In 1906, an 86-year-old woman greeted a room full of suffragists who were still fighting for the right to vote. Susan B. Anthony made her last public statement: “But with all the help with people like we have in this room, failure is impossible.” She died a month later, and it took until 1920 for women to be finally able to vote. In this era of a president who is proud to be a pussy-grabber, it is understandable for feminists to still get discouraged. Yes, lawmakers are trying to restrict a woman’s bodily autonomy through drastic anti-abortion laws. Yes, the stories of sexual assault/harassment are depressing because of their ubiquity as seen in the high-profile cases such as R. Kelly and the millions of MeToo posts. However, Susan B. Anthony’s defiant statement that “failure is impossible” still rings true. Here are seven reasons why her optimism is still spot-on.
- The 2018 election results. Now 127 women serve in the House and Senate. In several states, women have also taken leadership roles. They are facing down the hostility of those who would rather insult them than listen to them. Fortunately, these women are following the dictum: You are either at the table or on the table.
- The heritage of the suffragist movement, which was honored by the Congressional women in white. We are excited to celebrate the upcoming centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment in 2020. It took over a century for women to get the vote. Men in power did not graciously hand out the right to vote as a present; thousands of women had to fight for it. Alice Paul, for instance, went on hunger strikes and was force-fed with a metal contraption—thus earning the title “Iron Jawed Angel.”
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the exemplar of a strong-willed woman. Ginsburg continues to inspire us. She has become known as the Notorious RBG for her long history of legal battles for gender equality and other progressive causes. A recent documentary about her life and career was nominated for an Academy Award, presenting an opportunity for more people to learn from her example.
- The younger generation and their enlightened approach to equality and the nonbinary nature of gender. Traditional norms, which punish persons who cross the gender line, may become obsolete as we embrace our trans brothers and sisters. Other nonbinary persons are also coming out in public to be recognized for our shared humanity.
- Men, both teens and adults, who are standing up to toxic masculinity. The “It’s on Us” campaign, for example, encourages males to step up if they see harassment or other wrongs. Gillette called out toxic masculinity in a much-discussed commercial. President Obama has recently spoken out about masculinity: “If you are very confident about your sexuality, you don’t have to have eight women around you twerking.”
- Women of color, who are ensuring that the voices of all females are heard. Intersectional feminism is well represented by women such as Tarana Burke, who started the MeToo movement in 2006 for young girls (mostly of color) in Alabama. Native American women, once invisible in the mainstream media, are now gaining recognition through the election of two Native women to Congress. Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids are challenging the “Indian princess” stereotype of a submissive female—Davids even featured her martial arts in campaign ads.
- Changing norms around respecting women in public spaces. Women in the “Hollaback” movement have confronted harassers in the U.S. while an international movement has grown in India and other countries. No longer should a woman be hesitant to walk down a sidewalk because of men telling her to smile or worse. No longer should a woman be called a “bitch” if she does not smile or accept the “compliments.” Society is also rethinking the derogatory language of slut-shaming and other destructive practices. Women are continuing to demand respect because like the right to vote, men in power will not graciously hand it to them.
Failure is impossible. These are words not only of hope but of joy because the future has so much potential. Whether I talk to a young person who is excited about making a change or a veteran activist who has endless perseverance, I know that equality is not only possible but probable. We are honored to continue the fight of the suffragists.
Featured image credit: Neon light by Sarah McKellar. Free for public use via Unsplash.