T his question was originally drafted to produce an examination of women’s issues in American politics. Consequently, I read it as a question about women in American life. I also see it raising issues that women have moved beyond in most ways. Women are naturally equal to men. Now, all that is left is for women to recognize that fact and seize power and influence. Not because some men choose to give us a sort of equality of outcome or ability to participate, but because we have the ability to direct our lives as we freely choose.
Directing our lives as we freely choose was, and is, not easy. It requires our rights be recognized in the law, and that each of us empower ourselves through courage and persistence.
Most of our rights are now recognized by the law. For example, the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1868, granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and guaranteed all of those citizens “equal protection of the laws.”
The Equal Protection Clause has been the basis for much of the Supreme Court litigation and has ended with an expanded recognition of women’s equality to men.
Federal statutes prohibit employment discrimination based on sex, and they prohibit sex-based wage discrimination for both men and women who perform substantially equal work in the same establishment.
There are monetary damages available in cases of intentional employment discrimination. More work is needed to close the wage-gap between women and men, probably through empowered women demanding equal pay and through litigation and the collection of monetary damages.
Reproductive rights are also recognized by current law. They allow us to make conscious decisions about if and when to have children, which is probably the single-most influential decision each of us makes in directing our lives.
The right for women to vote in America allows us to participate in politics, and thus in our government. The right to vote for women was born as part of the early fight for equal rights and the idea that women are not inferior to men. That fight continues as we see more and more women move into politics, where many people of both sexes still seem surprised to see them win. I thought it was overdue.
Unfortunately, the opportunity to freely choose how to direct our lives is not equal among women. We do not begin life on an equal playing field. For example, some women are born into poverty, some are born to addicted parents or with physical disabilities, and others may be indoctrinated into religions that demean women. However, such issues can be overcome to live rich lives while living in or with the situation, or by changing it.
For most women, the first step to freely choosing how to direct their lives involves getting a school education through courage and persistence. America’s system is flawed and needs improvement, but still, almost all children have the opportunity for 12 years of education. For those girls who do not graduate from high school, they must empower themselves in some other way, and then direct their lives as they choose.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been talked about recently. She led some of the United States Supreme Court litigation that recognized the equality of women. And today she is a Justice of that Court.
For me and many others, she is a rock star of women’s rights and equality. She has quoted from the following words of Sarah Grimké (1792-1873, pioneer in the antislavery and women’s rights movements in the United States), and it summarizes my view of this On the Fence Topic: “But I ask no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of our brethren is, that they will take their feet from off our necks, and permit us to stand upright.”