Written by Cassidy Connell
Edited by Steven Spear, Jr.
Sexism is a word in modern society that has a distasteful connotation, however, in the era of the Seneca Falls Convention and of the suffragette (mid-19th and early 20th centuries), sexism had a synonymous relationship with ordinary.
The Seneca Falls Convention stood on the hope for an end to the discrimination against women. Since the Convention, many steps have been taken to towards the dream of equality.
The Nineteenth Amendment
The Declaration of Sentiments, a document that demanded equality for women and began the women’s rights movement, was signed in 1848; a woman’s right to vote, granted through the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, secured the promise of an opportunity to weigh in on elections but not full political equality. This change was circumstantial in that it only pertained to white women: Women of color were still denied their rights. Seventy-two years passed before the United States thought it important for women to be able to take part in the political process. Charlotte Woodard Pierce was the only signatory of the Declaration of Sentiments to see the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.
The Supreme Court and the Law
Fights for the legalization of contraceptives, equal work opportunities, and equal protection under the law became the common thread woven through multiple court cases and legislation. In Reed v. Reed (1971), the Supreme Court banned gender discrimination concerning the resolution of an estate. In Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972), the Court legalized contraceptives for unmarried women. In 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
The 1963 Equal Pay Act took a step toward ensuring equal wages, and in 1964, the Civil Rights Act guaranteed women of color the same voting and employment opportunities as white women. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 protects pregnant women from discrimination at the workplace. The Violence Against Women Act was installed in 1994, providing services for women who are victims of abuse and rape. As of 2013, women can serve in military combat positions.
These important events highlight the struggle for equality throughout the last century. Because of these series of victories, equality and justice have been advanced.
Despite progress, it’s not that simple
Don’t take the above progress to mean that feminism in the 21st century is clear or concise. The people at Seneca Falls fostered an idea that developed into a platform; this platform has shifted and split over the years. Two large issues, intersectionality and abortion, plague the movement. Intersectionality deals with the disparities races and socioeconomic classes of women involved in the plight. The overlap of the two subcategories can create tension and division—this point is emphasized by white women gaining suffrage while women of color were denied the same right.
Abortion is a highly controversial topic. Pro-life feminists were explicitly, and I believe unfairly, banned from the Women’s March on Washington in January 2017. For many, abortion and the women’s movement are inextricably intertwined; to suggest one could exist without the other creates grounds of discrimination. The disagreement over the issue is reflected in U.S. politics: In 1973, Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, but in 1989, the Supreme Court ruled that states can deny public funds to hospitals that perform abortion procedures. Further qualifications are enacted in 2006 with the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Political parties, religious organizations, and public communities continue to battle on what the next move should be.
When determining the precarious positions of situations such as these, it is easy to fall into the mindset that nothing has changed, when much has. The women (and men) who worked on the Declaration of Sentiments were attempting to change the world. While it took a long time to see this change and even longer to utilize it, there is no dispute that it indeed took place. Women can vote; women can hold public office; women can defend themselves in court; women can gain an education and succeed in various careers.
We must not dismiss the ongoing problems and struggles, but know that any injustices will be surpassed. We do not know the specific contributions of every woman before us, but thank them for their dedication and for pioneering the way. Regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or socioeconomic level, women deserve equal rights protected by the Constitution of the United States of America.