brass tacks

With all that’s been happening lately with the DNC, the delegates, the debates, the endless op-eds and platitudes, I wanted to bring up something of which, apparently, many of my peers are unaware.

4 amendments and 50 years separate the right for women’s suffrage and that of all men, regardless of race, to vote.

The fourteenth amendment was ratified by congress on 3rd February, 1870.

The nineteenth amendment was ratified by congress on 18th August, 1920.

One reads:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation 


the other:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.


In between those two came the amendment to allow direct election of two senators from each state, unapportioned federal taxes on income (non-discriminatory), and prohibition.

The fine people of the United States, and their government, saw it fit to ban booze while keeping an enormous segment of the population from voting.  Guess what?  It wasn’t black men.  The fourteenth amendment granted them the right to vote- during reconstruction.  Women had to wait 50 years. 

Now, don’t get me wrong- it’s no secret that blacks were intimidated, frustrated and deterred often and egregiously during this period.  Hell, still are (Broward County 2004 ring any bells?).  Blacks were still being lynched, segregation was in full force, and would be for many years to come.  Yet women were not able to vote.  A woman actually served in the senate in Montana-  four years before she could vote for herself.

I think there is something profoundly interesting and significant that in this country, people who were not allowed to eat in the same area, sit in the same section, enter the front door of a club they were headlining because of their skin color were allowed to participate in the bedrock upon which our system of goverment rests.  They had a voice through the ballot (though often suppressed), if not in the public.

Yet, women- and let’s talk about white women here, since it’s more to the point of the argument- enjoyed all the priveleges of free citizens, but were denied the most fundamental and powerful aspect of our society- to participate in the electoral process, determine the laws and rules that would shape society, decide whom would represent them locally, nationally, globally.

This is by no means a “who had it worse” debate.  I think there is no question that the racism that’s diseased this country since its inception is alive and well, and has been since before there was a constitution.  It’s ugly, it’s pervasive, it’s evil and though it’s been largely publicly subverted, it destroys lives and souls and possibilities every minute of the day.

The thing is, misogyny is, too.  Deeply, ubiquitiously, quietly present.  In places and manners we scarcely imagine in our post- Steinhem, Friedan and Madonna-brand of empowerment world.

The mudslinging, rhetoric, “mis-speaking,” betrayals, promises, etc. have been par for the course in this election.  Nothing new to see there, folks.  But the casual, comprehensive and generally accepted misogynistic handling of Hilary Clinton by the media, pundits and public was largely accepted, ignored, even denied. 

But it’s there, and we need to face it. 

On a lark, I polled my friends, most of whom are news-reading, well informed, open-minded and educated (either self or university) about who had the right to vote first.  Not a single person out of about 20 got it right, and all were SHOCKED to learn the reality.  Because lily-white or not, we’re all aware and ashamed of the racism here- from subtle micro-inequities to outright hate crimes.  We know it exists, even if we don’t deal with it every day. 

However, the way that women are thought of- by both sexes- is unrecognized, marginalized, trivialized and ignored.  It’s a disgace to a nation that prides itself on “freedom.”  Women have held the seat of power in conservative and “backward” nations since the turn of the the 20th century- Sri Lanka, India, Central African Republic, Pakistan, England, Bangladesh, Israel, Turkey, Burundi, Mongolia, South Korea, Peru, Macedonia, and Poland- to name a few.  In the last two hundred years, about as many women have ruled nations including economic powerhouses like Germany and the UK, and Islamic near-theocracies, as have served in the US Senate during twice that time.

It’s no secret that I was/ am a supporter of Hillary Clinton.  Now that the nomination lies squarely with Barack Obama, I will throw all my support and interest into his campaign.  Not just because he’s the Democrat, but because I believe he’s a decent person, and earnest, and a good candidate.  I just thought she was better. 

I write all this not to bemoan Hillary’s loss, or because it’s sour grapes, but because I think that while it is positive and interesting that the two contenders are from demographics previously unthought of to lead the US, but because there was some seriously ugly, seriously pervasive, seriously sad things brought to light.  And we need to think about it.

And for those who think I exaggerate- there are many of us here in the US, and many, many, many more abroad who honestly cringe at the memory of George W. Bush condescendingly and inappropriately putting his hands on the shoulders of Angela Merkel, one of the most powerful leaders in the world, at a G-8 summit a little more than a year ago.  It was a small gesture to be sure, but one that spoke volumes.  And people all over the world were listening, watching.  Some of them the same people we condemn and “educate” on their cultural practices dealing with women.  Say what you will about Musharraf or Putin, they would never have been that disrespectful of a colleague in public, especially in such a setting. 

Don’t just accept it.  See it.  Recognize it. 

Don’t stand for it.


2 Responses to “brass tacks”

  1. 1 John 14 April, 2009 at 08:28

    Concerning Bush and Merkel: Just wondering if you got this second hand or if you have access to raw data as in “were you there, did you hear every word that was exchanged between the two?”. She obviously looks alarmed, and I would too. However, I think you are mistakenly placing a “racist” twist to a stupid gesture of friendship. Perhaps she complained of neck or shoulder pain. I have never met W in person, but everyone I know who has says he is a very friendly and approachable person. Also, this possibility does not rebut any of the other things you discussed in your post. It really is strange how the educated white males pushed such subjects as eugenics. I inherited a book when I bought my last house and I was appalled at the view points. Love conquers all.

    • 2 isosceles 18 April, 2009 at 23:27

      Hi John,

      No, I don’t have any inside information. Just 30 years or so of being a woman in many a boys club, and a follower of global politics. I did not mean to imply that there was anything “racist” about the ‘gesture.’ rather, I was placing it in the sexist/ misogynistic camp. While it may be true that W is a friendly and approachable person, that gesture is not appropriate unless Merkel and he are close friends- which to my knowledge, is not the case. Even if they were, it would be completely inappropriate to make it in a G8 summit meeting. I cannot imagine him approaching Chirac the same way, or Vladimir Putin. Italians and French are very affectionate- despite homophobia being a worldwide phenomenon, many Europeans, especially in the south, mix friendly affectionate contact amongst males with machismo. Yet, you’ve never seen Chirac, Prodi, Zapatero, approach an American president that way- it would be culturally insensitive and inappropriate to say the least. Which is diplomacy 101.

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“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”


Upon common theatres, indeed, the applause of the audience is of more importance to the actors than their own approbation. But upon the stage of life, while conscience claps, let the world hiss! On the contrary if conscience disapproves, the loudest applauses of the world are of little value - john adams
June 2008
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from the man who taught me everything:

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.”



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