Ninety-six years after women gained suffrage, there are two women running for president of the United States. Women rising to engage in this level of political visibility, power, and significance is thrilling, but this development begs the question of whether the US will join the ranks of Germany, Brazil, and the UK who already have female heads of state. The very fact that the US in is the position to entertain the possibility of a female president is indicative of progress, but it is problematic that America is 239 years old and has yet to achieve this milestone. When one considers the millions of women who have been barred from actively participating in the political process due to economic, societal, and structural reasons, one is able to reflect upon the potential squandered, the insight ignored, the perspective overlooked.
The founding fathers created a government that was and is “by the people and for the people,” and yet, 50% of the population have been expressly barred based on uncontrollable aspects, such as gender, race, and economic circumstances. The narrow level of diversity within the political history of our nation undermines the authenticity, accuracy, and efficiency of the democracy we are eager to tout. Not only does this make democracy less democratic, but it also reinforces and perpetuates the cycles of low levels of female participation in government. When young girls come of age in a world where women are yet to occupy the Oval Office and are a minority in all bodies of legislature, it would be natural for them not to find commonality with those in Washington. This lack of connection makes them less likely to participate in politics, or run for office-which further reinforces this cycle of gendered apathy.
Women’s role in politics has been one of slow but steady gains, of passion, drive, and determination. Of grassroots efforts and interest groups. Of mothers and career-women banding together for progress for future women. Of small cracks in the proverbial glass ceiling. But now, what is the status of this boundary our foremothers have fought so ardently for?
When I think about these movements, I enthusiastically contemplate the history of the suffragettes who were willing to endure nights in jail, social isolation, and consistently push for fundamental change in the political realm. I reflect fondly upon women who pushed the boundaries of socially accepted paths for women and utilized their intellect to forge meaningful contributions to society, like Marie Currie and the revolutionary discovery of radium. I admire women like Eleanor Roosevelt who were willing to be helpful, regardless of the task—whether it be representing the U.S. as a Delegate to the United Nations or feeding the hungry children in Hooverville.
But what have I, or, more broadly, my generation done to further this charge for progress? One could say it is too soon to tell, that the millennial generation is still gaining agency and understanding their larger purpose and context. But as Winston Churchill once said, “with great power comes great responsibility.” The millennial generation is the most educated generation to date and has access to a wealth of information. Our freedom, potential, and opportunity would arguably not be possible if the possible was not questioned in the past. Yet, millennials are skeptical of associating with contemporary women’s rights rhetoric. It carries a mixed connotation that is diluted and twisted by those who either ardently disagree or perplexingly do not understand the ethos of the movement.
I registered to vote online in my dorm room, and the biggest struggle in regards to suffrage was turning 18. Never have I had to fight for my right to vote and never has anyone fought to take away my right. But much of my generation does not share the zeal that the suffragettes exerted. We have not picketed, protested, nor been barred from the democratic process based on gender. I would assert that we have not responded appropriately to the privilege of being women in the 21st century. If the male-to-female ratio within American government continues to progress at the same rate, it will take approximately 500 years for women to reach equal representation in government.
But America does not have 500 years to wait. We must move forward with a faster and more inclusive velocity. In order to foster greater female participation in government, we must encourage, engage, and empower young women to interact with and draw meaning from the investment women’s rights supporters have achieved throughout history. Girls must be shown positive examples of women who demonstrate an intentional balance between personal ambition, family goals, and emotional fulfillment. They must hear more about Michelle Obama’s Harvard Law degree and less about her arm muscles or fashion contributions. They must be encouraged by parents, peers, and mentors that political participation is an important aspect of life and vehicle for change. Millennial women must know the lasting significance that females have established and the potential that they possess.
-Rosanna Drinkhouse studies Political Science and English at Gordon College. She is actively involved with Student Government, Model United Nations, and the Political Discourse Club.