How will I explain to my daughter that Hillary Clinton, an eminently qualified woman, lost a national election to a wholly unqualified man?
She told me how nervous she was Tuesday morning that Donald Trump might be the next president.
“Because I don’t want to be worried that my rights are going to be taken away,” said my 15-year-old. When I asked her to elaborate, she said she was afraid she might lose the right to make her own choices about marriage, when and whether to bear children and the right to be fairly compensated for her work.
I’ve been standing in defense and expansion of those same rights since I was just about her age. It was 1972, the year the Equal Rights Amendment was passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification. Only 35 states had ratified the ERA by 1982, three states short of the 38 states needed for ratification. North Carolina remains among those 15 states that failed to ratify.
That failure was one of the few things (Jesse Helms was another) that ever made me ashamed of the state I love so much. To me, it was personal — a repudiation of my worth as a citizen and human being. It turned me into a rather fierce feminist in my youth, one inclined to meet sexist remarks and behavior with blistering responses.
I have mellowed in my responses but not in my beliefs or in that core determination to keep fighting for the rights of women to make their own life choices, to have the same opportunities as men and to be recognized as people first and women second.
Women know a thing or two about persistence. It took 72 years for women to win the right to vote from the time Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Frederick Douglass first issued the call at the 1848 Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y. At that time not only were women denied the vote, but they lacked the right to keep their own wages or gain custody of their children.
After the Civil War, Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth joined Stanton in asking that women be included in the 14th and 15th Amendments, which gave former slaves the rights to equal citizenship and voting. Instead, women specifically were written out.
After the dawn of the 20th Century, Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party protested, marched, led boycotts and picketed the White House. They were beaten, arrested and force-fed in prison when they went on hunger strikes.
Women finally won the right to vote in 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Still, women were excluded from a guarantee of full rights. What would become the Equal Rights Amendment, which banned discrimination based on a person's sex, first was written and introduced in 1923. It would be introduced in every session of Congress until it was passed in 1972.
After it failed to gain support from 38 states in 1982, the ERA was reintroduced in Congress and has been reintroduced in every session since.
You don’t give up on a battle for basic human rights.
You don’t give up because, absent Constitutional protection, laws and policies that do discriminate against women — such as sex-based disparities in pay — will persist, and state governments are free to enact new laws that infringe on women’s rights, as do the many restrictions on abortion.
Enter a presidential candidate who has said of women, “You have to treat ‘em like s---,” and “I think that putting a wife to work is a very dangerous thing.” A candidate who judges women by their physical attributes and not by their intellect, who freely admits to assaulting women sexually as a privilege of celebrity. A man who would turn back Roe v. Wade, which gives women the right to choose whether they want to bear children and suggested punishing women for having abortions.
Yes, my daughter is completely justified in worrying about whether her rights will be taken away.
There have been many divides in the electorate this election, but none more pronounced than the divide between the sexes, because it was very clear what was at stake for women.
A vote against Trump was a repudiation of sexism, misogyny, bigotry, racism and xenophobia. For many women, it was a rejection of the blustery, bullying and swaggering arrogance of white male privilege.
A vote for Hillary Clinton was not just a vote for the preservation of rights we already have but the promise of achieving some of the goals for which we have waited so long. Equal pay. Family leave. Equal representation.
And, yes, a woman’s ascendancy to the highest office in the land.
What will I tell my daughter about a Trump triumph?
I will tell her that women still have to work twice as hard as men to achieve the same status, especially at the top echelons of power.
I will tell her that she may be called “shrill,” or “bitchy” for wielding power in the very same way that men do.
I will tell her to do it anyway, boldly and unapologetically.
I will tell her than just because a woman hasn’t been elected president doesn’t mean a woman can’t be elected president.
I will tell her that the world isn’t fair, but we should never stop working to make it just.
I will tell her that the battle goes on.
Contact Susan Ladd at (336) 373-7006, and follow @SusanLaddNR on Twitter.