Analysis Human Rights

Beyond Suffrage: How Far Have Women Come Since?

Eve Weinbaum & Rachel Roth

American women won the right to vote in 1920. But how far have we come since on other issues important to women?

Cross-posted with permission from the LA Times.

Today we celebrate the anniversary of female suffrage, a victory that took more than 70 years of political struggle to achieve. After women won the right to vote in 1920, socialist feminist Crystal Eastman observed that suffrage was an important first step but that what women really wanted was freedom. In an essay titled “Now We Can Begin,” she laid out a plan toward this goal that is still relevant today.

Eastman outlined a four-point program: economic independence for women (including freedom to choose an occupation and equal pay), gender equality at home (raising “feminist sons” to share the responsibilities of family life), “voluntary motherhood” (reproductive freedom) and “motherhood endowment,” or financial support for child-rearing and homemaking.

Since the 1920s, women have won many rights and opportunities in areas as diverse as higher education, professional sports and, in six states, same-sex marriage. But on the core priorities that Eastman identified, how far have we come?

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Eastman optimistically called equality in the workplace “the easiest part of our program,” noting that “the ground is already broken” on women’s participation in various professions, trades and unions. One of the chief barriers was “inequality in pay,” a problem that has proved remarkably enduring.

Women on average still make only 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts, according to the National Women’s Law Center. This pay disparity is worst for women of color, who earn only 61 cents if they are African American and 52 cents if they are Latina. This pattern has been remarkably constant.

Women’s lower earnings are related to gender segmentation in the workplace that relegates women to the lower rungs of the economic ladder. At Wal-Mart, for example — the nation’s biggest employer — women make up about 70% of hourly workers but only about 30% of managers. The Supreme Court recently ruled that the retailer’s female employees could not join together in a class-action lawsuit, making it nearly impossible for them to challenge patterns of discrimination.

Although women now outnumber men on college campuses, the upper echelons of most professions and political bodies remain male-dominated. Just look at Congress: Only 17% of its members are women. Between 1923 and 2011, only 28 women have chaired congressional committees, and only 45 women of color have ever served in Congress — just one in the Senate. The new congressional “super-committee” of 12 legislators charged with reducing the federal deficit has one white woman and not a single woman of color.

On the home front, gender norms have changed significantly since 1920, but women still do the lion’s share of child care, elder care and household planning. And child-rearing is still regarded as a private matter rather than a contribution to society. Although a recent Time magazine cover story suggested an end to “chore wars,” its own data showed that married women with children still do more work at home than their husbands, and full-time employed moms with children under age 6 spend more hours on household chores than any other group.

Given women’s disproportionate responsibility for child-rearing amid lesser economic opportunities, the ability to plan whether and when to have children is critically important. As Eastman said: “Freedom of any kind is hardly worth considering unless it is assumed that [women] will know how to control the size of their families.”

This was a tall order in 1920, when it was a crime simply to disseminate information about contraception. Fertility control is now legal, but women’s reproductive freedom is under intense attack. The 2011 legislative session saw a record number of anti-choice bills introduced — and passed into law. In just six months, state legislatures passed 80 laws to restrict access to abortion.

State legislatures also have made deep cuts to family planning budgets, which has the perverse result of increasing unintended pregnancies. The Hyde Amendment bans federal Medicaid coverage of abortion, and only 15 states pay for abortion care with their own revenue. This means that low-income women in most of the country can have an abortion only if they can afford to pay for it out of pocket, making the right to abortion an empty promise for millions of women.

When it comes to support for child-rearing, the United States is the only major industrialized nation without a national policy guaranteeing paid parental leave. While a few states and cities have taken the initiative to implement their own policies, the vast majority of mothers (and fathers) have no right to paid time off to care for a newborn baby. Many workers do not even have a right to take unpaid leave, because the federal Family and Medical Leave Act applies only to relatively long-term workers in workplaces with 50 or more employees, leaving out small businesses, new employees and workers who have put in fewer than 1,250 hours at that job.

