists.
The first significant conflict between women’s rights advocates and the abolitionists would occur at the 1840 American Anti-Slavery Convention. The conflict led to the formation of a progressive sect known as the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. This radical group would face a pivotal moment during the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention held in London, England. During the convention, the women delegates were not allowed input and denied admission to join the male delegation. Disrespected but not broken, two delegates (Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton) pledged to, “speak out for oppressed women” (The American Journey, 335). Eight long years would pass before the next revolutionary milestone arrived.
From 1840-1848, the women’s rights conversation would grow louder as subtle changes would arise among progressive populations. The slow change would continue if not for a bold idea. The legend begins with Elizabeth Cady Stanton being invited to tea with friends. During a friendly conversation, Mrs. Stanton complained about a lack of women’s rights, pointing to “The Declaration of Independence” as proof that all are equal. This conversation would become a reality as Mrs. Mott, and Mrs. Stanton would get their chance to “speak out for oppressed women” (The American Journey, 335).
The women organized a convention to be held in a small New York town, Seneca Falls. The Seneca Falls Convention would be the first “official” United States women’s rights convention. On 19 July 1848, “The Declaration of Sentiments” written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton would be unveiled to the conventioneers. Mrs. Stanton streamlined her views using “The Declaration of Independence” as her guide. This format of similarity would compare tyranny of the man dominant American society to that of King George III.
Just like the “Founding Fathers” before them, “The Declaration of Sentiments” claimed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal” (Stanton).
“The Declaration of Sentiments” laid out grievances of women, in such areas as politics, marriage, education, religion, employment, and morality. On 20 July 1848, 100 conventioneers signed the declaration. The convention and declaration gained much attention. Most of the attention was negative, but it would fuel the public debate. Women would have to wait until 1920 before being granted the right to vote. But almost 100 years later, has true equality been reached?
To answer this question, would require turning to a scientific poll (4,602 adult participants) from a 2016 Pew study that determined “over half of Americans (53%) say there are ‘still significant obstacles…for women to get ahead than men,’ while…fewer (45%) say ‘the obstacles…are now largely gone…[and] finds significant differences on this question by gender’” (Fingerhut). How large is this gender gap?
The study found 63% of women, but only 41% of men believe that women still face obstacles due to their gender. Furthermore, an even wider division is evident within the American two-party system. Only 48% of Republican women and even fewer Republican men (23%) believe women face significant hindrances to success. The survey shows the Democratic Party split with 75% of women compared to 60% of men believe women still face impediments.
What is to learn from the different opinions along gender and political affiliation?
The most important gain is understanding personal perspective. How we see the world relies upon our preconceived perceptions. From the first women’s convention in Seneca Falls until today, women have come a long way toward achieving equality. There is still much work left to do. The main enemy that continues to face women in their struggle for justice is fighting systemic discrimination that continues in America’s male dominant society.
“The Declaration of Sentiments” was a historical and important part of American history. In fact, one could reason that the “Founding Mothers” of the women’s rights movement would be proud of the progress that women have made. In fact, they likely would have been ecstatic, on 07 June 2016, as Hillary Clinton stated the Seneca Falls Convention and “The Declaration of Sentiments” as being instrumental to her becoming the first woman Presidential candidate (of a major party).
On 09 November 2016, the “Founding Mothers” would have been disappointed to see a particular man selected over a qualified woman as the President of the United States. However, they would grow even more motivated as equality has not yet been reached. In fact, the balance that women have gained may be currently under attack.
On the 19th Amendment’s 97th Anniversary, the women’s rights movement remains just as important today as ever.
Fingerhut, Hannah. “In Both Parties, Men and Women Differ over Whether Women Still Face Obstacles to Progress.” Pew Research Fact Tank News in the Numbers 16 Aug.2016. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/08/16/in-both-parties-men-and-women-differ-over-whether-women-still-face-obstacles-to-progress/ Goldfeld, David, Abbott, Carl, Anderson, Virginia D.,
Goldfeld, David, Abbott, Carl, Anderson, Virginia D., Argensinger, Jo Ann E., Argensinger, Peter H, Barney, William L. The American Journey a History of the United States. Seventh. n.d. Book. 16 Nov.2016.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. “The Declaration of Sentiments, 1848.” 16 Nov.2016. http://www.nps.gov/wori/learn/historyculture/signers-of-the-declaration-of-sentiments.htm