The Continuing Fight for Women's Rights

Last week at the Legislature, I made a speech on the Roe decision, women's rights, and the pervasive misogyny of our society. A slightly edited version was printed in the Ithaca Times this week, and I'm posting it here now. The fight for equality must continue.

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Today is an important day.

174 years ago today, on July 19, 1848, 300 women and men gathered in Seneca Falls, NY, to speak out about the inequality facing women, demand the same rights and freedoms that men held, and make known their discontent with the way this country was progressing. The Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention was the first convention of its kind in American history. From that convention, it took more than 70 years for women to gain the right to vote in 1919. Voting is a key right, for sure, but there are so many other freedoms not afforded to women.

Sometimes the fight for equality goes slowly. Sometimes it goes backwards. Like right now, after the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

I don’t believe this decision was about abortion, or pregnancy, or whether life starts at conception. If it was, if it was really about taking care of babies and honoring all life, there would be a massive influx of resources, organizations, money, and support for pregnant women and mothers. But that’s not happening.

No, I believe this decision is the result of a culture of control and domination of women. It is the result of a deep and intense societal misogyny.

Let me give you an example to illustrate misogyny and how the Supreme Court’s ruling will fail women in this country.

A couple months ago, a ten-year-old girl was raped and became pregnant. When the child was taken to a doctor in her home state of Ohio, she was unable to get an abortion there. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling, Ohio now denies all abortions after six weeks, and the girl was a bit further along in her pregnancy than that. The state of Ohio did not offer compassion for this child who just endured trauma, it did not validate her right to grow up before she has children of her own. Instead of leaving medical decisions to her and her family, the state of Ohio decided what should happen to this girl. Left up to the government, a ten-year-old girl would be forced to carry the embryo of her rapist to term and live with the consequences of then raising a baby or the trauma of giving it up for adoption. This is not freedom. This is not equality. This is state-sanctioned child abuse. This is misogyny.

Women have made progress since that original Convention in 1848. But every freedom, every step must be fought for tooth and nail against a society dominated by, primarily white, men. Here’s a little more history to illustrate what cultural misogyny looks like over just the past 50 years.

In 1967, Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to register to run the Boston marathon. While running, she was forcibly pushed off the course by a race organizer and male participants.

Until 1974, banks and financial institutions could deny women credit lines, unless they had their husband co-sign the application.

Until 1978, employers could refuse to hire a pregnant woman. Because she was pregnant.

Until 1981, 205 years into the American experiment, no woman had ever served on the Supreme Court.

Also in 1981 was the first time that the number of female members of the House of Representatives got up to 20. 1981. Twenty out of 435 seats.

Until 1993, a woman who took time off to give birth or adopt a child could be denied her job when she returned to work. With the Family Medical Leave Act, women and men are allowed 12 weeks of unpaid time off.

In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that women could not sue in federal court a man who had raped her. Worldwide, approximately ⅓ of women report having been physically or sexually abused by their husband, boyfriend, or partner. Those are the reported cases. Most women are threatened or bullied and afraid to report what happened to them.

In 2001, the number of female senators broke the double digits, when 13 females served in the Senate. 2001. Thirteen out of 100.

And now, in 2022, women and girls have been told by the highest court that they are not fit to make decisions about their lives and bodies. They can be sued by boyfriends, parents, or rapists if they try to have an abortion. The doctors, friends, or family members who try to help them or provide care can be sued. And some so-called pro-lifers tell women, including the little 10-year-old girl who was raped and impregnated, that she should look for the good in having a baby, that it will probably turn out to be a good thing for her.

There is nothing good about this misogyny. A country, a state, a government cannot function without affording all its citizens the same rights and freedoms, regardless of race, gender, ancestry, sexual orientation, ability, belief system, or any of the other human differences that make our society so wonderfully diverse and beautiful. And I cannot stand for a government that encourages and promotes misogyny.

This is an important day, and I honor the women who stood up for their rights all those years ago in Seneca Falls. I also honor the women who have been fighting for equality and equity since then, and the women who sit around this table and those who raise their voices all over the country to be heard.

Bodily autonomy is one of the most basic human rights. If men have this right, women are entitled to it also. Without the ability to choose what to do with your own body, what else is there?

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