Public Comment

Notes on Women’s Equality Day in 2008

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Thursday August 21, 2008 - 11:20:00 AM

The Woman Suffrage Amendment provided American women with full voting rights in 1920. An amendment is defined as “a change for the better; improvement. A correction. A revision or change.” In the United States, Aug. 26 is designated as Women’s Equality Day to commemorate passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. 

The first Congress met under the newly ratified Constitution in 1788. One hundred and thirty-two years passed until the 19th Amendment to it was finally ratified. Women and men signed the Declaration of Sentiments, insisting that women “have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States.” Fifty years after all men were enabled to vote, American women finally got a piece of the action. There had been 72 years of delay after woman suffrage was proposed at the First Women’s Rights Convention in 1848. 

Girls and women who step out of the role society assigns them can expect to become engulfed in the delay, divide, discredit syndrome. Suffragists’ courageous struggle was followed by the first of the three Ds that continue to impinge on women’s lives —delay. 

If a woman is emotionally and financially able to respond to inequity based on her sex/gender, whether in academe, government, the public sector or home, she must survive while the defendant’s firm of attorneys delays the investigation and trial. The defendant is often able to divide other victims and potential members of the class. Females too often allow themselves to be divided by prioritizing adversities (who has it worse). Sisterhood could be powerful. Occasionally selecting a few “outstanding” local women is busy-work (delay) as well as divisive. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., what happens to one woman happens to all. 

If a plaintiff is able to get into court, she and any witnesses are subject to discredit. Myths and assumptions surround these heroes for the rest of their lives. Motivations of infatuation, lesbianism, menopause, mental health, monetary gain, vengeance and more may be endlessly attributed. Potential employers are especially wary of workers who are plaintiffs in class action suits. In the past, such individuals were derided as “militant suffragettes”; today, “the feminists” is both a negative signal and weapon. 

A Dick VanDyke Show episode featured two gents cogitating on qualifications of a candidate to run for city Council: “pleasant personality, good family man, knows how to handle himself in front of people will make a darn fine candidate for city councilman.” Women are more likely to vote than men in most states. In states where they are not, they also rank at the bottom for women’s representation in elected office. North Dakota, for example, and several top states for women’s voter registration have either automatic or same-day registration.  


Helen Rippier Wheeler is a Berkeley resident.