My granddaughter and I have a new tradition, something I never could have predicted. We demonstrate for women’s rights together. Today we stood on a corner in Gig Harbor along with other women, families, and men, raising our signs and waving at supporters driving through the intersection.
We are an enthusiastic and determined group. Two hours of standing and waving, looking for ways to make a brief connection with the occupants of vehicles in a busy traffic area, is not easy. Demonstrators have prepared their individual signs with messages like: “We won’t go back to the ’50s,” “Women want fundamental rights,” and “Abortion is healthcare.” We were encouraged to see fathers and brothers as allies in the fight for women’s rights.
When I was a young woman, we had just achieved the right to safe, legal abortions. Back-alley abortions would be a thing of the past; women would no longer die from an unwanted pregnancy. Women also gained access to “the pill.” This was huge. Contraception that was safe and effective was a game changer for women in controlling their own reproductive choices.
During that same time women made gains in other areas, such as access to the education they wanted and employment in nontraditional roles. They were able to get credit in their own names, without the consent of a husband or parent. For today’s young women, the excitement and “liberation” of those days can hardly be imagined. The radical persistence and bravery of the “women’s libbers” changed the world for American women.
The road leading to those changes was long. In 1848, women organized to fight for women’s rights. White men in the controlling class, otherwise known as The Patriarchy, managed women’s lives down to the gnat’s eyebrow. There were laws in every state restricting a woman’s right to own or manage property (they had no rights whatsoever), laws restricting abortion for any reason, and contraception was illegal. It was perfectly legal to beat or rape your wife, or commit her to an insane asylum without cause. Men could divorce their wives, but wives could not divorce their husbands. Women could not vote or serve on a jury. Women were not allowed to attend medical or law schools. Working women rejoiced when they won the right to a 54-hour work week, at wages considerably lower than men.
And yet, here we are today. Women are losing the right to control their own bodies—losing the right to healthcare of their choosing, rights that we’d won in my lifetime. Next, women may lose the right to contraception. A candidate for representative in Michigan has supported the idea that women should not be allowed to vote. Some members of the U.S. Supreme Court have floated the idea that people should not be allowed to marry whomever they love, and the court could restrict interracial and/or same sex marriage.
Historically men have used tools of power and control to manage women. During the confirmation hearings considering then Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh, Sen. Kamala Harris asked, “Can you think of any laws that give government the power to make decisions about the male body?” He was unable to respond. Polls have shown that about 62% of Americans support safe and legal abortion services. Yet, a minority—legislatively represented mostly by white men—are pushing an agenda of power and control over women’s bodies.
Power and control are the hallmarks of abusers. Despite increased public awareness about domestic violence, 184 people have been murdered in Pierce County since 1999 in domestic violence incidents, most of them women. Threats and acts of violence have been used to subjugate women for millennia. Women seeking abortion and healthcare providers are threatened by overt acts of power and control, and sometimes violence. A nationwide ban on abortions is being promoted by a conservative minority, with no recourse for rape or incest. At the same time, just as it was in the past, there is no mention of punishment, consequences or responsibility for abusers or rapists.
And so, I stand on a corner with my 26-year-old granddaughter. We stand for a woman’s right to choose, a woman’s right to healthcare, a woman’s right to be safe from her abuser, a woman’s right to be legislatively represented by someone who recognizes the equality and value of women. We stand together in the long shadow of women who fought well over 100 years for women’s equality in every aspect of life. We stand on the corner for the life of my newborn great-granddaughter. May she never find herself standing on this corner, at these crossroads.
Vicki Biggs is a longtime social worker. She lives in Home.
UNDERWRITTEN BY NEWSMATCH/MIAMI FOUNDATION, THE ANGEL GUILD, ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR, ADVERTISERS, DONORS AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LOCAL, INDEPENDENT NONPROFIT NEWS