Learn to say 'No'
Getting everyone — not just women — involved with celebrating Women’s Equality Day
By Ellen Snortland 08/05/2010
“A man of quality is not threatened by a woman for equality.”
That’s a familiar bumper sticker slogan for some of us. Men are crucial to any social movement, especially the gender equality revolution. That’s kind of a no-brainer, right? I especially want men to stand with us for the 90th anniversary of women’s right to vote on Aug. 26.
As some of my readers know, I’ve been a goodwill ambassador for the National Women’s History Project (nwhp.org) for a few years now. I beat the drum at the beginning of every August to encourage all people — not only women — to mark Aug. 26 in some way. Ninety years ago, on Aug. 26, 1920, women finally won the vote after an excruciating yet nonviolent campaign to gain it. As I see it, men have a lot to learn from women; celebrating the day we got the vote without shooting anyone is a pretty good start!
Really, the women’s vote is a perfect example of a Catch-22. How do you win the right to vote without having the vote itself? You can’t vote for having the vote if you aren’t allowed to vote! Thus, women had to enlist the support of the men in their lives who could vote. It was truly a talking revolution, with some nice examples of civil and domestic disobedience thrown in for good measure: guilt-mongering, hunger strikes, picketing the White House. All were examples that Gandhi observed and used to further his theories about nonviolent protests. As a young lawyer in South Africa, he saw American women in nonviolent action before he ever tried out any of his ideas in India.
The first recorded public declaration for women’s right to vote happened at Seneca Falls, N.Y., on July 19, 1848, and was considered as radical as the Declaration of Independence. After all, men at the time had complete legal domination over women. In fact, women were considered to be legally “dead” upon marriage.
I understand that not everyone is a history geek, but I want you to fathom the courage it took for the women to stand up and read a document that declared their full humanity as citizens and their mission to get themselves the vote.
Here’s an excerpt from the Declaration of Sentiments read in Seneca Falls: “In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to affect our object. We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the state and national legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf … Resolved. That the speedy success of our cause depends upon the zealous and untiring efforts of both men and women, for the overthrow of the monopoly of the pulpit, and for the securing to woman an equal participation with men in the various trades, professions and commerce.” (For the full text of the Declaration of Sentiments, visit http://ecssba.rutgers.edu/docs/seneca.html)
The resolution was adopted by a majority of the people in attendance, including the men, who were generous enough to relinquish the privilege they had as males so they could include their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters in the democratic process.
Since you’re reading this early in August, I’ve now given you enough info to make an event of your own on Aug. 26 or to attend events that are being created by others. There are too many to list here.
Two of my favorite nonprofits, IMPACT Personal Safety (impactpersonalsafety.com) and Fifty-Fifty Leadership (fiftyfifty.us), led by Fifty-Fifty Chair Pauline Field, will be hosting a 90th anniversary commemorative event at the Altadena Public Library. We’ll tie in the “think globally, act locally” idea of empowering women, give away free copies of Ms. Magazine, schmooze a bit, and we’ll stand up and yell “NO!” since we’ll also be giving a mini-workshop on verbal resistance and self-defense.
Think about it: The birth of any social justice movement must start with the idea of “No!” No! I will not be a second-class citizen. No! I will not be abused. No! I will not allow my child to be hurt. Many of us need to work out our “No” muscles before we can be flexible enough to be able to also say “Yes!” and mean it.
If you can’t come to our event, do something yourself! Create something with your kids, or on the other end of the spectrum, lift a glass and toast the women who had very large clanging ovaries and dared to change the world one citizen at a time, shoulder to shoulder with the men in their lives who were not threatened by equality.
The 90th Anniversary of Women’s Right to Vote! The Power of Peaceful Resistance and Women’s “NO!” is at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 26 at the Altadena Public Library, 600 E. Mariposa St., Altadena. Admission: $10. Visit Brown Paper Tickets to buy tickets or visit http://tinyurl.com/90thAnniversary.
Ellen Snortland teaches writing in Altadena. Contact her at snortland.com.