Thursday, August 18, 2016

96 Years of Voting Rights

72 years after the convention at Seneca Falls and 96 years ago from today, the Nineteenth Amendment became a part of the US Constitution due to the tireless demonstrating, writing, lobbying and general hell-raising by suffragettes.
Suffrage efforts were often focused on state and local government, with many states granting women suffrage well before the Nineteenth Amendment. This was not the case in Massachusetts, which overwhelmingly voted against women’s suffrage; first in the State House of Representatives in 1869 and then again in a 1895 statewide, non-binding referendum. Women were able to vote in the referendum, though they only made up 24,000 out of 600,000 eligible voters. Predictably, 96% of Massachusetts women voted in favor of female suffrage while only 32% of men did the same. However, there was a longstanding tradition of Massachusetts women being able to vote on issues related to schools and there are records of women voting on issues of bonds and taxes as well.
By 1919, women could vote for president in 27 states, making up 61% of the electoral college. Congressmen from these states became supporters of a constitutional amendment for national women’s suffrage, although many in the general public were still opposed. Many saw suffragettes as bitter, ugly women who renounced domestic work and wanted to subordinate men. On May 21, 1919, a proposed Nineteenth Amendment, strongly supported by President Wilson, passed the US House of Representatives. A few weeks later, it was passed in the Senate. Within a few days, state legislatures began ratifying the amendment. Massachusetts was the eighth state to approve the amendment, ratifying it on June 25, 1919. Tennessee was the last state to pass the amendment, narrowly approving the amendment during a special session right before the ratification period was to expire.
In November of that year, more than 8 million women across the US voted in elections for the first time. It took 64 years for the remaining 12 states to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment with Mississippi was the last to do so in 1984. Though ratification was not necessary, it was an important symbolic gesture stating that the states supported the women’s suffrage movement.
However, terming it the “women’s” movement can be fairly misleading, as it was predominantly concerned with the voting rights of white women. Female suffragettes were divided over granting voting rights to black men. While many supported the measures, a large number, including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton, thought that white women’s civil rights were more important and should come first. This attitude continued into the 20th century, with the most prominent women’s suffrage organization, the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA), explicitly excluding black women from its membership to gain the support of southern women.
Even after the passage of the 19th amendment, many women of color were barred from voting. People born in India, China or Japan did not gain the possibility of citizenship or the right to vote until the 1940s. The last state laws prohibiting Native Americans from voting were not overturned until 1948. Literacy tests and poll taxes in the south kept many black people from voting until well into the 1960s. Many “language minorities”, including Hispanic, Asian and indigenous communities, were unable to vote until the 1975 extension of the 1965 Voting Rights Act which mandated that election materials must be available in multiple languages.
Even though the barriers to voting remained insurmountable for many women, the Nineteenth Amendment was a major victory. Not only did it grant a fundamental civil right to women, it brought about the first wave of feminist consciousness in America and has since influenced feminist activism. Female participation in politics has been steadily growing and in 2012, 60% of voters were women. In this election cycle, the votes of women will be key: studies have shown that when women run for office, more women turn out to vote. This shows the power that women have, not only as voters but also as leaders. Today, we celebrate 96 years of making history-- here’s to many, many more! 

--- Sarah, MWPC Intern

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

What Eric and Donald Trump Get Wrong About Sexual Harassment

            The issue of workplace sexual harassment has made its way to the forefront of election issues with the slew of recent allegations against former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes. In an interview with NBC, Trump gave his (predictably sexist) take: “some of the women that are complaining, I know how much [Ailes has] helped them…[N]ow, all of a sudden, they're saying all these horrible things about him.”
            What Trump fails to recognize is that victims of abuse are often forced to maintain good relationships with their abusers, especially when the abuser is in a position of power. The accusations of the alleged victims are not “sudden”; rather, most of them no longer work at Fox (with many arguing they were fired in retaliation for refusing further sexual advances). Because they no longer need to choose between career advancement and personal safety, they are better able to speak out about their experiences.
            Unfortunately, larger societal stigma still lingers. Public reactions to incidents of sexual harassment and assault are often mixed, with many people believing that the victim somehow is to blame. Harassers, on the other hand, usually walk away with little consequence and no incentive to change their behavior. This is epitomized in Eric Trump’s remarks on his father’s comment: “There is no question that obviously [sexual harassment] should be addressed, and it should be addressed strongly,” he said. Then he added that his sister, Ivanka, “is a strong, you know, powerful woman,” and “I don’t think she would allow herself to be subjected to [sexual harassment].” The corollary of Eric Trump’s statement is that it is the victim’s, not the harasser’s, responsibility to stop sexual harassment.
            Ivanka Trump, who responded to a question about her father’s comments on Tuesday by denouncing harassment of any kind as “inexcusable,” is no doubt a strong and powerful woman. Unfortunately, that does not make her impervious to inappropriate behavior. In her 2009 book, The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life, she describes her “recurring nightmare[s]” after being cat-called by workers at her father’s construction sites. She faced a “no-win situation,” she wrote. “If I ignored the inappropriate remarks, I might come across as weak. If I responded too harshly, I’d be a tightly wound witch.”
Eric Trump’s logic (or lack thereof) was echoed by Donald Trump. He remarked that if Ivanka were sexually harassed in the workplace, “I would like to think she would find another career or find another company.” In other words, a victim of harassment must sacrifice his or her career in order to find the workplace safety that is guaranteed by Title VII of the 1964 Equal Rights Act.
            Besides the fact that Trump Sr.’s plan further places a burden on victims, it is simply not an option for most women, especially those in low-wage jobs. In a study of 1,200 low-income workers in the Greater Boston area, 26 percent of women and 22 percent of men reported experiencing sexual harassment. Even this likely undercounts the number of incidents; 60 percent of workers who experienced harassment said they never reported it. However, many said that they chose to stay at their jobs and/or not report harassment for financial reasons.
            Trump’s approach to workplace harassment is predictably Trump-esque. Rather than having a comprehensive policy plan, he “says what he thinks” and then moves on without really addressing the issue at hand. It is precisely this lack of discussion that results in workplaces where harassment is the disappointing norm.

