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  • Writer's pictureLauren Jessop

Women’s History Month, equality and identity politics

Updated: Aug 8, 2022

Women’s History Month is celebrated annually during the month of March, and while we celebrate the many achievements of women, the current political climate, being so focused on identity politics, has me thinking about how far we have come, and where we are now.

First, some history; the women’s rights, or suffrage movement, began in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention in upstate NY, organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, abolitionist and a leader of the early women’s rights movement.

Stanton began the convention with a speech stating their goals and purpose:

“We are assembled to protest against a form of government, existing without the consent of the governed—to declare our right to be free as man is free, to be represented in the government which we are taxed to support, to have such disgraceful laws as give man the power to chastise and imprison his wife, to take the wages which she earns, the property which she inherits, and, in case of separation, the children of her love.”

While a few states allowed women to vote by the end of the 19th century, it was not until 1920, 72 years after that first convention, that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, granting the right to vote to more than 8 million women across the country for the first time.

Our country can be slow to make changes, but we make them at least. We have come a long way, and there are many brave, strong, and intelligent women, past and present, who inspire us.

Identity politics focuses on your gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. While I believe no one should be oppressed due to their identity, I do not believe they should get free passes for it either. I believe in meritocracy, earning your positions and successes based on abilities and achievements.

Being given anything without having earned it lacks meaning and deprives someone of the feeling of satisfaction, and pride in a job well done. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a game, a job, an award, or any other event or position. If I were to be given something without earning it, it would feel empty and patronizing. I would be insulted, but that’s me.

Encouragement and empowerment are far better motivators than enablement. Working hard towards a goal, achieving that goal, and being rewarded for your skills, knowledge and talents are important in gaining a sense of self-worth.

These thoughts and philosophies can obviously be extended to other identities, and I understand that each of these has had, or still has, their own fights to fight, but the basic principle is the same.

The use of identity politics as a single qualification for anything is antithetical to Martin Luther King Jr.’s now famous quote:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

I have often said that we, as a society, are on a crazy swinging pendulum. If there is an issue, instead of making small corrections to get to a solution, we tend to swing way over to the other side and overcompensate, missing the mark, and creating other problems in the process. Have we gone past the mark and made things worse, and why?

One of the most recent examples of the application of identity politics is the Biden-Harris Administration’s stated commitment to having “the most diverse cabinet in history.” I am all for diversity, it’s one of the things that makes our country so great. But, diversity for diversity’s sake is not necessarily a wise practice when you are selecting high level cabinet members.

It is a “win-win” if you can combine identity with merit, but some of their choices have been controversial, and I have to wonder if some were chosen simply for the sake of diversity and to appease their progressive base.

As diverse as Biden-Harris’s cabinet choices have been, there were complaints from senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) this week over the lack of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) representation. Duckworth confronted the White House and told them she “will vote against all of President Biden’s nominees who are still outstanding until they rectify the fact that there is no AAPI representation in Biden’s cabinet.” Hirono indicated she would do the same.

There is a fine line between recognizing and celebrating a “first” in any role held, and placing so much focus on making it happen that it’s counterproductive.

We should absolutely embrace the identities we were born with, but that is only part of what makes us who we are. It’s a wrapping on the outside of a larger package. The greater part is contained inside of us; character, intelligence, skills, emotions. That’s what I want to be judged by.

“Judging a book by its cover” sometimes works out, but it’s a much safer bet to look inside before deciding whether you like it or not.

Originally published on Citizen Stringer March 26, 2021

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