One hundred years ago women were on the cusp of voting equality. They had their first chance to participate in democracy, which is a founding aspect of American society. Women’s suffrage was a critical topic to women across the country.
Now, women are running for president. Women are holding high seats of power. One hundred and twenty-seven women are currently in the United States Congress. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, the proportion of women who voted in every presidential election since 1980 has been higher than that of men.
Although there may be a long way to go, there is also a lot to celebrate — and Aug. 26 is a day to recognize both sides of the fight.
Women’s Equality Day was originally created to recognize the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. Now the day represents much more than the right to vote but also embodies women’s constant push to receive full and complete equality.
Kristina Horn Sheeler, professor of communication studies at IUPUI, believes there is much to be hopeful for.
This is largely because of the higher than usual representation of women in U.S. Congress. She believes this shows that women, and specifically young women, want to get involved in politics. The 115th Congress was 19.4% women, while the 116th Congress is 23.7% women. In previous years, the percentage was relatively stagnant.
The number of women is not the only monumental part of the 116th Congress. But, 37% are women of color.
The “squad” is an informal political grouping of four congresswomen of color under age 50, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib. These women have often represent a younger, diverse political audience.
Sheeler believes women of color, specifically, bring in personal concerns to office.
“There are some pretty startling cutbacks on everything from equality to immigration rights to the environment,” Sheeler said. “With more diverse people in those seats of power, a variety of issues are going to be at the forefront,” she added.
Additionally, Sheeler believes the media plays a critical role in shaping the perceptions of women in politics. She noted that many of the headlines surrounding women politicians focus on women’s electability and likability. The same story can be framed in completely different ways depending on the news station, and Sheeler believes this fuels the divide and makes political conversations more difficult.
“The media plays a large role in the way the public thinks of these women, ” Sheeler said.
Deborah Hearn Smith has had a high amount of involvement in women’s rights throughout her career. Now retired, Smith is currently active in women’s organizations in Indiana.
Smith believes a major talking point in politics involving women is voting. She said women of color are becoming a larger voting block and must make sure people in office do not consider women of color “less than.”
“We need to point out to women of color and women what their vote can do,” she said.