Tunes for a Monday Morning
The view from here

Election Day

Suffrage march, 1913

The U.S. election is today (thank heavens, for how much more of this could we take?), and the historic nature of it keeps disappearing beneath the media circus of it all. Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, and whatever you think of the two candidates, let's please taking a moment to appreciate the history-making fact that there is, finally, a viable female candidate on the presidential ballot. Whether she wins or loses (perish the thought), that is a big step forward for America.

When my grandmother was born, women could not vote; the 19th Amendment giving us that right wasn't signed into law until 1920. When my mother was born, it was still legal to deny us jobs, housing, banking service, mortgages, and the power to make our own health care decisions; the first laws addressing these issues weren't signed until the 1960s. When I was born, it was still legal for a man to rape his wife in all 50 states; the first state law against it wasn't signed until 1973. We've come a long way, baby...and, sadly, we have not come nearly far enough, as the depth of the misogyny unleashed during the campaign season we've just endured has surely made clear.

Suffragists in New York City

Today, there are women in America wearing white as they head to the voting booth, in honor of the Suffragists who fought so hard to give us this right. Although I've already voted with a mail-in ballot, I'm wearing white here in Devon too. While I am, of course, praying that we'll see a woman in the White House at the end of this process, we're making history today regardless of the outcome. Women have run for president before, but never as a major party nominee, and never with a chance in hell of succeeding. It shouldn't have taken this long, it shouldn't have been this hard, but we're finally here.

American suffragist Alice Paul

Suffragette  2017

For women of my generation (and older), this is more momentous than some of our younger feminist sisters and brothers can perhaps conceive. The world that we were born into was very different from today. As novelist Barbara Kingsolver writes in The Guardian:

Suffragist arrested at the White House, 1918"When I was a girl of 11, I had an argument with my father that left my psyche maimed. It was about whether a woman could be the president of the US.

"How did it even start? I was no feminist prodigy, just a shy kid who preferred reading to talking; politics weren’t my destiny. Probably, I was trying to work out what was possible for my category of person -- legally, logistically -- as one might ask which kinds of terrain are navigable for a newly purchased bicycle. Up until then, gender hadn’t darkened my mental doorway as I followed my older brother into our daily adventures wearing hand-me-down jeans. But in adolescence it dawned on me I’d be spending my future as a woman, and when I looked around, alarm bells rang. My mother was a capable, intelligent, deeply Educator and activist Mary McLeod Bethuneunhappy woman who aspired to fulfilment as a housewife but clearly disliked the job. I saw most of my friends’ mothers packed into that same dreary boat. My father was a country physician, admired and rewarded for work he loved. In my primordial search for a life coach, he was the natural choice.

"I probably started by asking him if girls could go to college, have jobs, be doctors, tentatively working my way up the ladder. His answers grew more equivocal until finally we faced off, Dad saying, 'No' and me saying, 'But why not?' A female president would be dangerous. His reasons vaguely referenced menstruation and emotional instability, innate female attraction to maternity and aversion to power, and a general implied ickyness that was beneath polite conversation.

"I ended that evening curled in bed with my fingernails digging into my palms and a silent howl tearing through me that lasted hours and left me numb. The next day I saw life at a remove, as if my skull had been jarred. What changed for me was not a dashing of specific hopes, but an understanding of what my father -- the person whose respect I craved -- really saw when he looked at me. I was tainted. I would grow up to be a lesser person, confined to an obliquely shameful life."

Suffragists in New York City, 1917

Suffragists outside the White House

I, too, had that conversation -- not with my father (I didn't have one), but with my grandmother; and not, I blush to confess, about any such lofty ambition as becoming president. What I wanted was to be a radio DJ like Cousin Brucie, whose New York-based show, full of British pop music and Motown, I listened to religiously. I must have been six or seven when my grandmother sat me down and explained that, being a girl, this would be impossible. Girls, she said, could be housewives, teachers, nurses, or secretaries, and that was pretty much it.

