“There will never be a new world order until women are a part of it.” –Alice Paul
My first “real” job was with an Internet company as a technical writer. I still had a year of college left, so it felt really good having a paying job that didn’t rely on tips. At 21, I knew everything. Yes, everything. Luckily, I did good work and played a mean game of Half-Life (screen name: G.I. Jane), so I fit in with the other self-absorbed 20-somethings and got on well with my boss. However, there was this Consultant. (I use “C” because he always spoke in capital letters. You know the type.)
In his 50s, the Consultant definitely didn’t care for our young group. He refused to listen to anyone. One day, he and I got into a heated debate. I can’t even remember about what, but he looked me in the eye, and asked me if I was going to cry. I couldn’t believe it. In a voice much calmer than the internal voice demanding I smack the man, I replied that, “No. When I get angry, I don’t cry. I just yell really loud, and you’re about to get a preview.” My fledgling career was saved by the well-timed arrival of a colleague and tempers cooled.
With time, I’ve figured out other ways to make my voice be heard, preferably without yelling. What I can’t fathom is the burden borne by women before (FINALLY) being given the vote. (For you faithful male readers, I promise, you’ll see how this post relates to you.) I knew the basic details of women’s suffrage. I knew of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. But I didn’t really identify with it until I learned about Alice Paul and Lucy Burns. I’m honest enough to admit it was via HBO’s Iron-Jawed Angels.
From the beginning, women experienced the same hardships as the men who settled Jamestown, signed the Constitution, and trekked into the unknown West. And yet their voices held no value. Weaker minds was a frequent excuse, but who took care of things when the men went away to war? Email and cell phones didn’t exist, so I suspect the women somehow kept things running. (Sidenote: I’d love to know how many wars men started versus women. Call me crazy, but I bet men started more.)
I’ve taken a while to get to the point, but here it is: if you aren’t recognized as a person with value, making your voice heard can be the most difficult thing you attempt—and the boldest. Closed societies will stay closed forever if the voices are locked away. Women suffragists and others who advocate for people without a voice were and are challenging a concept that’s existed for thousands of years.
Due to the fallibility of human beings, it is still a bold idea to believe that everyone has a right to their voice. Suffrage for women is only one piece of a giant historical audio file. Think back to the day’s of the Industrial Revolution. Men (see, it’s not all about women), women, and children were working 12 hour days, seven days a week for poor pay. Unions were the bane.
They dared suggest that the men getting rich pay more to the people doing the work and improve working conditions. (I heard a great interview on “On Point” about the Gilded Age/Industrial Revolution today. Fascinating stuff.) Today, thanks in great part to individuals like Eugene V. Debs, most of us enjoy bearable working environments with decent wages. The same isn’t true for every country in the world, so again, a need still exists to be bold and to demand that all be given a voice.
Based on history, one of the boldest things you may ever do is open your mouth and speak.