For most holidays, I’m fairly certain on what greeting and tone to use. It’s "Merry Christmas," not "Happy Christmas." You’re supposed to say “Happy New Year” for Rosh Hashanah but not Yom Kippur, and at the end of Ramadan, you wish Muslim friends “Eid Mubarak.” But for Monday's holiday, “Women’s Equality Day,” I’m not sure if I should place an exclamation point or a question mark at the end of my greeting. Is it appropriate to proclaim women’s equality if we still have miles to go?
Women’s Equality Day was established by Congress in 1971 in order to commemorate the Nineteenth Amendment (that’s the one that gave women the right to vote for those of you keeping score at home) and those who fought for its passage. As a little girl, I listened to stories about how my great-grandmother Lena would literally stand on a soapbox in Philly’s streets, demanding the right to vote. As Lena’s descendant, I truly treasure my right to vote and engage in American politics and my gratitude is heightened by my father’s background as a Mexican immigrant. Yet I have a feeling that Lena would want this day to mean more than just a vapid expression of thanks to white ladies in long skirts. Which is why today is requires questioning ourselves, our communities, and our nation. And let’s be clear: T his isn’t your momma’s yoga class. If these questions aren’t uncomfortable, than you’re doing it wrong.
Within the “typical feminist scene,” today will probably be a day that sparks discussions on our access to reproductive justice, equal pay for equal work, and work/family balance. Even in these categories there is certainly room for improvement — just ask Wendy Davis or Lilly Ledbetter. But if we continue to evaluate the progress of all American women only by concerns that mostly benefit white, professional, middle-class women, we are guaranteed to come up short. Women’s issues and feminist issues, inherently include issues about race, immigration status, and class. If today is meant to celebrate the achievement of Women’s Equality, we can’t limit our search just to secure easy answers. It’s time for 21st century women’s rights.
We must call out the disenfranchising voting ID laws in states like Texas and North Carolina which have heightened consequences for Latino and black voters, including Latino and black women voters. (Happy Women’s Equality Day?) We need to realize that the United States’ mass detention of undocumented immigrants has separated mothers from their children and has made women vulnerable to systematic sexual assault from government workers. (Happy Women’s Equality Day?) We all have to recognize how Chelsea Manning’s recent announcement has sparked unbelievable amounts of transphobia. (Happy Women’s Equality Day?) We acknowledge that these issues are our issues and it is imperative to lend our support in the best ways we can.
For our generation, Women’s Equality Day must be an occasion to look forward and to push on. Equality might be reached if we measure adequate childcare from the CEO’s vantage point along with the teacher’s. Equality won't be reached until all women have access to reproductive justice, regardless of whether their state is red or blue. It will be reached, to paraphrase the words of Ella Baker, once the killing of black men, black mother’s sons, is as important as the killing of white mothers’ sons.
Our generation’s fight for women’s equality must resist this idea that social justice is a zero-sum game. Feminism will not splinter if we include these perspectives and these issues with our fight for focus. It will pulsate with great vibrancy, determination, and courage. To my great-grandmother, Lena: Happy Women’s Equality Day. May next year’s celebration be even more assured!