Aug. 18 marked 100 years since the ratification of the 19th Amendment. And while we have come a long way in the past 100 years, we are still nowhere near true equality.
Just take pay, for example: White women are paid 79 cents for every dollar paid to White men, Black women are paid 62 cents, and Latinas are paid just 54 cents. Even in careers that are heavily female-dominated, like teaching and nursing, women make less than men.
Then there’s our safety: 1 in 3 women will experience some form of sexual violence in her lifetime, and 9 in 10 victims of sexual violence are women. Nearly 80 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police, and it’s estimated that out of every 1,000 instances of sexual assault, 995 perpetrators will walk away. And in the United States, an average of 52 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner each month.
That’s not even getting into disparities in health care access and treatment, the disproportionate impact of poverty and low-wages, or the countless other forms in which inequality manifests in every woman’s life, every single day.
In fighting for women’s right to vote, Susan B. Anthony and her fellow suffragists were fighting for our ability to elect lawmakers who could help protect us from these injustices and empower us to make decisions that would better our lives. Yet on this anniversary, instead of acknowledging or addressing any of these issues, or showing even an ounce of empathy for the struggles we still face, President Trump made a big show of posthumously pardoning Anthony for a “crime” she very willfully committed.
On Election Day 1872, nearly 50 years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment, Anthony walked into a polling site in Rochester, N.Y., and cast her ballot. A federal marshal later showed up at her door to arrest her for doing so.
Trump’s pardon is infuriating, not just because it totally glosses over the very real inequities still facing women, but because the pardon itself goes what Anthony would have wanted.
Before I continue, it’s important to acknowledge that Anthony, like many suffragist leaders, prioritized the right to vote for White women at the expense of people of color, abandoning them in their pursuit. Part of me wonders if Trump is particularly attracted to that part of her legacy. As we reflect on the last 100 years and how Black women, Indigenous women and other women of color are still impacted by the inequities they faced when the 19th Amendment was passed, the story of Anthony’s arrest and conviction is still important to tell in light of Trump’s performance in her name.
A longer version of this is in my first book. “She Will Rise,” which I wanted to publish in time for this historic anniversary. As many of us did, I first learned about Anthony when I was in elementary school. Her work would continue to resonate with me throughout my career and my year in Congress because she openly challenged the status quo and put herself on the line for meaningful change. She is exactly the kind of woman Trump hates most.
Anthony used her trial to gain public support for the cause, traveling to 50 nearby towns to make the case that by voting, she and other women who had done so had committed no crime. They had simply exercised what she already believed was the constitutional right of all citizens.
But she wasn’t allowed to say a word in her own defense at the trial. And instead of letting the jurors come to their own decision, the judge actually ordered them to find her guilty (apparently he didn’t think the Sixth Amendment applied to women either).
The only time Anthony was allowed to speak was just before the judge issued her sentence. She contested the verdict, saying that she was tried according to “forms of law all made by men, interpreted by men, administered by men, in favor of men and against women.”
One hundred years later, we have to do better. Women need to be equally involved in making, interpreting and administering the laws that are supposed to benefit or control us. Despite all the progress we’ve made and the historic “year of the woman” in 2018, women still hold less than a quarter of the seats in Congress. In a ranking of countries by the percentage of women in national governing bodies, we are far below the global average.
True equality cannot happen until we have equal representation.
In sentencing Anthony, the judge issued a $100 fine instead of jail time, which she objected to wholeheartedly, encouraging women to “rebel against your man-made, unjust, unconstitutional forms of law that tax, fine, imprison and hang women, while they deny them the right of representation in government.”
Despite seeking pardons for many other women, Anthony never asked for it herself. She wanted to ensure that history recorded the injustice done to her. In the face of her defeat in the courtroom, she promised the judge that she would “continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old revolutionary maxim, that resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”
Consider what Anthony would be thinking on this day if she were still alive. One hundred years after the passage of the 19th Amendment, there stood Trump — a man accused of sexually assaulting more than 20 women and who uses his power to continue and often worsen the institutional sexism we face every day — appropriating her name and her story to make it seem like he cares about women. I can only imagine that Anthony would have been horrified.
Of course, this move is unsurprising for Trump, given his record on women and his disregard for their wishes. But it’s a move that reflects the Republican Party: There are 101 women in the House of Representatives currently: 88 Democrats and just 13 Republicans.
So, what can we do? We can vote. Use your voice at the ballot box to honor the women who fought for this right and to correct the mistakes they made leaving out women of color.
If we do that, maybe, just maybe, we’ll see progress once again.