It was only then that I realized that, no, there were no women on any of the radio shows I listened to, or in any of the other wide-ranging jobs I fantasized about holding one day. I mean no disrepect towards teachers, nurses, secretaries, or stay-at-home parents; there are awesome women and men in all those roles, but those weren't the things I was dreaming of. My jobs of choice were DJ, explorer, motorcycle racer, artist or veterinarian (pretty much in that order). And like Barbara, I went to sleep that night in tears, feeling the world collapse around me.

''News Girls'' distributing suffrage literature, New York

African American suffragists

I know little about my grandmother's politics, as it wasn't a subject we talked about. But as I grew older, my mother -- a soft-spoken, unrebellious kind of woman -- became a passionate supporter of equal rights, aware her own life had been unhappily constrained by traditional gender scripts. She worked hard, with few leisure hours, and yet she made time to volunteer for her local branch of the League of Women Voters, fighting past the shyness she felt as a working class woman in a middle class organization (or so it was her neighborhood) because of her conviction that women must use the vote to gain equality and independence.

My mother died fifteen years ago, but as I sat down at my kitchen table with my overseas ballot and checked the box by Hillary Clinton's name, I found myself feeling surprisingly emotional. I completed the form, sealed the envelope, and said out loud:

"This one's for you, mom."

My mother & grandmother, 1940s, and my mother & me, 1960sMy mother & grandmother, 1940s, and my mother & me, 1960s

Good luck today, America. May the best woman win.


Photographs above: The black-and-white photographs are identified in the picture captions. (Run your cursor over the images to see them.) The final two photographs are of my grandmother & my mother in 1940s; and my mother & me in the 1960s.

Video above: "Bad Romance: Women’s Suffrage,"  a fabulous parody of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance." Released by Soomo Publishing in 2012, the video is "an homage to Alice Paul and the generations of brave women who joined together in the fight to pass the 19th Amendment."

Comments

I'd like to request that we please restrict comments to the discussion of the historic nature of this election, and not the candidates themselves (pro or con). It's a nail-biter of a race, and I'd like to keep things positive here.

Thank you!

As a complete outsider I can only marvel that It's taken America such a shockingly long time to field a female candidate who at least has a chance of winning. Strange too that the primary govermental post has been held by women in countries that many would percieve as having a deeply conservative attitude towards them. Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi and Golda Meir particularly come to mind. Britain now has it's second female Prime Minister (after a long wait) and Theresa May is the leader of the Tories, as was Thatcher, a right wing party hardly noted for its radical outlook. What does this say of the supposed liberal and inclusive outlook of the left wing?

P.S. There's no political agenda here, I'm a left winger myself.

As one of your oldest friends Terri, I'd like to point out that you've proven your grandmother wrong on all counts. Those jobs you dreamed of at 6 years old?

You WERE a radio DJ, you had a weekly folk music show on Public Radio when we were in college. I still listen to music that show introduced me to.

You may not be Freya Stark or David Attenborough but you've explored much more of the world than your grandmother or mother were ever able to.

You owned and rode a motorcycle for years and years, though if you ever raced it, please don't tell me!

You ARE an artist, obviously.

And though you're not a vet healing baby bunnies, you do paint pictures of bunny girls and those pictures are soul healing.

I rest my case.

So please go back in time and tell that little girl it's going to be all right!

Thanks for this. It is good to pause and reflect on the history we're making today.

AND OMG, THAT VIDEO!!!!!!!!

I'm about your age, Terri. My mother expected me to go to college (a first for our family) and encouraged me to travel overseas as a young woman. She also was unhappy with her role as stay-at-home mom and part-time waitress (years later went to community college and got her degree).

Even so, I distinctly remember a feeling of what I'll describe as "the invisible bars of societal expectation" descending upon me about the time I turned 12—a transition from the wide-open freedom of a child to a restless sense of diminishment and confinement as a young woman. A depressing message that comes at you from many different directions in many ways, even if not stated in so many words. It is a terrible thing for any person to struggle with, but we haven't let it shut us down. Thank you for this post and sharing your experience.

