Out of 12,350 individuals elected since 1789, a whopping total of 366 women have served in the U.S. Congress to date since Representative Jeanette Rankin became the first woman elected to congress in 1917. Putting those numbers into perspective, this means women have only made up roughly 2.9% of Congress in the history since its inception. Women of color only make up 48 of the 127 women serving in Congress in 2020. White men are still the majority in Congress: more than 6 in 10. The ratification of the 19th Amendment was the very BEGINNING of the journey for woman to have a choice and a voice.
Capitalist politics have historically disenfranchised women by allowing only men to vote and hold public office. The women’s suffrage movement granted women the impactful ability to vote but would never be the solution to the sexism so deeply woven into our culture and country. The concept of shaming, devaluing, and degrading women is not unique to the United States, but the United States appears to still have its fingers grasped too tightly around the requirement of “traditional” gender standards, even if those “norms” aren’t fair, realistic or ethical.
Voting is a human right and key to a functional democracy. Women of all races and ethnicities were not given these basic rights until a century ago. Until the Equal Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, it was acceptable to racially discriminate against minority voters. Women were not treated as humans deserving of respect, equality, and liberation – all women, particularly women of color, were denied voting rights by white men who wanted to maintain governmental control. I can see how these facts about history highly discourage women in present-day America from voting and/or running for any kind of office, whether it is in government, school, or the workplace. This is WHY the young women’s vote in 2020 and every other future election opportunity is CRUCIAL.
Although it is valid to feel insecure and scared about holding important positions as women, we can correct the misogyny in the U.S. government by voting or running for a political position. President, Donald J. Trump has spoken about women and their place in politics before: (On Carly Fiorina) "Look at that face. Would anybody vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president? I mean, she's a woman, and I'm not supposed to say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?" [Sept. 9, 2015]
The Coronavirus pandemic and fatal police brutality against the Black community has catapulted our generation into mass civil unrest. The Black Lives Matter movement originated with the murder of Trayvon Martin 8 years ago but was propelled to the front of our society as we all watched George Floyd die at the hands of police officers over a counterfeit $20 bill. We also learned that police officers killed an innocent, Black woman named Breonna Taylor while she was asleep in her bed. Black Americans are 3.23 times more likely than white Americans to be killed by police. Police are a function of government and our votes can change how law enforcement handles not just police brutality, but also domestic violence and rape cases.
Black women are indelible to our democracy. Black women’s turnout in 2018 surged 16 percentage points from that of previous midterm elections, from 41 percent to 57 percent. Women of color fueled the massive increase in turnout nationwide by mobilizing friends and family and engaging voters beyond the ballot box. A few days ago, the future of the U.S. saw a monumental step in the right direction. Joe Biden announced he chose Kamala Harris, the second black woman elected to the Senate, to be his Vice President – should he win in November. During the Brett Kavanaugh hearing, Kamala asked Kavanaugh: “Can you think of any laws that give the government the power to make decisions about the male body?”
Participating in democracy as a WOMAN for WOMEN allows WOMEN to enact WOMEN leaders and representatives that strive for the same representation and goal of reaching total gender parity. No politician is perfect, but electing female politicians raises the likelihood of real reduction of sexist structures. Unfortunately, young non-black women are notorious for opting-out of voting. According to a Pew Research Study, in 2018, 35.3% of young women voted. This was a significant increase from 2014’s rate of 18.2% and was the highest growth rate by age and sex demographics. These statistics about women not being represented in government are staggering when it is projected there will be a total of 173.9 million women in the U.S. by 2024.
Backlash from the 2016 election brought forth a surge in women, especially women of color, running for government positions – particularly in Congress. Remarkable women of color like, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), D-N.Y.; Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.; Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.; and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. make up “The Squad.” Omar, 36, was born in Somalia. Her family fled that country's civil war when she was 8 years old and spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya before arriving in the U.S. Tlaib, 42, is the oldest of 14 children born in Detroit to Palestinian immigrant parents. Rep. Katie Porter is the only single mom in Congress.
Why don’t young women vote? Many believe and vocalize that their vote doesn’t matter. The loudest voices in unison can make a difference. Just as social change happens through civil unrest and peaceful protest, government change happens when all eligible voters vote. Not voting diminishes the voice of the younger generation in representing how young people see our country moving forward toward the future. The root of oppression of women did not start in the political atmosphere, but it could end there. Women play a pivotal role in governmental leadership.
Around the world, we are seeing female heads of counties such as Angela Merkel – Chancellor of Germany. Merkel remains the de facto leader of Europe, leading the region's largest economy after steering Germany through financial crisis and back to growth. Other front runners include Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, and 34-year old Sanna Marin – Prime Minister of Finland. Men in these countries have evolved enough to realize women can be wonderful leaders. These countries prove that women can represent men just as men can represent women. America needs to wake up and follow this trend. Voting will push America to catch up with the rest of the world and recognize they need to do something different.
Because the government was designed by men, there is an inadvertent bias to teach from a male perspective in the classroom. A woman may learn about the fundamentals of how government is run, but she is not taught about the true meaning of her vote nor is she motivated or encouraged to pursue a profession that helps move an archaic system forward. Young women must take it upon themselves to stay knowledgeable. America’s constitution is a great building block for a successful democracy that can be adapted to 21st Century governing. Women should be integral in shaping the future.
Understanding civics starts early and is an important subject for young women to be familiar with, since they have been restricted from voting for most of history. Young women need to understand Government is not just the President. Young women are voting for their senators, members of the House, local/city/state government representatives, mayors, and governors in primary and midterm elections. There are three co-equal branches of government with different responsibilities and oversight of each other that all need representation of the totality of U.S. citizens to function at their best. Once educated women participate in civic engagement, they can be a part of improving education in America.
This article is not to deter young voters from criticizing candidates and elected officials. My purpose is to help young women recognize that they DO have a voice now. Voting will not be the solution to the racism and sexism entrenched in every aspect of America. Despite Gerrymandering, Redlining, eligibility restrictions and other obstacles, it is vital to get as many young women to the polls as possible. Voting is a critical step for young women to choose officials to lead that will not threaten their existence and can be held accountable for past behavior. Political eras are shaped by the forces that emerge to challenge them. Shouldn’t the Oval office and the state and federal politicians be a representation of the American people? Our votes as young women represent the values and morals we hold to be constituted. Register to vote now at the following link: https://vote.gov/