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Legislatively Speaking

Tropes, Stereotypes, and Ignorance

Lena C. Taylor

In the next few days, history will likely be made. In the 244-year history of the United States, we have had 45 presidents and 48 Vice Presidents. In all that time, not a single woman has ever held these positions. Understanding the evolution that has been required in how women have been viewed historically, I am reminded of the impassioned plea of Abigail Adams, wife of founding U.S. father, John Adams.

On March 31, 1776, in a letter to her husband, Abigail Adams made a request of John and the members of the Continental Congress to “Remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” Of course, that plea didn’t include women of color.

It would be 72 years, before the first women’s rights convention was held in New York, in 1848. Some 300 people attended, both men and women, from the U.S. and abroad, and of varying races. While organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others, there was early friction between white and black women about obtaining the right to vote. White females argued for the need for parity with their white male counterparts. Black women wanted the power of the vote to empower black communities facing systemic racism.

Although the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, was eventually passed, Stanton was infamously known for her stance that Black men should not be given the right to vote. She warned that white women would be degraded if Black men obtained the right to vote before white women. The 15th Amendment, granted African American men the right to vote. It was clear that race was and remains a factor in decisions, that should be about merit, access and equity.

Today, Democratic Party presidential nominee, Joe Biden is poised to select a woman to be his vice-presidential running mate. Women have been judged differently, according to many observers. Old sexist tropes have been mentioned and old racial stereotypes have trotted out. Ambition is a bad thing for women and one Virginia Mayor posted on Facebook that “Joe Biden has just announced Aunt Jemima as his VP pick”. When it comes to race and sexism, old habits die hard.

We have reached two major milestones in the nation’s history this year: the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment and the 55th anniversary of the passage of The Voting Rights Act. Women are still held to a different standard and there continues to be systemic efforts to roll back the voting rights of African-Americans. Ironically, while much has changed, some days it feels like not much has changed.

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