Today is Women’s Equality Day, celebrating the passage of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote on August 26, 1920. It is certainly an important day and an essential acknowledgment. And, like many of the days marking key moments in American history, and more specifically in the American feminist movement, it tells only part of the story.
Suffrage for some.
The full story is that black women had much to do with the achievement of this day while receiving little of both the credit and benefit.Black reformers such as Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, and Frances E. W. Harper were tireless pioneers in the suffrage movement and yet were often excluded and ostracized by their white female counterparts. And while some black women did exercise their right to vote with the passage of the 19th amendment, state prohibitions and intimidation tactics kept the majority away from the polls for another 40 years, until the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
Of course, the story doesn’t end there.
New issues. Same segregation.
The 1960s gave rise to another wave of feminism, also dominated by the voices and concerns of privileged white women.
While white women fought for the right to work outside the home, working outside the home had long been a necessity, a matter of survival over social equity for black women. While white women fought for reproductive freedom based on the right to choose, black women were fighting against more grim and oppressive reproductive tactics, such as forced sterilization.
Does that mean we negate the great achievements of The Equal Pay Act, Title IX, or Roe v. Wade? No, of course not.
But if we are at all interested in an accurate accounting of history, and an honest acknowledgment of what days like today, Women’s Equality Day, really mean, we have to be willing to call out both the wins and failings of the feminist movement.
We have to call it for what it was: brave, important, and necessary, and also dismissive and exclusionary. It held the truths and experience of white women, and a limited segment of white women, at that.
The feminist movement has become more integrated over the past 50 years, but change has been incremental and insufficient. The recent outrage of the Black Lives Matter movement has shown just how deep the racial divide remains in this country, and how hard we all need to work to dismantle the many systems upholding this divide.
We’ve got to do better.
As a feminist organization dedicated to closing the economic gender gap, we hold and include all women in our vision and mission. It’s ridiculous to even consider an intention of: gender parity for some.
And, we also see history repeating herself: women of color making a disproportionate contribution to female business leadership in the U.S. while receiving disproportionately fewer economic benefits and protections.
Case in point:
While the total number of women-owned businesses grew 21% from 2014-2019, companies run by women of color grew at double the rate, by 43%, with black women-owned businesses leading the charge at 50%. Enter the coronavirus pandemic, and between February and April 2020, active black-owned businesses plummeted by 41% compared to 22% for the general business population. Only 12% of black and Latino businesses who applied for aid through the Small business Administration reported receiving any while half of all small businesses reported receiving assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program alone.
We need to fix this. As human beings and as women and as an organization, we need to do better.
And, we fully realize the limitations of our own vantage point and experience. Of our social and professional networks.
The members of our startup team are white, Latinx, Asian American. We are diverse-ish, just like lots of organizations, places, and spaces in America. It’s who and where we are, for today. We realize it is an imperfect place.
So what will we do? What are we doing?We are sitting with the truths of history and of our own lives, for starters. We are listening and learning. We are reaching out, making plans, altering course as needed. We are working diligently and with humility to create a marketplace for women that accurately reflects real life.
After all, if it’s not the whole story, it’s not a very good story, is it?