-- Sarah, MWPC Intern

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Michelle Obama's DNC Speech: Legacy, Glass Ceilings, and Clinton's Impact

Last night, Michelle Obama made her last DNC speech as First Lady one to remember. Her rousing speech touched on the central issues of the campaign: hateful rhetoric, a divided Democratic party, partisan gridlock. But Mrs. Obama emphasized a fact that has somehow stayed in the background thus far: that Hillary Clinton in the first woman to become a major party nominee.

As she did eight years ago when her husband received the party nomination, Mrs. Obama’s speech centered around the future, specifically the nation’s children. She highlighted the myriad ways media and politics can affect to worldviews of children. “This election -- every election -- is about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of our lives.” She emphasized the importance of her husband’s role as the country’s first black president, saying “Barack and I…know that our words and actions matter, not just to our girls, but the children across this country…Kids like the little black boy who looked up at my husband, his eyes wide with hope and he wondered, is my hair like yours?”

She compared that significance to Clinton’s historical nomination, saying “Hillary Clinton [has] the guts and the grace to keep coming back and putting those cracks in that highest and hardest glass ceiling until she finally breaks through, lifting all of us along with her…Because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters and all our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.”

Indeed, Hillary Clinton’s nomination and potential presidency will influence millions of young people worldwide. Not only is she role model to girls who dream of being politicians, she is a role model to people everywhere who believe in gender equality. Children will grow up learning that yes, indeed, women can be president. They can and they will.

-- Sarah, MWPC Intern

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Equal Pay in MA: House Unanimously Passes Pay Equity Legislation

On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed An Act to Establish Pay Equity 158-0. This bill is just the most recent effort to establish pay equity in Massachusetts. Senator Patricia Jehlen and Representative Ellen Story, two of the bill’s sponsors, have been working on similar legislation since 1998. With the help of Senator Karen Spilka and Representative Jay Livingstone, they worked on a more comprehensive bill.
Included in this legislation is a clear definition of comparable work, “work that is substantially similar in that it requires substantially similar skill, effort and responsibility and is performed under similar working conditions.” Focusing on “comparable” rather than “equal” work is key, as occupational segregation is responsible for 27% of the gender wage gap. This means that much of the pay gap is attributed to lower pay for jobs that are traditionally “female” or female-dominated, rather than pay disparities within specific occupations.
The current bill also prevents hiring managers from requiring applicants to disclose their past salary history or asking their former employers for that information, as this disclosure can often reinforce the cycle of discrimination. However, it does allow employees to discuss their salaries with each other.
Furthermore, the bill gives companies more leeway to defend against discrimination claims if they can prove that they have tried to fix pay inequities; in doing so, it gives them incentive to conduct self-evaluations to show their “good faith,” and makes it more appealing to businesses who feared they would be “vulnerable to wage discrimination lawsuits.”
Although the fight to end wage disparities based on gender has been strong since the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963, a 2014 study from the National Women’s Law Center revealed that women in Massachusetts make just 82 cents compared to every dollar earned by men. This discrepancy increases among women of color: black women make 61 cents on the dollar, while Latinas make just 50 cents. Not only does the gender pay gap hurt women who are deprived of their hard earned dollars, but it also hurts families. Nationally, 40% of women are the breadwinners or sole earners of their households. Lower wages throughout life means that women contribute less to retirement plans, receive lower pensions and lower Social Security benefits.
The Senate unanimously passed their version of the bill in January; as both chambers of legislature have now voted, a conference committee negotiate the differences before the final bill heads to Governor Charlie Baker. With the passage of this bill, Massachusetts is one step closer to closing the wage gap. Here’s to achieving economic parity for all women!
- Abigail and Sarah, MWPC Interns