“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
The nomination of Senator Hillary Clinton as our party’s candidate for President of the United States is one of those benchmark moments that gives us a hopeful glimpse into that just future, and reminds us how long it takes to get there.
The civil rights movement has grown to include important conversations about rights for persons of color, right for LGBT persons, rights for immigrants, and the concept of intersectionality. As those conversations continue, we must also remember that we have not completed the simple, obvious fight for equal rights for those people who are only set apart from the people in power by the fact that they still have ovaries instead of having had their ovaries turn into testicles in the womb.
At the 2016 Democratic Convention we finally saw a 102-year-old woman, whose life has spanned all three waves of feminism, declare her state’s delegates for a female candidate who is likely to be the next President of the United States. It has taken nearly the entire century since the Nineteenth Amendment has passed for her to see a major party nominate a woman for President.
I celebrate this milestone for what it represents about the progressive movement at its best – creating a world where prejudices, bigotries, and superstitions do not define people’s roles in society. I also view it as a cautionary reminder that, even on the most basic issues of equality, the work takes decades or even centuries, and the work is never done.
Even if we give lip service to the idea that we know the struggle for women’s rights in the West is an ongoing one, our practice as progressives undercuts the claim. We fight among each other as if the matter of equal rights – legally and culturally – for women were settled, scrabbling over minutiae and details and who the “real” feminists are. Meanwhile, it has taken a hundred years to go from women having the vote to a major political party putting forward a woman as their candidate.
Surely Jerry Emmett , and the other senior delegates, hoped it would happen in their lifetime and feared that it would never happen at all. I shared those hopes, and those fears. Hope, because it seemed like each generation was moving closer to the just future Dr. King spoke of in Montgomery. Fear, because – having gained some momentum and a seat at the table – whole segments of the feminist movement seemed to devour themselves and their allies.
I wonder how much harm we have done to basic progressive causes by attacking each other and fragmenting into tiny camps seeking to out-progressive our neighbors. I was born in the seventies, and saw – as a child – the victories of second wave feminism that made it possible for the leaders of third-wave feminism to have the freedom and social capital to attack each other for not being “real” TM feminists. I’ve watched people simultaneously defend gender and sex stereotypes when they found them personally affirming (and call that “feminism”) while simultaneously attacking gender and sex stereotypes when they found them offensive or counter-productive (and call that “feminism,” too).
All the while: female CEO’s, Senators, and Governors remain rare as hen’s teeth; disenfranchised men continue to vent their anger at successful women through threats of rape and other forms of violence online and in-person; and men who stay home to raise children, as well as women who go back to jobs outside their homes, face unfair stereotypes and expectations about their roles at home and in the workplace.
We turned on each other long before the fight was done, somehow thinking that our infighting would produce the final (as if there were such a thing) push into actual equality. Personally, I think we placed our energies in the wrong place, but equality means everyone should be equally free to fight for what matters to them, so I am glad that – at the very least – there is space for all of the competing voices of modern feminism to be heard. Nonetheless, the century it took to nominate a woman for President, fifty years after the Democratic party became the party of civil rights, reminds us that the original fight for basic equality of the sexes is far from over.
In this moment, then, I will celebrate this victory for what it is – a watershed moment in the long arc begun by the founding mothers of feminism when they fought back against the notion that women should have no say in how the world was run. There are people alive today who remember the era when denying even basic rights to women was “common sense,” and there are people alive today fighting to return to those good ol’ days and make America “great” again.
The nomination of Hillary Clinton stands as a beacon against the dark shadows of those days – past and yet to come. However convoluted and slow the path, we are nonetheless moving forward to a horizon that bends toward justice. My hope is that we will remember how hard-won this victory is, how long and difficult the road to that far horizon is, and that those of us to seek it will only get there if we overlook our factional differences and seek it together.