This year’s Women’s Equality Day, August 26, officially marks 100 years since women earned the right to vote. Let that sink in for a minute: one hundred years; ten decades; one century.
Let me give you another number for comparison — white men who were 21 years old and owned land could vote 144 years before that, starting in 1774.
And make no mistake in that wording — “earned” is a very specific word choice to describe the journey to women’s suffrage. Supporters lobbied, marched, lectured, wrote, went on hunger strikes, and petitioned to get the 19th amendment added to the Constitution. And it took a whopping 42 years from the time it was first introduced to Congress to the moment it became law. That’s almost 80 percent of the average person’s life span in the 1920s!
This wasn’t just the fight of a generation of women. This was a battle grandmothers passed on to their daughters and their daughters’ daughters. This was the novel idea that just because women are different in body, they should not differ in rights.
Until this anniversary, I had not appreciated the magnitude of this struggle, even as I hobbled out of bed at 5:30 a.m. to get a spot in line at the polling place before work. I hadn’t thought about the supporters who were jailed and physically abused while fighting for what seems like a frustratingly obvious right to equal representation. I hadn’t reflected upon the millions of women who have been able to express their wills on a ballot because their voice is now considered worthy, 100 years later.
I’ve had many discussions about the importance of voting and the reasoning I encounter usually falls into one of the following buckets:
It’s my civic duty to exercise my right to vote.
I want to make a difference, and every vote counts.
I’m morally obligated to put forward my best effort to keep XYZ in/out of office.
If I don’t exercise my vote, what’s the point of having a democracy?
As women, we can also add onto these arguments a fuller appreciation for the hell our female ancestors went through, and doesn’t that give our voting rights so much more weight?
We’re not in the middle of that fight right now because they (literally) took the blow for us. We didn’t have to wait almost a lifetime to be recognized as being just as sound-of-mind as our male counterparts to have our voices heard in government. Yes, we still face our own injustices today — like the gender pay gap — but this foundational fight has already been won. And in 2020, the year of the most headaches, I’m especially grateful for that.
Just because we’ve earned the right to vote doesn’t mean that we’re absolved from effort in making our voices heard. Some stakeholders and policy-makers are intent on suppressing our votes and making this hard-won right more difficult to exercise. So don’t let the sacrifices made by our grandmothers go to waste — get out there and vote.
I’m not the first and certainly won’t be the last to tell you about the importance of voting. And if you’re on social media at all, you’ve likely seen the chart below of how close the last general election ended up being — your vote does matter. Let us women of voting age hold high the torch that our mothers lit and that our daughters will carry. We are worthy — and we always have been.