Maybe it is because women are perceived as "weak" and "soft" by the less progressive elements of society, so only the more conservative, hawkish women who will support the status quo are considered "strong" enough to be a viable candidate. At least in America, it is enough of a liability to be a woman running as president, without the added liability of being a progressive.

Oh, Joanne. You are a darling.

Thank you Joanne G. for that retro view of a woman who regularly paints in words and images of a truly robust world; one post Standing Rock and young native artists with strong and rebellious voices; today Suffrage personalized.

Yes, I darkened the rectangle next to Hillary, and I wondered how my Island Nation Ancestors saw the act from their points of light. The Sun rises now as I press the letters. I always wanted to write. And here you, Terri, hold space for many dreams. And, we come.

Hi Terri

What a marvelous and significant essay /historic reflection on the struggle for women's rights and the progress that has been made and earned through the decades. It reminds me of one of the first biographies I read in grade school called "The Girl Who Ran For President. Belva Lockwood, a 19th century Suffragette and lawyer, dared to announce her candidacy for The Whitehouse in 1884. She was an advocate for world peace, equal pay and treatment for women in the work force as well as equal dignity and status on the home front. She believed strongly in higher education for girls and the ability to determine one's own fate. Her legacy was celebrated in the carved figure heads of two prominent ships and one unnamed. Today one of those figureheads is preserved in the maritime museum at Mystic Seaport in Mystic Connecticut. As far as we have come, there is still more to be done; and our forebears must also be remembered for their courage and spirit that ignited a cause, a movement.


Belva Lockwood's Monologue on Election Day, 2016

It's said she was named
after the guy who conquered Mt Everest
but that is disputed
by her critics & her enemies.

They say she has been an advocate
for women & children. And when
she spoke out for female rights
near The Forbidden City, some mounted her

on the prow of their minds
as standard bearer for their own
struggle and ambition.

She, too, with her chin raised
was fixed on the distant horizon.
Only hers was possible and still is.

When they carved my likeness
out of oak and fastened it
to a ship -- I was famous, already gone

but celebrated for my deeds
as suffragist and dreamer. First woman
to run for president. How splendidly
they shaped my body. Its timber bones
sang the language of resolve.

My knee jutted into the unknown
at a fearless angle. Such a formidable woman
but the men revered me. Polished & poised
I became a figurehead on The Martha

& The Julia Lawrence. They entrusted ships
with our feminine names; and allowed us the presence
of being a statue. Yet, they kept us adrift at sea
or chained in the harbor.

What they feared most
(and she knows this from her fist days at Wellesley)
was how anchored we were to a cause. Rising
from Eve's rib in tidal force.
_________________________________

Thank you!!
Wendy

I should note that I used the term "suffragist" in the poem instead of "suffragette" because that was the word applied to her status and role in the 19th century.

I hope this isn't too personal or outside the bounds of appropriate discussion, but my daughter posted the following message to her Facebook account on Sunday, along with a photo of us with our mail-in ballots. It has surely been, to me, the most heartwarming moment of this election cycle:

"My mom took me with her to vote in every presidential election since I was born. I'm so happy to be voting with her again for the first female president of the United States! #ImWithHer"

That's a wonderful story. Please tell your daughter for me that she's awesome.

Yes, it's disquieting, isn't it? There's too much quiet misogyny on the left that remains unacknowledged, and thus is never dealt with.

Keep writing and dreaming, Mokihana.

Suffragist poetry!!! This is wonderful. You've made my day,

I remember going into the ballot booth with my mom as a very small child, and her pulling all the tiny levers, but saying that she wouldn't tell me whom she voted for, because a secret ballot is everyone's right, while voting is every citizen's responsibility.

I remember being 15 years old, in the mid-1980s, and being told by my beloved piano teacher, "Don't be ridiculous, there are no women conductors. No orchestra would follow one."

