“We allow our ignorance to prevail upon us and make us think we can survive alone, alone in patches, alone in groups, alone in races, even alone in genders.” – – Maya Angelou
It has been 164 years since women gathered at Seneca Falls demanding a say in the political system, 92 years since women were granted the right to vote in all states, and more than 50 years since African-American women were given a more fair chance to vote with the abolishment of the Jim Crow Laws in the 1960’s.
Over the years, women of all colors have continued to make strides. By 2010, more women attended college than men at 57 percent to just 43 percent, according to a study by the American Council on Education.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s strong presence in the 2008 presidential campaign and Michelle Obama’s highly celebrated intellectual abilities and strong presence as a first lady has further highlighted women’s progression in the U.S.
Even with these strides, I wonder how far women have come and if women are in danger of regression.
The recent political climate has shown a sort of regression, especially in the topics discussed during the Republican primaries. During the debates, a room full of white men debated about the reasons why certain women should be denied access to contraception seeming mostly based on ancient biblical rhetoric and lack of empathy for the complexities of being a woman. This is the same political system ramped with stories of men’s extramarital affairs and hidden children born to mistresses. And still these are the people deciding the rights of women.
On a micro level, it is equally disturbing to watch scenes like a woman sitting in silence on a bus suffering from morning sickness due to her pregnancy as her “baby daddy” speaks to another guy about how he uses other women with whom he has sexual relations for money in front of her. Sadly, her other child, a little boy, sits next to his father observing this. The thought may be for a woman in this situation to just leave, and the focus is usually directed toward the woman who continually gets “knocked up” by these men. However, it isn’t just that women are getting knocked up; men are knocking women up.
Men and women are both parties in women’s lack of autonomy and progression. Furthermore, women’s rights have often involved women and men taking aim at each other. Women are blaming men for their inability to truly be in control of their decisions, while men are blaming women for wanting control and for their improper roles in today’s society even though this is heavily influenced and created by society.
Our culture promotes the degradation of women and women’s acceptance of such degradation, whether through popular film, music lyrics and videos, or religion. Being aware of such institutions is important to overcoming this and continuing progress as women have in the past.
Regression can occur if only women allow it, as it seems we are. Autonomy for women is about changing men and women’s attitudes. It’s about acknowledging self-responsibility as women and realizing the important role we play in the scope of shaping the world aside from domestic, sexual and exploitive roles. It’s about men allowing women to have a voice in their own destiny, not seeing the betterment of women as a threat and acknowledging the institutions that hold women back.
As women, we have to remember how far we have come and those that fought hard for these rights, instead of falling victim to being silenced and ultimately misrepresented.
Fountain teaches at Richland Community College. The former Austin resident graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and has taken graduate courses at Illinois State University, where she plans to continue her studies.