My younger brother used to tell me that the oppression of women was the product of a primitive discovery by man. Knowing that women’s power was more far-reaching, men decided early on to subject her to force, thus avoiding losing control of the world.
The right to vote is perhaps the most recent evidence for my brother’s hypothesis.
This August 18 marked the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gave women the right to vote.
Let us think about it for a second: one hundred years; that is almost a century and a half after the arrival of democracy in the country. In other words, American women arrived at the equality party one hundred and fifty years late.
And after fighting tooth and nail.
If it had not been for the suffragette movement and the thousands of women who were assaulted, imprisoned, force-fed, and even killed, men would not have let us vote.
In the mid-1840s, a small group of women began to organize, sign petitions, and demonstrate in the streets, demanding their right to vote.
In 1848, the idea of a woman having a voice and, literally, a vote in the country’s decisions was considered “too extreme.” Although the Seneca Falls Convention had already demonstrated the commitment of women to seek more tangible representation at the decision-making table, it was not until the National Convention on Women’s Rights in 1950 that suffrage began to be the focus of the movement.
Forty-two years later, and headed by Susan B. Anthony, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) was already a reality. Its presence in the streets was so powerful that it began to worry the men bolted to the discussion tables.
Demonstrations, failed attempts to vote, demands, and the eventual arrest of Anthony only boosted the movement, for when dogs bark, Sancho, it is because we are on the right track.
With the arrival of the new century, everything remained the same. It wasn’t until 1916, when Alice Paul formed the National Women’s Party (NWP), that the idea of a constitutional amendment began to spread by word of mouth. The so-called Silent Sentinels — street activists and daring protesters — were arrested outside the White House in 1917, and after going on a hunger strike, they had to endure forced feeding in prison.
Under the leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt, the NAWSA already had two million members active on the streets, in small committees, and in every place where they could make their voices heard. Until, after a close series of congressional votes, the Nineteenth Amendment was finally passed on August 18, 1920.
But the battle didn’t end there.
As if all this wasn’t enough, the right to vote was a poisonous pill. The 19th amendment only allowed women’s votes to be taken into account if they had the same perspective and voting behavior as men.
Pressure from the church and women’s dependence on their husbands for full autonomy and citizenship in the country made it virtually impossible for their decision to have any effect. Worse, if an American woman was married to someone who was not eligible for naturalization — i.e., a Latino, Asian, or Eastern European man — she also did not have the right to vote.
That was when that first germ of the feminist movement began to embrace other struggles and push for a fair system. With the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, some legislative changes already allowed, in some states, a fair and representative vote. But restrictions followed.
African-American women, women who did not speak English, and poor women were excluded simply because they were unable to pay poll taxes. And if the money remained controlled by the husbands, it all came down to a zero-sum game.
So we can summarize that the just and legitimate right of women to vote is only about 70 years old.
A powerful force for change
The women’s vote’s impact began to be felt in the United States starting in the 1980s when the proportion of women and men voting began to balance out in the polls.
In recent decades, women have even begun to participate more in the vote, paying a kind of tribute to the thousands of women who sacrificed for our rights.
Similarly, since 1981, women have run more for political office and have become a powerful force in the campaign seasons.
According to the Pew Research Center, a majority of Americans (59%) believe that the Democratic Party is more representative of the feminist cause and has contributed more to gender equality in the country.
Also, about three in ten (29%) say that President Donald Trump has done at least a fair amount to advance women’s rights, while 69% say that Trump has done little or nothing at all.
No surprise there.
However, the political revolution brought about by the so-called Blue Wave in the 2018 mid-term elections, the arrival of Nancy Pelosi to the leadership of the House of Representatives, and the symbolic force of political phenomena such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortéz and her Squad, have put women at the center of the political stage.
Could 2020 be the year of the woman voter?
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country, Susan Milligan, senior policy writer for U.S. News, predicted that women could cost Donald Trump re-election this November.
According to the Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics, the 2016 campaign had the largest gender gap in the 36-year history of exit polls on the issue, with men voting for Trump 11 percentage points more than women.
In 2018, when Democrats shifted control of the House of Representatives and won many state legislative seats, women’s participation was 3.2% higher than men’s.
In 2019, a Fox poll showed that Trump — who won 41% of the female vote compared to Clinton’s 54% in 2016 — would lose female voters by larger margins to Biden (who would win 51% of female voters compared to Trump’s 36%).
Fast forward six months to the worst health crisis the country has seen in nearly a century, and with Kamala Harris running as Biden’s VP candidate, things could be even more difficult for the president to win the women’s vote.
And that’s because the strongest political movement in the country is the vote of women of color.
“Women of color are the strongest supporters of Democrats in this country. The biggest mistake of 2016 was not speaking to, or organizing that base, on the ground,” Aimee Allison, founder of the group She the People, told Milligan.
It seems that this year, between a powerful Biden-Harris ballot, and communities of color tired of violence and disparity, Trump could be defeated by his true archenemy: a mass of women determined to take control.