Macy Pingree: A centennial reflection on women’s rights

August 18 marks the 100-year anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment being ratified into the U.S. Constitution.

White women securing the right to vote is a momentous milestone in womankind’s journey for equality, certainly making this centennial a time for celebration. As we reflect on how far we have come, however, we can also see how far we have left to go.

While the suffragettes dealt a significant blow to the monster that is oppression, it was by no means a fatal strike.

20th century writer Virginia Woolf addresses women’s freedoms in her famous essay “A Room of One’s Own,” specifically noting the importance of financial and psychological independence from men. These conditions are vital for gender equality, yet the U.S. has not secured these liberties for women, and Utah is no exception.

We paradoxically boast of being the first state to allow women to vote while continually ranking as the worst state for women’s equality. We won’t achieve gender equality anytime soon without a concentrated political effort. Two (of many) issues Utah could pursue to increase gender equality are funding research on Utah’s gender wage gap and ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

Utah’s inaction in correcting the gender wage gap shows how far we are from gender equality. As recently as 2019, white women in Utah made approximately 70 cents to a man’s dollar (compared to 80 cents nationally). Women of color made even less, with Hispanic women in Utah making only 47.3 cents to a white man’s dollar.

Unfortunately, the Utah Legislature continues to actively ignore this crisis. In the 2018 legislative session, Sen. Luz Escamilla proposed a bill to study Utah’s wage gap. The Legislature voted against it.

Escamilla anticipated opposition and doesn’t plan to drop the issue. Additionally, both candidates running for Utah governor this year have said they support studying Utah’s wage gap.

I hope these are not empty campaign promises. If women are ever going to achieve financial independence, closing the wage gap is essential, and it can’t be done without our politicians’ support.

We will also need political backing to ratify the ERA which would guarantee citizens equal legal rights regardless of sex. Utah remains one of the 12 states that refuses to ratify the ERA even though 71% of Utah citizens support ratification, with 80% of Utah women in favor.

Maybe the reason that Utah has not ratified the ERA has something to do with women holding less than 25% of the seats in the Utah Legislature.

Some will suggest that women’s representation in government is of little concern. After all, these male lawmakers are women’s sons, husbands and fathers; therefore, they must represent women. Well, when the men of the anti-suffragette movement represented women, they argued that we didn’t want the vote and even if we did, they couldn’t allow it because our physical and mental inferiorities made us ill fit for politics.

Today it is common for male politicians to use their marriage to a woman as evidence that they support women, especially during election years, but then they continue to vote against equal rights. This blatant hypocrisy and manipulation is psychologically exhausting and demoralizing for women. We will only gain psychological independence if we work together, and getting Utah to ratify the ERA is a good place to start.

“There is so much yet to be done.” Susan B. Anthony’s words ring true to this day. This centennial celebration of the Nineteenth Amendment not only allows us to honor the women who came before us, but it gives us an opportunity to renew our strength so we can continue to carry the sacred mantle of equality forward — for ourselves and the women of tomorrow.

Macy Pingree

Macy Pingree is a policy intern for Alliance for a Better Utah and is a family studies major at Brigham Young University.