I am, as will become obvious, backdating this post. This week has been too wretchedly awful to think about blogging.
For five years, I've had half my mind in the 1790s. It often puts things in perspective. Let's take, oh, I don't know, WOMEN FOR EXAMPLE. In the 1790s, women who married did not legally exist, because of coverture: "Under this common law doctrine, wives generally could not own property, earn wages, or make contracts, and they were dependent on their husbands for economic maintenance." This was only effective to the degree that it was practicable, but the point is that if a husband wanted to smother his wife - metaphorically - he unquestionably had the power to do that. If he wanted to smother her literally he had a good chance of getting away with that, too. So when you compare 1790 to 2016, things have obviously improved for women. That's the good side of the perspective.
The bad side of the perspective is how much has not improved. A few months ago, someone in my writing group wrote a comment next to a rather gender-unequal scene in my book: "OMG... not much has changed... give me strength." I think about that comment a lot, because I had not until that point realized how much of Heli's experience of being a woman in 1793-4 stems directly from my experience of being a woman in 2016. It is not difficult to imagine her feelings. In this case, the 1790s are providing the reverse perspective: two centuries have passed. Oppression should no longer be relatable.
On the day of the election, Susan B. Anthony's grave had so many visitors that Mt. Hope Cemetery set up barricades to help keep the line orderly. There were so many people I didn't get anywhere near the grave, but I didn't mind. It was wonder enough to see so many people so excited about the prospect of electing a woman to the highest office in the country. When I got back to work, my coworker confessed that she had not even thought of Susan B. Anthony. She had simply voted and gone about her business, taking her ability to vote for granted. I use the word "confessed" because she said she felt guilty about it. But on the other hand, shouldn't voting be something women take for granted? Of course we're grateful to the women and men who fought for it, and we should never forget them, nor that the fight was necessary. But should we be grateful for something that should always have been ours?
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.
Equality is natural law, so if some people have the right to vote, all people should have the right to vote. No one should ever need to be grateful for that right - especially if people had to spill blood to be able to exercise it because those who already had it did not want to share, and clung to it with invective and violence. Same for emancipation. Gratitude is not the right word. The appropriate rhetoric here is: About damn time.
The outcome of this election taught me something about myself, which is that more than any other aspect of my existence - my economic status, my skin color, my sexual identity, etc. - I apparently identify first and foremost with my gender. Because my immediate reaction was to feel rejected by my country on the basis of my gender. You are not equal, said America. No matter how intelligent and dedicated a woman is, she is not as good as the very worst of men.
So when I listened to Hillary Clinton's concession speech, this (I think soon to be oft-quoted) part is what made me tear up at my desk:
And to all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.
I was comforted (insofar as one can find comfort in this situation) until Michelle Wolf of The Daily Show pointed to the same quote and said, "The saddest thing I've heard all day is that we have to be reminded of that." And she's right. Feeling buoyed by that quote is like being grateful for the vote. Little girls should be taking their equality for granted. All people should be taking their equality for granted. We shouldn't need to be reminded that black lives matter, either, and yet the nation can't even get behind that obvious truth wholeheartedly. I'm focusing on women in this post, but this election was about whether we would uphold the idea that all people are created equal, like it says in the Declaration of Independence. And America said no. Women are less important, people of color are less important, the LGBTQ community is less important, disabled people are less important, immigrants are less important, people who are not Christian are less important; the rights of all these human beings come well behind the economic concerns of white people.
Hillary Clinton had to put that reminder in her speech because she knew that little girls across the country, and teenage girls, and grown women, were doubting their equality. I was. Right now, the 1790s feel much too recent.
Image: Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. "To a suffragette valentine." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 191-. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e3-64cf-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Please note that this valentine has clearly been through the post office. Someone sent this to someone else. Imagine how that felt.
Coverture quote from Women's Roles in Eighteenth-Century America, by Merril D. Smith, page 31. Highly recommended by moi.