Women’s equality, a work in progress

Linn County equality coalition adding five to list of Women of the Year

Women across the nation will come together this month. They’ll recognize each other, applaud successes and resolve — as so many demonstration signs have more bluntly stated — to continue to fight for equality.

Such celebration is an annual event in Linn County and other parts of Iowa, held each Aug. 26 in connection with Women’s Equality Day. That was the day 97 years ago when the 19th Amendment was certified, the culmination of an 80-year battle for women’s suffrage.

The fight for the vote was marked, as I’m prone to highlight each year, with derision of the women seeking equality. Editorial boards from coast to coast issued dire warnings of chaos if women were welcomed into the political sphere. Women were publicly labeled as inferior, lazy, oversexed, masculine, childlike and unworthy of consideration.

Frankly, not too much has changed.

When women gathered a year ago, the nation’s mood was different. A major political party had nominated its first female presidential candidate, and polling pointed to victory. Although backlash to the step forward had already begun, obvious reasons remained to celebrate.

In contrast, 2017 has been a Charles Dickens’ year — “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times … it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair …”

To be sure, election defeat was a blow but not an insurmountable one. The more unfathomable outcome was that open objectification and derision of women appeared to win.

In response, women did what women have done for more than 100 years. They took to the streets in droves, standing side-by-side and refusing to step aside. Many voices, addressing many issues, were able to speak with one voice that said, “Women’s rights are human rights.”

Postcards, phone calls, letters and direct communication followed.

Each day, women in this community are speaking out, letting elected officials know their views on issues large and small. They are marking up bills, planning events, giving speeches and positioning themselves as role models. Women once content to ignore politics have become activists, using everything at their disposal to push for equal treatment and opportunities.

It has been a glorious revival, so long as we don’t dwell on its “grab ‘em by the house cat” origins.

Rooted in a political landscape marred by daily crassness and sexual misconduct still at our Statehouse, the act of celebrating a Women’s Equality Day that’s yet to fulfill its promise may seem antiquated. And, yes, it surely is. Small acts in local communities, undertaken by people of good faith, have always been the catalyst of change.

Younger members of this community must have opportunities to see men and women standing for equality in nonpartisan ways. Falsehoods and vulgarities must be challenged, called out and held up as detriments to civil society and democracy.

Those who have long fought these battles need to see idle spectators become active participants. We all need assurances that the little things we do each day, the support and encouragement we provide to one another, is valued, recognized and celebrated.

In that spirit, the Women’s Equality Coalition of Linn County will add five more women to its long list of Women of the Year. I’ll introduce them in more detail in a later column, but know these are women who work each day for the betterment of our community — women who have harnessed their passion and launched it toward twin goals of equity and opportunity.

They haven’t wasted time lamenting a lack of equality, but have purposefully thrust their hands forward to help balance the scales.

We celebrate them and their work in this community. We celebrate not because we’ve reached a goal, but because we continue to push toward it.

Come and be inspired. Take in the room to see that you are not, and never have been, battling alone. Stand in acknowledgment of suffragettes past, nod to peers and offer a hand to the future.

Best or worst of times, pristine or pockmarked political landscape, we’ve still got promises to keep.

2017 Women's Equality Day Flyer for Linn County, Iowa.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on August 6, 2017.