March is Women’s History Month—Take Pride
By Adrienne E. Katz Katz
Every woman today who has in her own name a job, a bank account, a credit card, a lease, a license, a car, a mortgage, a diploma or a pension has these because she is standing on the shoulders of millions of women who fought for those privileges.
We're celebrating Women's History Month throughout March, commemorating the achievements of women since the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote in 1920. The 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment will be commemorated nationally. The League of Women Voters of Orange County has published a book, “Warriors for Democracy,” recounting the 80 years of women’s accomplishments in Orange County, FL. Organizations like National Organization of Women and the American Association of University Women have continued the fight for equality.
This amendment had no impact on economic equality. It took the efforts of President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon and Barack Obama to support legislation that made progress toward women achieving equal rights. The legislation prohibited discrimination, on the basis of gender, in institutions receiving federal funds and required equal pay for equal work.
For the first time in history, more than half of students in law, medical, veterinary and graduate schools are women. Birth control (Roe v. Wade in the 1960s) made it possible for them to use their brains and sensibly plan their families.
Those who came before us — since the 1800s, our foremothers marched, spoke out to hostile crowds and hearings, lobbied and suffered physical and verbal abuse. They had their sanity questioned, were jailed, starved and force-fed while manacled. They sacrificed their comfortable and secure lives so that we might be closer to equality for all. Some never lived to see their goal achieved…but passed the torch to younger women to continue their efforts.
Since the 1960s, several women stand out in the forefront of the legislative battles: U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug proposed that Women's Equality Day be celebrated nationally. Rep. Patsy Mink wrote the legislation for Title IX. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as a law professor, prepared the cases for the Supreme Court to apply Title IX. Gloria Steinem, Rep. Shirley Chisholm and Betty Frieden all contributed to educating the voters to the importance of women’s equality.
Recognizing the achievements of women in all facets of life – science, community, government, literature, art, sports, medicine – has a huge impact on the development of self-respect and new opportunities for girls and young women.
Teaching about accomplishments of women in our own families and those from other backgrounds leads to higher self-esteem among girls and greater respect among boys and men. The results can be remarkable, from greater success by girls in school to less violence against women, and more stable and cooperative communities. Women have received remarkably little recognition for their inventions and discoveries that affect our everyday lives: the recent movie “Hidden Figures” is only one example. Hedy Lamar, a beautiful actress in the 1940s, patented the technology used in cell phones! Ever heard of the APGAR score for evaluating newborn babies? Dr. Virginia Apgar developed that! Dr. Patricia Bath, a Black Ophthalmologist, patented a surgical procedure for cataracts.
We've witnessed a number of remarkable milestones for women in our country. For the first time, a female was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives — Nancy Pelosi in 2007 and again in 2019. And women were major contenders in presidential elections — Hillary Clinton for president and Sarah Palin for vice president in 2008. A record number of women ran for and won political positions at all levels of government. We have three women on the U.S. Supreme Court — Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Rosa Sotomayer and Elena Kagen.
Equality for all, however, will not come in a fancy box with a neatly tied bow. Rather, the process toward equality continues to be messy and protracted. Similar to riding a bicycle, unless forward progress toward equality is continued, the bicycle will fall over.
Since the Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963, the wage gap has narrowed by less than a half-cent per year. Where is the dedication to maintain the momentum that brought us to where we are now?
Many women today are so caught up in their busy lives that they think they don't have time to do anything more than their jobs and family obligations. They think that becoming involved in the League of Women Voters, in politics and government, supporting candidates who stand for equal rights — even just voting or participating in civic-action efforts — are not priorities. Well, they need to think again. They wouldn't have what they take great pride in if others hadn't made such activities a priority.
We have not yet achieved the goal of equality for all. But if /when we do, we will have to continue to teach our daughters and all students that rights are not offered, but are hard won and can be withdrawn. Thomas Jefferson said, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." This has never been more appropriate.
Earning the right to vote obviously does not mark the end of our journey. It is only with the continued work of citizens and leaders of all backgrounds that women can achieve equality in the workplace and political power to implement fair legislative policy that benefits the most citizens. So, let us celebrate what we have accomplished, honor those who have worked for our betterment and keep moving forward until we gain equality for all.
Adrienne E. Katz Katz