With no paid leave, and discrimination against pregnant women on the rise, women are a long way from Eastman’s vision of having child-rearing “recognized by the world as work, requiring a definite economic reward and not merely entitling the performer to be dependent on some man.”

In all four areas that Eastman discussed, female suffrage has not ushered in the wide-ranging changes that its opponents feared and its advocates championed.

Eastman understood that work and home are inextricably bound, that women’s freedom depends on resolving what we now call “work/family” conflict. As long as women face a “motherhood penalty” while men benefit from a “fatherhood bonus,” gender equality will remain out of reach. Racial discrimination has made the path to equality that much harder for women of color.

The real question now is, in Eastman’s words, “how to arrange the world” so that women have “a chance to exercise their infinitely varied gifts in infinitely varied ways, instead of being destined by the accident of their sex” to lesser economic opportunities and heavier domestic burdens.

To do this, our institutions must become more responsive. The workplace has to change to allow people with families to hold good jobs, and policies must change to allow women to plan their families and to ensure that no one is left behind. In the 90 years since winning the right to vote, women have achieved gains by organizing in the streets and the workplace, by lobbying legislatures and bringing lawsuits. Arranging a more just world will require a new wave of political action at all levels, from local to national, home to workplace.

On Aug. 26, 2020, we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. Let’s make this the decade we create the conditions that bring true equality.

Eve Weinbaum is director of the Labor Center and an associate professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Rachel Roth is director of communications and foundation support at the National Network of Abortion Funds and the author of a book on women’s rights.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

News Abortion

Parental Notification Law Struck Down in Alaska

Michelle D. Anderson

"The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions," said Janet Crepps, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm."

The Alaska Supreme Court has struck down a state law requiring physicians to give the parents, guardians, or custodians of teenage minors a two-day notice before performing an abortion.

The court ruled that the parental notification law, which applies to teenagers younger than 18, violated the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection guarantee and could not be enforced.

The ruling stems from an Anchorage Superior Court decision that involved the case of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands and physicians Dr. Jan Whitefield and Dr. Susan Lemagie against the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors.

In the lower court ruling, a judge denied Planned Parenthood’s requested preliminary injunction against the law as a whole and went on to uphold the majority of the notification law.

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Planned Parenthood and the physicians had appealed that superior court ruling and asked for a reversal on both equal protection and privacy grounds.

Meanwhile, the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors appealed the court’s decision to strike some of its provisions and the court’s ruling.

The notification law came about after an initiative approved by voters in August 2010. The law applied to “unemancipated, unmarried minors” younger than 18 seeking to terminate a pregnancy and only makes exceptions in documented cases of abuse and medical emergencies, such as one in which the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

Justice Daniel E. Winfree wrote in the majority opinion that the anti-choice law created “considerable tension between a minor’s fundamental privacy right to reproductive choice and how the State may advance its compelling interests.”

He said the law was discriminatory and that it could unjustifiably burden “the fundamental privacy rights only of minors seeking pregnancy termination, rather than [equally] to all pregnant minors.”

Chief Justice Craig Stowers dissented, arguing that the majority’s opinion “unjustifiably” departed from the Alaska Supreme Court’s prior approval of parental notification.

Stowers said the opinion “misapplies our equal protection case law by comparing two groups that are not similarly situated, and fails to consider how other states have handled similar questions related to parental notification laws.”

Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) officials praised the court’s ruling, saying that Alaska’s vulnerable teenagers will now be relieved of additional burdensome hurdles in accessing abortion care. Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, CRR, and Planned Parenthood represented plaintiffs in the case.

Janet Crepps, senior counsel at CRR, said in a statement that the “decision provides important protection to the safety and well-being of young women who need to end a pregnancy.”

“The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions. This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm,” Crepps said.

CRR officials also noted that most young women seeking abortion care involve a parent, but some do not because they live an abusive or unsafe home.

The American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine have said minors’ access to confidential reproductive health services should be protected, according to CRR.