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Who Will Be Our Next Susan B. Anthony?
I wish there were a cabinet level position devoted to protecting the rights of women, because when it comes to creating laws that promote equality our government is pretty much broken.
I have not given up on our democracy. I teach history and English and my students know I’m a fanatic when it comes to politics, equality and what history can teach us about both. The DNC last week was my Superbowl and as I watched the delegates nominate the next president, I listened to Joe and Kamilla talk a lot about women’s rights. Lots of politicians talk about women’s rights, but many of them just don’t know how hard it is to pass equal rights legislation.
But history is on our side this week. It’s the centennial celebration of the 19th amendment, that gave women the right to vote and no real-life superhero embodied that fight more than Susan B. Anthony.
There is a poster of Susan that hangs on our classroom wall (correction: used to hang on our classroom wall. I don’t have a classroom anymore. I teach now from a “pod.”) But when I had walls there was a portion of our classroom devoted to “Real Life Superheroes.” (A poster of Susan could be found between the pic of Catherine the Great and Joan of Arc.)
The media remembered Susan and her battle for emancipation as if she were born to lead a crusade, preeminently chosen the way we’d like to believe all our heroes are chosen for their larger-than-life roles. Many reported correctly that Susan was arrested for casting a ballot while posed as a man. But they failed to mention that it took forty-two years after her arrest for the 19th amendment to become law.
Forty-two years is a long time, and that’s not unusual when it comes to challenges as big as gender rights. Change does not come easily, especially change that requires the ruling class — not just rich people, not just white people — but all men to give up something they see as a birthright: Power. Domination.
I ask my students to vote on who can lead us on the next great crusade if not for equal rights, at least, the protection of those basic human rights that are blithely violated with rape, and workplace harassment. When you study the all too real people who demanded emancipation you don’t find perfection; that is, you don’t find all the natural gifts of oration and charisma you’d expect from a leader.
A real superhero can’t cast a spiderweb or leap tall buildings in a single bound. Many are not always naturally gifted. Some are deeply flawed. And many of those so-called flaws are what motivate them to take a stand in the first place.
Our current president is the leader of what can only be called a party of White Domination. Nevertheless, he found a clever way to redeem his misogynistic reputation by pardoning Susan for her arrest. (If only Susan were alive to see this spectacle. What do you think the feisty suffragette would have done to a man who is known as the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief?). But the PGIG isnt our only problem. Donald Trump may be evil. Donald Trump may be the anti-Christ. But he didn’t create gender inequality, we all did. And we need to admit that if we want to see lasting change.
How hard is it to make a lasting change when it comes to equal rights? Imagine you are the sole crusader for a cause in your favorite video game. When the game begins all the other players are against you. And they have all the weapons. And I don’t mean flashy lasers and stun bombs but real, primitive weapons like the rocks and gas-filled bottles that are being thrown around the county now.
I doubt there will ever be a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women’s rights alongside their right to vote. But why not a cabinet level position? We have secretaries devoted to our Health, Education and Welfare. Isn’t the mental and physical health of young women dependent on her safety? What kind of education system ignores teaching that promotes the rights of women?
My students and I couldn’t agree on a title of the cabinet position. Secretary of #Metoo? Department of Gender Equality? So, I ask you to help us with a title and tell us who would be the person you think would be best to fill the role.
She probably has to be a lot younger than I am because it will take another forty years for real change to take place. And I doubt she’ll be perfect. In fact, knowing history, I think the best choice would be a young person who knows that humility and vulnerability just might be the new superpowers we’ve all ignored.
Times Up, Donald. But we’ve still got a long way to go. Who would you nominate to promote gender equality in the next administration? I really want to hear from you.