Imagine the thrill and the deep sense of satisfaction among women on August 26, 1920 when Congress ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, giving women the legal right to vote and thus extending voting rights guaranteed to all "men" in the 15th Amendment.
By way of perspective, my maternal grandmother was 15 years old; my paternal grandmother was 30 years old; and my mother was 1-year old. My maternal grandmother, no doubt, danced in the streets or something equally exhilarating, since she was a feminist in every way that counted. She was my introduction to feminism and created a powerful image for me of what was possible: an independent woman who did what made her happy rather than what made her husband happy; a woman who frequently spoke truth to power, in spite of her 5-foot, 4-inch frame, and for whom nothing seemed impossible.
If it's possible to have feminist "genes" or to inherit them, I'm living proof and I'm damned proud of my feminism. I frequently see the world through this lens and I'm proud of this, too. As a result, I've done my part over the years to move women's rights forward: I was one of only two Tool Designers hired by Boeing in the mid-70s and I'd like to think that I had some bearing on Boeing's hiring of more women in such non-traditional jobs; my agitation (along with a handful of other women) led to the establishment of an internal study on pay and promotion disparity between men and women and eventually to a "pay equity" clause in our union contract.
And when I was subjected to sexual harassment by an engineer - including verbal threats and action against my credit and my life -- I took it to the highest levels of the company in order to effect a change. When I thought the harassment was against only me, other women came forward. What a sight to see: 10 women joining forces, developing a written strategy and marching into the manager's office (with a petition - signed by many male colleagues, too) to demand that this man - a highly-paid, highly-experienced Boeing engineer - be disciplined and moved to another location. We learned several months later that the employee was terminated for engaging in - you guessed it - sexual harassment at another Boeing location!
Women have made gains, no question. From voting equality to Equal Pay laws, from family leave to reproductive rights, our lives have been changed for the better because of the agitation and the voices of feminists throughout our history. And we have made society a better, more egalitarian one because of this.
It's clear, though, that we have long roads to travel to achieve full equality.
At the top of the list is nagging pay inequity: women still receive only 77.8 percent of the pay earned by men.
And women and children are more and more the faces of poverty, according to a report by the Institute for Women's Policy Research:
Just as in the year prior, women were more likely to be poor than men, with 13.8 percent of women and 11.1 percent of men living in poverty. Among women, large gaps also exist. About one quarter of African American and Hispanic women lived below the poverty line in 2007 (26.5 percent and 23.6 percent, respectively), compared with 10.7 percent of Asian American women and 9.2 percent of white, non-Hispanic women.
In spite of our hard-earned right to vote, women haven't made significant gains at the political level, either. As Marie Wilson of the White House Project notes:
But let's not deceive ourselves; we've got a long way to go. The U.S. still has only nine woman governors. Some 88 percent of our state legislators are male. And with 16 percent women in Congress, our nation ranks 71st in the world in women's political representation.
I want to end on a positive by noting another historic first for women: Sen. Hillary Clinton's groundbreaking, breathtaking run for President of the United States. She didn't make it. But as she has said now so many times: "There are 18 million cracks in that highest and hardest glass ceiling."
And as she articulated so clearly and so vividly in her speech tonight at the convention, quoting Harriet Tubman: "If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If they're shouting after you, keep going. Don't ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going."
And so we will.