The first time I saw the movie “Iron Jawed Angels” was in my ninth grade American history class. The movie follows the story of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns as they fight for women’s right to vote during the 1910’s, going toe to toe with Woodrow Wilson during wartime. I remember gazing at the screen in awe of the sheer violence that the suffragettes endured. I shuddered as they were beaten by onlookers during protests and my stomach churned as I watched them be force fed in prison. I felt anger sucker punch me. Looking back now, I think it may have been my first conscious feelings of feminist power rising within me.
The second time I saw it was as part of my Women’s History class in 12th grade.
SIDE NOTE: Before I proceed, I’d like to thank my high school, Madison West, for taking the opportunity to encourage young people to further their historic education beyond the version written by white men, teaching classes such as Women’s History, Black History, Middle Eastern History… the list goes on. The more I discuss with others the opportunities in education I had, the more I understand them to be rare.
By the time I saw “Iron Jawed Angels” as a part of my Women’s History curriculum, the feminist in me was alive and well – even if she was the naive, minimally educated version. My teacher, Mrs. Bernstein had a bumper sticker on her desk that stated: “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people too.” I stared at that bumper sticker every day. That was my first example of feminism and it has stuck with me through this moment. So, as I watched Iron Jawed Angels for the second time, that bumper sticker in my peripherals, in the midst of the buzz of the newly elected Obama administration, I was feeling empowered. The candidate I wanted won. In fact, unmarried women voted for Obama over McCain 70 to 29 percent. And it was all thanks to these women. These fearless warriors who sacrificed everything, including some of their lives, for women to be able to vote.
It’s this movie that enabled me to tell an entitled boy in college straight to his face that men didn’t give women our rights, we earned them (and I’ll be damned if in 2010 you’re going to take anything from me, especially my history, you ignorant prick).
So here I am, as another election season is upon us, reflecting on the fortitude these women possessed to earn the right to vote (setting a precedent for many more fights for women’s rights since), and I can’t help but feel frustrated as I discuss with my peers. Young women I know, whom I’m proud to call my friends – brilliant, hilarious, and well-educated women, seem unengaged in politics. They might have a candidate they want, or a political party they identify with, but some of them probably won’t vote.
However, there is hope. Looking at the voting statistics for the last several elections, women have begun outvoting men. According to a report by the Center for American Women and Politics, Eagleton Institute of Politics, and Rutgers, a higher proportion of women than men ages 18 – 64 voted in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012. In 2012, Gallup measured the largest gender gap in voting history with a 20 point difference between President Obama and Mitt Romney.
This fills me with pride. I hope this election year shows a continuation of this trend, although, I would appreciate even more if there were higher voter turnouts overall for all genders.
I want the women who forged the path for us to be honored. I want there to be equal representation within our representatives so that old white men don’t continue to be the main political decision makers. Women may be out-voting men but we certainly are not out-representing them in political positions. In fact, we are barely sitting at the political decision making table. Take a look at the statistics of US politicians: according to CAWP, in 2016 women only fill 104 of the 535 positions in Congress and only 77 of 312 Statewide Executive positions. Steven Hill, in his article ‘ Why Does the US Still Have So Few Women in Office?’ states America now ranks ninety-eighth in the world for percentage of women in its national legislature (just behind Kenya and Indonesia). The article continues with the fact from Cynthia Terrell that women won’t achieve fair representation for nearly 500 years if we continue to achieve positions at the same rate.
Clearly, I didn’t go into politics myself. I don’t expect all women to constantly read political blogs on their lunchtime or watch every single primary debate. I do expect women to put in a bit of effort to understand the basics of the issues, figure out which candidate aligns with their morals and opinions best (there are so many surveys and sites that allow one to do this in a matter of minutes like: https://www.isidewith.com/political-quiz) and take a couple hours on election days to cast their ballots.
This is what our democracy is based on and to think that your voice doesn’t matter is taking part in silencing the voices that came before.
Author’s note* I am proud to say that I will be voting for Bernie Sanders in the primary. I would like to make it clear to my fellow democrats that if Sanders does not win the Democratic vote and Hillary Clinton is our candidate, I will stand behind her.