Some columns are more difficult to write than others. This one will attempt to transcend partisan politics while I examine my unexpectedly overwhelming emotional reaction to the nomination of Hillary Clinton for president.
In June, I wrote about the reactions many local women had as they voted for a woman for president in the California primary. However, voting in a primary is not the same as actually watching a major party select a woman to be its candidate. That was history being made in real time, and many women I know—as well as some men, and many of my Republican friends—were similarly astonished at the intensity of their emotions while watching the Democratic Party officially nominate Hillary Clinton.
The gains achieved by the suffrage movement have always been incremental—countries where women were allowed to vote locally but not nationally; situations in which women could vote but not run for office; places where voting rights were granted only to certain races or classes. For example, Britain granted unmarried women who were “householders” the right to vote in local elections in 1869, expanding that to include married women in 1894.
In 1893, New Zealand became the first country to grant full equal voting rights to women. Australia followed with women receiving incremental suffrage between 1895 and 1908, based on where they lived in the country.
Finland adopted full female suffrage in 1906; Norway followed in 1913, and Denmark and Iceland in 1915.
In 1917, when the czar was overthrown in Russia, universal suffrage was declared. Great Britain was still struggling with class distinctions in 1918, empowering women based on being older than 30, or those with a university degree or those who owned certain property. (All men 21 and older were then given the right to vote.)
The United States finally granted women the vote in 1920, when on Aug. 26, the state of Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment. It’s worth acknowledging that this occurred less than 100 years ago.
Black women didn’t gain full suffrage in South Africa until 1994. Qatari women received the right to vote in 2003; Kuwaiti women followed in 2005. In 2011, King Abdullah issued a decree ordering that Saudi Arabian women be allowed to stand as candidates and vote, but only in municipal elections. Their first opportunity did not come until December 2015.
Today, many women still do not have the right to fully participate in their government. In Brunei, there are no national elections at all, although there is universal suffrage for those 18 and older in elections for village leaders. In the United Arab Emirates, just a small percentage of men and women were allowed to vote for the national advisory council in 2011—in fact, one woman was elected to the council—but neither men nor women can vote for the nation’s leader.
There are women we know here in the Coachella Valley who were born before the right to equal agency was achieved here in the United States—and now they have seen history made again. While my own story has always included the right to vote, it has not always included things we now take for granted, such as getting credit in one’s own name, have access to birth control without anyone else’s consent, qualifying for a loan even if one has children, or being able to apply for any job for which one is qualified (as opposed to sex-segregated “help wanted” ads that were the norm when I graduated high school).
Given all of this history—both my own and that of women around the world—I was still not prepared for the overwhelming intensity of my reaction when Hillary Clinton’s name was announced as the official candidate for president by a major political party. Whether you support her or not, she made history—and that’s worth savoring as indicative of how much has changed in a relatively brief period of time. In evolutionary terms, 100 years is a drop in the bucket.
There are still those who resist the idea that a woman can be president, including a 50-ish woman I saw interviewed on television who said, adamantly, “The president has to be a man. Women have hormones, so it has to be a man.”
In other words … we still have a long way to go.
The impact of the nomination of the first woman as a serious candidate for president is not ultimately of importance merely because it is a “first.” It’s important because, whether Hillary wins or loses, never again in America will any little girl have to set her sights lower than any little boy.
That is what brought my unexpected overflowing tears. I admit to having been taken aback upon realizing how much it mattered to me.
I don’t know about you, but for me, that transcends politics.
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.