One hundred years ago, American women at long last were guaranteed the right to vote under the Constitution. Women across the country—from a wide variety of backgrounds and ideologies—worked together to advance the common cause of giving all women an equal voice in the American democracy.
What would the suffragists think of how women are faring in the political process today? Especially, what would they think of the new reality that, while women all have the right to vote, today many are silenced or fear speaking out because of our weaponized political discourse?
On some levels, the suffragists would be gratified to witness the tremendous power that women wield as elected officials, candidates, community leaders and voters. Yes, there are still fewer women in Congress, Governorships, and other halls of power. But it is now common to see women running and winning any elected position. Everyone knows that it’s only a matter of time—and probably not very long—until we have a female President.
Women’s progress in terms of economic power and education has been even more spectacular. Women now receive the majority of bachelors, masters, business, law, and medical degrees and greatly outnumber men on college campuses. Women hold a majority of professional and managerial positions in American businesses. In 2019, for the first time, women comprised the majority of America’s college-educated workforce. Women are also increasingly starting businesses of their own. In 2018, there were 12.3 million women-owned businesses (40 percent of all firms), employing 8 percent of the total private sector workforce.
The suffragists of 100 years ago would undoubtedly be thrilled by this progress.
Yet I bet they would also be alarmed at the tactics that are being wielded against some women (and men) in what is known as cancel culture. This vicious form of public shaming is more comprehensive and lasting than what could be achieved one hundred years ago, thanks to our omnipresent technology that ensures that people can’t just be censored by their local community, but can involve the whole world and live forever in the garbage-filled, but eternal, information dump that is today’s internet.
Consider this list of modern feminists who dared to question the push to erase the idea of women as a distinct sex. These women argue that this trend to allowing people to self-define their sex will undermine long fought for protections for women, such as women-only domestic violence shelters and women’s athletics teams, which are necessary both for women’s safety and to give them the opportunity to compete and win. These women don’t just face fierce debate — something that ought to be expected and welcomed — but rather than are being “cancelled” through social media pressure. The social media mob succeeded in bullying supposed arenas for free and open discussion—such as the New York Public Library— to prevent these women from holding an event and speaking on their premises.
The suffragists may have had different takes on their arguments, but undoubtedly would have thought these women deserved to be heard without facing such threats. Women are even being targeted just for being associated with people holding politically incorrect views: Actress Jodie Comer was cancelled simply for dating a man suspected to support President Trump.
Female voters today are subjected to lecturing and pressure that isn’t applied to males. Women are routinely today that, because of their sex, they are supposed to vote one way. In 2016, numerous prominent figures—from Madeleine Albright to Barbara Streisand—argued that women were obliged to vote for the female candidate ought of a loyalty to the sex. Obviously that wasn’t meant to hold when the female candidate is a Republicans. But everything from day time talk shows to women’s magazines echo the narrative that women who fail to embrace progressive orthodoxy are self-loathing pseudo women, as well as racists and bigots.
This stereotyping of women is not what the suffragists fought for. Men are not lectured about needing to vote one way or another merely because of their identity as a male. The suffrage movement meant to give women equal rights not just to vote, but to make up their own minds and freely express their opinions. That’s a right that we need to continue to fight for today.