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The Complicated Herstory of Women's Equality

Reflecting upon Women's Equality Day, yesterday, August 26th, 2021, I was struck by two things. First, given full disclosure, I did not even know Women's Equality Day was a U.S. holiday. It goes by annually virtually unnoticed though the day has existed almost 50 years. This made me sad to realize. After all, women are still not granted equal pay as law, even a centennial after being legally granted the right to vote by the 19th amendment, which is what Equality Day commemorates. Second, in reviewing the 19th amendment, I found myself profoundly awestruck in contemplating the differences between a right and a privilege. This concept takes special significance as kids head back to school (virtual, in-person, or hybrid) at the height of a right vs. privilege debate regarding masking vs. no masking, vaxxers vs. anti-vaxxers in year two of the Covid-19 pandemic. Even more profoundly ironic is celebrating Women's Equality Day in the same week New York's Governor, Andrew Cuomo, forcibly resigned under sexual harassment charges and was replaced by New York's first female governor, Kathy Hochul. Or maybe this is just another complication in the hard-won advancement in the herstory of women's equality.

Women's Equality Day has occurred annually since 1971, though this is the first I recall hearing of it. The day celebrates the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. This right, protected by the constitution, is sometimes treated as a privilege . . . even today. In fact, 101 years after the 19th amendment was ratified, there are still obstacles to protect this right for all. In fact, let's fill in some often forgotten gaps about the right to vote for women. Most black women remained disenfranchised until the1965 Voting Rights Act, Hispanic females faced language discrimination well into the 1980s, and today Native American women still are thwarted by voter ID loopholes. Perhaps this explains why women of color are leaders practicing, protecting and advocating the right to vote with turnout rates upwards of 60% in 2020 according to the Brennan Center for Justice. In fact, voter ID laws, gerrymandering, and mail and in-person voting regulations are damn near relegating the right to vote back into a privilege.

"There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish."
- Michelle Obama

"For me, Women's Equality Day is really an opportunity to remind people that equality in words is not the same as equality in practice," Jocelyn Frye, a Senior Fellow of the Center for American Progress, explained to NPR, adding that the history of the holiday can be a valuable teaching moment. "The racism that fueled women of color effectively being excluded from the protections of the 19th amendment is the same racism fueling today's voter suppression efforts. These connections become clearer when we take the time to look beneath the historical rhetoric and, instead, create an accurate historical narrative that can inform our present-day actions."

Just like those enlightening bits of history hidden behind the 19th amendment, we need to keep digging a little deeper to discern what is the truth. Perhaps exploring what constitutes a right and a privilege will prove helpful.


  • Available to all citizens

  • Considered fundamental, inalienable, and undeniable

  • Inherent and cannot be withdrawn

  • Many rights today were once privileges granted to higher classes

  • Natural rights are derived from humanity and legal rights differ based upon culture, law, and politics

  • Often evolved over time and the enlightenment of people

  • Many of the rights today were once privileges granted to higher classes

  • Frequently protected by constitutions, governments, and legislation


  • Granted to individuals or groups based upon status, rank, title, talent, or membership

  • Exclusive rights that are available to a chosen few

  • Conditional and can be withdrawn

  • Not equal

"This history should be a reminder to all of us that selective equality that only affords benefits to a privileged few is simply another form of inequality in disguise," Frye told NPR. "Thus, it is critical to have an accurate understanding of the history being commemorated by Women's Equality Day – so that while we celebrate the progress achieved, we also recognize the inadequacy of this progress, especially for women of color."

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
— Maya Angelou

Supporting clients to distinguish truth from fiction in the narrative of life is one of the main undertakings of a life coach. Like Frye, with her expanded scope and investigator's approach, the coach asks the client probing questions to unearth facts. Within the sometimes painful intersection between omission and fact lies the truth. The same is true for the complicated and evolving history of women's equality. Sometimes it is hurtful to realize how much further we need to given that we are in the 21st century. Other times, I am enlightened and awed when I remember how far we have already come. Such as bearing witness this past January to Kamala Harris, daughter of immigrants, former Attorney General of California, U.S. Senator (D = California) sworn in as the first female, Jewish, African-American, Asian Vice-President of the United States.

The empowering fight toward equality has rewards. Hopefully, with the evolution of society, along with a brave, unflinching, and unfiltered look at herstory and history, we will all stand united to champion our advancements and equality that no special day is necessary to remind us what we have or have not accomplished.

Check out this link to the White House Proclamation on Women's Equality Day, August 26, 2021:

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