Dig if you will a picture.
Me, blabbing on and on to my Big Girl, who is zoning out over her latest book and only looking up occasionally to pretend to listen to my rant.
“You need to appreciate all the hard work it took for women to get to vote. You need to be grateful for the sacrifices that women made for girls like you. Women couldn’t even vote until the 20th amendment!” I am lecturing so hard that even I wonder if there may be a quiz later.
I put down the wine.
“I mean 19th amendment.” Pause. Big Girl’s eyes shift from the book to my wine glass.
“Yea,” I say. “The 20th amendment was alcohol.” Pause. “I think.”
I may have been ranting and raving in a manner that provoked typical eye-rolling from my precocious kid, but my intention rang true. As a mother of young daughters, I find that elections represent something big and powerful in my parenting.
When I talk to our kids about the importance of being an informed and active citizen and all of that good stuff, I tend to latch on to something very immediate to me as a mother of daughters: The women who fought and suffered so that we could vote in the United States.
This conversation lights a fire under my earnest feminist ass faster than an Indigo Girls CD from the 90s. I’ve been thinking a lot about what kind of feminist legacy I want to share with my daughters. And what kind of civic-minded, engaged woman I want to be as a role model.
“Here. Read this.” I thrust a crusty old book called A Women’s History of the World at the Big Girl. “You should know this stuff.” She flips through the chapter on forced rape as part of historical warfare and I grab the book back. “Um, wait!”
So I decide to start small. I tell her about the American suffragists. And what they went through.
Like early suffragist heroes, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, well-to-do ladies of means. They were socially ostracized and ridiculed and their ideas were dismissed by the majority of Americans. They died without ever seeing the results of their lifetime of work.
Later activist were shouted at, jeered at, taunted, threatened. I use the word “bullied” in conversation, which carries a heavy load to a 9-year-old with an unusually acute social conscience. And sometimes the consequences for the suffragists went beyond social shunning.
For example, Lucy Burns went on a hunger strike in jail. She was treated brutally and refused medical attention. She was tortured with her arms handcuffed above her head and was eventually held down by five people while feeding tubes were shoved up her nostrils.
Alice Paul was placed in solitary confinement and also force-fed through a tube.
And who were the other nameless women in history who were beaten at the hands of their husbands and fathers for daring to suggest that women have a voice at the polls? Who else was hurt or even killed for being brave enough to demand a voice in our society?
Today so many of us take it for granted. We are lazy and complacent. We think that our vote doesn’t matter. We disrespect those who suffered for our rights.
The women’s suffrage movement was not without its flaws. It excluded women of color, for starters. But I still have to respect what these brave fighters were willing to go through so that daughters and granddaughters and eventually women of all races and backgrounds could vote.
This year’s election has certainly brought the heat for those of us who value reproductive freedom and the power over our own bodies. But even without these issues, I feel an increased sense of urgency in modeling good citizen behavior for my girls. I’m going to vote because I can. Because I am blessed to live in a place and time where no one will beat me or rape me or lock me in jail or torture me for daring to have a voice. And I vote to honor and respect those women in other parts of the world today who do not live these same freedoms.
I’m voting. And I’m raising my glass of wine to the 19th Amendment. Or is it the 20th?