We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed ...
Men? All men are created equal? What about women?
In elementary school we learned that "men" meant "both men and women," and for a while we bought that ... until the Women's Movement. Unexamined sexism allowed us to say "doctor, he" and "nurse, she," and how language became a tool of control. A lot of time was spent in the 1970s removing sexist preconceptions from the language. The language lost some poetry as a result, but women gained some rights.
But are the high flowing words of the American Declaration of Independence only an ideal? The Soviets came to that conclusion about their own system. Pure Communism was an ideal, but practicality prevented it and The USSR renounced Communism ... at least officially and in large part.
Perhaps the struggle of the last 30 years in the Women's Movement has led us in the United States to the same de facto conclusion about principles alluded to in the Declaration of Independence.
Perhaps most people - rightly or wrongly - believe that the biological difference between men and women are so different, that there never can be true equality. And men, who on the surface would seem to gain most from keeping women "not equal," are not the only culprits. Perhaps the majority of women agree.
And yet all around, people want to have their cake and it it too. On the one hand, women are told in some states that once they are impregnated, they must carry the baby to term - as we saw in the recent publicity over the South Dakota Law. A woman does not have the right to choose.
In another case, one in the UK, a man has asked that the eggs he fertilized be destroyed. The woman wants to bear the children, but the man - claiming "choice" - is asserting his right to choose. Judges will eventually decide.
Indeed, these are different legal jurisdictions, but the unspoken assumption is so very much ingrained that it is never debated or discussed. People believe there are two categories of people ... despite the Declaration and elementary school English ... that say that men and women are not equal.
Men are equal as a class. Women are equal as a class. People will subscribe to that and the courts can thrash that out when one group of men gains at the expense of another. Same with women. But, what happens tacitly is that men and women are not equal and society seems to run on that assumption.
The abortion debate at one moment runs on the argument of equality, then on the argument of inequality - each side using both arguments to make its point. The Women's Rights Movement has been marginalized and maneuvered into the Reproductive Rights Movement - a long way away from what the women of the Women's Liberation Movement were talking about in the 1960s and 1970s.
Feminists of the 1960s and 1970s almost managed to get the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) passed. This would have made our elementary school English teachers' assertions correct; that the word "men" means "men and women" in the context of rights.
However, as we left the barricades and entered corporate and marital life and a host of 30-something realities, equality suddenly did not look the same as it did when we were idealistic students and fresh graduates. Maybe our mothers knew something we didn't. Maybe institutionalized sexism was so pervasive and the institutions so fundamentally "male," that we really did not want that sort of equality. A law, even a Constitutional Amendment, was not going to get us into the Old Boys Network, nor were we going to let men into the International Women's Grapevine. In fact, what would that look like? We were stumped.
At we hit 30-something, we started to get serious about having babies. Even lesbians were having children, and Reproductive Rights trumped most of the other demands, and maybe an Equal Rights Amendment wasn't such a good idea - not after Prince Charming proved not-charming, and possibly ran off with someone else, leaving us with the pregnancies and the brood. Shouting out "equality," he demanded alimony, or at least insisted he did not have to pay much in child support since we women now had access to cool careers and could make do - never mind we put off childbearing for some additional years - until maybe we could no longer conceive.
The differences between men and women became more clear as time wore on and we wondered if our mothers hadn't gotten it "right," after all, and suddenly Phyllis Schlafly, for all her insipid rhetoric and hypocrisy, began to make a sort of perverse sense. Sexism was so ingrained in the culture that if the ERA got passed, men would use it when it suited them, while maintaining business-as-usual the rest of the time.
We saw it with our husbands. We both had power careers, but guess who always ended up doing the dishes? Well, it wasn't him. Granted, men got better at helping around the house and in a number of other realms, but men did not change at a fundamental level nor has including women markedly changed institutions. Most of the women who have made it have not transformed the institution. The institution has transformed them, and it is hardly something most of us envisioned, nor would we have wanted to become like them.
People despise Hillary and/or Condi, yet they are the blue and red exponents of the 1960s/1970s and are not what we had in mind when we asked for Constitutionally guaranteed equality.
The gains made by the Second Wave of Feminism have been masterfully utilized by these young women - and fact boys have been raised (by us!) to be less overtly sexist has helped - and things have gotten better in one sense, so much so that Women's Rights have fallen of the radar, altogether. They're in there with "save the Spotted Owls" on the list of the social agenda.
But it is not the fault of the men or even the women. Women have defected from the Progressives and the Progressives have returned the favor and dropped much of the pro-woman and pro-choice language from their platforms.
Some of the political bloggers say we should vote Democrat, regardless. Some say that a third party is a pipe dream.
As for me, I'm going to vote for every woman I can. If there are two women in the race, I'll vote for the more Progressive one.
Is this a flawed concept? No more flawed than voting for a Democrat, just because he is a Democrat.
Right now, women are in largely male governing institutions such as government and large corporations. There are a few who have risen to the top - Hillary and Condi, as stated earlier - but they are products of institutions shaped primarily by men and whose male traditions are longstanding. What woman can stand in the face of that? Second Wave Feminists know all about being the only-woman-in-the-group. We recall how isolating it was and that there were no role models.
Later, younger women came in and they did not experience this same isolation, nor did they go through quite the trial by fire - and that is good they were spared that. And yet, if there were more women - red, blue, green, whatever - the women would start to think about what it would mean to be equal and to restructure institutions that are not based on the Old Boys Network.
I can't hate or blame Hillary or Condi for who and what they are having emerged from that morass. They have survived in a world which thinks (right down to the grass roots - blue grass and red grass) that men and women are simply not equal.
However, if there were more women in all positions of leadership, over time the women would get it right - just as we do when we meet as women in our own gatherings. We have divisions and don't all speak with the same voice, but when we don't have men looking over our shoulders and there aren't men to have to cater to, the dynamic is different - even in the face of differences.
So that is why in the next election, I will vote for the women, then for progressives. Finally Democrats.
Equality will not happen until women are represented in half the institutions - and then they will work their magic.
My only regret is that it may take another century.
But it has, at least, begun.