July 4, 2011 / Leadership, Opportunity, Women's History

Independence Day for Women


The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.

Image: Lou Rogers' Tearing off the bonds

Image: Lou Rogers' Tearing off the bonds

Fourth of July is Independence Day for America. It marks the day the people of England separated from British rule and its tyrannical King in favor of freedom. It was July 4, 1776 that the Declaration of Independence was signed by the founders of America as they made their new democratic home in what we now call the United States of America. And it was in this new land, this new free home, wherein our founding fathers established such laws that call for the freedom of all men.

But as Elizabeth Cady Stanton pointed out in her Declaration of Sentiments, a revised version of the Declaration of Independence introduced at the Women’s Convention in Seneca Falls in 1848, the most famous line that reads, “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” did not include women. Using the all-male-drafted, all-male-signed historical declaration we have come to know as the document that first introduced us to the fact that we are all born with inherent rights to freedom and happiness as a model, Stanton bravely asserted that women were not included in possessing these rights.

In 1848, women were possessions of either their fathers or their husbands. They were not allowed to hold jobs, possess lands or property, be independent of masculine rule. Everything that was theirs belonged to the men who ruled them through name or marriage, including their bodies and their children. They could not vote, go to school, get a divorce, or accuse men of rape of violence. They had no voice or power — not in their church, their state, or their personal lives.

The Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions copied major lines from the Declaration of Independence to show how the inherent laws of “men” established in 1776 did not apply to women in 1848, 72 years later.

Thanks to the constant revolt of early suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul, and Susan B. Anthony (to name only a few), it wasn’t until another 72 years that all women were given the right to vote in major elections (i.e. Presidency and Congress) in 1920 via the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

Despite this ongoing struggle, women are still not considered equal to men. And what is meant by equal, is that women still get paid 77 cents to a man’s dollar for the same kind of work; we still have not had a woman President; women continue to make the familial sacrifices they used to make historically; women are still considered what Simone de Beauvoir termed the “other”  in The Second Sex back in 1949,  — whose needs come second to the needs of men — and their children; women are portrayed as either perfect mothers or sultry vixens by the advertising and various establishments of the media; women are the predominant victims of sexual assaults, where every 2 minutes a woman is raped, and while she is put on trial for crimes committed against her, 15 out of 16 rapists will never spend a day in jail for their crimes against women.

But most profoundly, the Equal Rights Amendment, first introduced in 1923 to establish equal rights between men and women, has still not become part of the U.S. Congress.  Only 35 out of 38 states have ratified the ERA, and when the remaining states votes for it, the Equal Rights Amendment will become the 28th Amendment of the Constitution. This is perhaps the reason women are still considered second-class citizens even though they comprise of 52% of the population and they keep the economy going since they are the foremost consumers in our society. According to Claire Behar, featured in Stephanie Holland’s SheConomy, women “control two thirds of consumer wealth in the United States and [are] the beneficiaries of the largest transference of wealth in our country’s history.”

But the winds are changing — and it is this woman’s hope that in the next major election, men and women young and old will place power in the hands of women for the first time in history. It is the only way women will receive the recognition they deserve for fighting so valiantly for the rights they are endowed — rights that have been denied them simply for being female.