Today is Women’s Equality Day in the United States – a celebration of the passage of the 19th amendment that granted American Women the constitutional right to vote.
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex”
There are a few dates around the women’s suffrage movement that are acknowledged and celebrated, but this is the one that made it official. The vote passed congress on June 4, 1919, was then ratified by the states on August 18, 1920, and the proclamation was signed on August 26, 1920 by the Secretary of State.
It’s an important day. Women’s suffrage was hard-fought. It was radical. It was met with violence. It took decades to accomplish. Countless women (and men) sacrificed so that women could vote. We should celebrate it.
We should pause though, too, because we need to acknowledge that it didn’t get the job done for all women. The suffrage movement was intertwined with active racism and indifference to the plight of women that weren’t white. The result of this was that the 19th amendment only really made voting possible for some women – white women. The 15th Amendment had passed 50 years prior and had granted men of all races the right to vote, so the passage of the 19th amendment should have granted all women the right to vote. It didn’t, though. It did nothing to bring down the barriers that prevented minorities from voting. States had adopted poll taxes, literacy tests, property ownership requirements, and violent intimidation tactics with the intention of preventing minority men from voting. These all prevented minority women from voting too, and it was decades before this discrimination was addressed.
It’s been 99 years since white women could vote. Native Americans and Asians (women and men) couldn’t vote until 1924 and 1952, respectively. Prior to this, they were barred from becoming United States Citizens, denying them the opportunity to vote. Black women and men were not able to vote until 1965 with the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Even today, intentional suppression of minority voters continues to threaten democracy and create inequality at the polls.
The suffrage movement is a reminder of why we need intersectionality in our activism as we continue to work to advance women’s rights. Intersectional Feminism acknowledges that there is more than one form of oppression and that the cumulative effects of these types of oppression is more than any one on its own. Women of color face sexism and racism in a combined way that neither white women or minority men experience. LGBTQ women face homophobia and sexism that makes their experience different from LGBTQ men or straight women. Transgender women face sexism and transphobia that compounds in ways that are unique compared to cisgender women and transgender men. Intersectional feminism recognizes that if we focus on just sexism, women facing multiple forms of oppression are left behind – just like minority women were left behind in the suffrage movement. If we instead aim to address the obstacles for those that are marginalized in multiple ways, everyone benefits.
We can acknowledge the work of the suffragists before us because they did move mountains. We should also commit to inclusivity in our activism moving forward to make sure that when mountains move, they move for everyone. Equality for women must include all women.