So I focused on poetry, instead. But I do wonder "what if, what if," sometimes.

We've come so far, and we still have so far to go.

Testament to the misery of this campaign year? Looking at all that history in photographic form? All I came away with was the desire for a glass of strong red wine!

Almost over....

Terri and all - if you are not a member of the Pantsuit Nation group on Facebook, you need to be. The amazing stories that are being shared there are powerful and mythic and proof of the power of story. I can hardly tear myself away. I can't imagine anyone who is involved in the work of story not being captivated by that space.

Like Stuart, I come to this as an outsider. My country has had two female leaders now, and most of our political parties in govt have been led by women at one time or another. And while a fundamental sexism remains deep in our society - especially in rural areas - generally women can do any work they want. I grew up knowing I could be a police officer, firewoman, politician, pretty much anything. For that reason, I admit I've struggled with the idea of this election being "historic." But at the same time I acknowledge that USA is a unique country, so diverse and young and powerful, and for those living within it, considering how vast it is, I imagine it must seem like the whole world. Absolutely I cheer with joy for how far it has come in its recognition of women's rights. I'm proud of America today.

I'm with Her - the beautiful living planet - which means today I'm praying that Americans vote on behalf of us all to protect the world we share.

Seconded!

This one is a huge wave of meanings, Wendy. How feared for being 'anchored to a cause' while carved into the bows of their boats. ::Huge wave:: thank you Wendy.

You're the second to remind/invite me to the group. Haven't been there yet. Will now.

This is an exciting day even though it is at the end of a long contentious campaign season.
Even so it reverberates through my life, back to a young, shy fifteen year old who asked some female elders about the possibility of woman president. They told they would never vote for a woman for president, that it was a man's job, that a woman just couldn't do it. And I should never consider such a silly notion.
On another occasion, in a restaurant, I disagreed with my paternal grandmother's concept of a woman's role in our society and told her so. My father said I should not speak to my grandmother in such a fashion. My grandmother rebuked her son, my father, saying she, meaning me, should.
So glad silly notions can change the world.
Thank you for the history lesson, the photographs and the very emotionally stirring parody.

Thank you for this wonderful post!

Hi Terri

I deeply appreciate your appreciation and enthusiasm toward this poem! thank you! Belva Lockwood was an incredible woman fighting for women's rights and causes along with her British counterparts, Emmeline, Christabel Pankhurst and others. We owe them all so much and their courage and resolve was incredible, it did not waver. Today, we have to move forward holding true to our rights, values and goals. It will be difficult in a world that has gone to the fringe side of things but art has a strength and spirit of its own that transcends culture and governments. Again, thank you!

Take care
Wendy

Hi Mokihnana

Thank you so much for you beautiful commentary and insight into this poem. The suffragette movement and the women's rights movement were and still are huge waves of importance and voices for justice and continuing change.

Again, thank you!
Wendy

I am a member. :)

Well, the country hasn't come as far as I'd hoped, but we live to fight another day.

Our foremothers didn't give up. Neither should we.

I love hearing these kinds of stories; thank you!

Too many of us were told this about too many things. It's changing, but not fast enough, and not far enough around the world. There's still SO much work to do.

One of my favorite quotes on the subject is by one of my writer heroes, Winifred Holtby. In a letter to the Yorkshire Times published in 1922 she said:

"I am a feminist because I dislike everything that feminism implies. I desire an end to the whole business, the demands for equality, the suggestion of sex warfare, the very name feminist. I want to be about the work in which my real interests lie, the writing of novels and so forth. But while the inequality exists, while injustice is done and opportunity denied to the great majority of women, I shall have to be a feminist. And I shan't be happy till I get ... a society in which there is no respect of persons, either male or female, but a supreme regard for the importance of the human being. And when that dream is a reality, I will say farewell to feminism, as to any disbanded but victorious army, with honour for its heroes, gratitude for its sacrifice, and profound relief that the hour for its necessity has passed."

Amen.

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