Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - March 13, 2020

" ... What can I do to make this mountain taller ..."

When husband Art first met my parents, he was struck by how similar they were to his. While many marriages of their time conformed to the idea that a woman's domain was the house and children and a man's world was all the rest, our parents had opted for a true partnership - an arrangement without a junior and senior member.

In their day, our mothers were thought of as strong women, although there is no single word that adequately describes them. Capable, able and independent all apply. All refer to their personalities, rather than their physical nature. Past columns, including Today tennis, tomorrow the world! and Strong women, described them and similar women.

This month always brings thoughts of Mom and Donna because both were March babies. This being Women's History Month prompts me as well.

Donna was born in 1910, a time when women were not allowed to vote in most elections. This year is the centennial of the 19th Amendment to our Constitution, so my mother, who was born in 1924, did have that right.

Here in Manhattan, members of the League of Women Voters, the American Association of University Women and other groups will march tomorrow in the local St. Patrick's Day parade. They will wear white and will don hats and sashes or buttons with "Celebrating 100 Years: Women's Right to Vote."

I hope to join them.

I also attended two programs last week: "Kansas Women Have Done It: Agitating for the Women's Vote" and "The Women's Reason: The Women's Suffrage Movement in Riley County."

But while thinking about Mom and Donna makes me glad to have known these dynamic and engaging women, it also makes me a bit angry. It seems a bit odd that it took the country almost 150 years to decide our gender was worthy of something men had enjoyed from the start - enjoyed just because they were born men.

Last Sunday was International Women's Day, whose theme this year is "an equal world is an enabled world." The core message is that gender equality isn't a women's issue, but an economic one because equality promotes robust growth. Limiting women limits everyone.

According to the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2020, "Western Europe has taken the largest strides toward [income] parity, currently at 76.7 percent, closely followed by North America at 72.9 percent. South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa are at the lower end of the scale, with parity sitting between 60.5 percent and 66.1 percent."

But the report stated that "complete gender equality may not be achieved for another century!"

If it takes that long, not only will I not live to see parity, but neither will our daughters.

Anniversaries, by their very nature, are times of looking back, and we frequently do that with celebrations of the type mentioned above. But happy, "haven�t-we-come-a-long-way" times are also inclined to take attention away from the fact that there is still a long way to go.

The problem has never been that women are not competent. Who would suggest that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi or German Chancellor Angela Merkel were anything but strong leaders of their respective nations? Madeleine Albright and Condoleeza Rice were effective U.S. secretaries of State. And no one questioned the effectiveness of Congress members Shirley Chisolm, Elizabeth Dole, Nancy Kassebaum and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or of Supreme Court justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Last week, TIME magazine showed its new cover designs for its "Women of the Year Project" to commemorate the 100 years since the ratification of the 19th Amendment. TIME selected 100 women, one for each year from 1920-2019, for the covers. The magazine's 2019 cover selection was Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish activist who has inspired millions to protest government inaction on climate change. Whether a person agrees with her position or not, it's hard to disagree with her statement, "I have just acted on my conscience and done what everyone should be doing."

While the 19th Amendment corrected one type of inequity and the "Me Too" movement is a valuable force in sorting out another, this battle has many fronts. The best predictor of a person's future wage compared to a coworker is not the quality of his or her work, but the disparity when accepting employment. Since women so often enter at a much lower wage than their male counterparts, annual across-the-board percentage raises keep that difference in place.

I know some women feel the problem is men. The rationale is men have it good and want to keep it that way. No doubt, some of that exists. But for the most part, that is not the problem. The old expression "walk a mile in my shoes" explains best what is happening. Men do not see the problem because they don't have the problem. Life is busy and much of it is spent addressing problems. Waiting for men, who either don't see the problem or see it as one of low importance, is not a viable strategy. Instead, women need to join hands to address these inequities, engaging men when possible, but not relying on them.

Indian-born Canadian writer Rupi Kaur seems to capture this message in the following poem:

i stand
on the sacrifices
of a million women before me
what can I do
to make this mountain taller
so the women after me
can see farther.

Top-left and bottom-left: Daughter Mariya's "Wall of kick-ass women" in her home; bottom-middle: Allana Saenger-Parker, Curator of Design at the Riley County Historical Society museum, discusses events in the county related to women's suffrage at a meeting of the society. The three women pictured on the screen image are (l-r): Annie, Ellen and Mary Pillsbury. Annie knew Susan B. Anthony and was Manhattan, Kansas' first female postmaster. Right: Ann Birney portrays fictional character Elizabeth Hampstead as a typical suffragist, the term used at the time that later became suffragette.

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Other columns from 2020 may be found at: 2020 Index.
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