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Suffragists and Suffragettes

A few months back I attended a Women’s March meeting at the Operation Push Headquarters on Chicago’s south side. I really wanted to go to the march being planned in D.C. I knew I wanted to be on the side of American history that promoted women’s rights.

When I was leaving the meeting, I stopped to look at a hallway of historic pictures. An African American woman came by and pointed herself out in a 60’s civil rights march. “That was me when I was skinny – ha!” Well, I thought, you were and still are beautiful. “Still looking good“, I said; and, still marching 50 years later I thought.

Then, a white-skinned woman walked by. “I marched in the 60’s and I’m marching again.” I nodded. Many “white” women stood for civil rights when I was too young to even think about marching. Those who marched were emboldened partners in the fight for equality with fellow African American citizens, standing against existing racism and segregation practices. They also participated in the massive Freedom Riders bus movement in the South. It was a matter of upholding humane democratic principles promoting liberty and justice for all people groups… the same reasons many choose to march in 2017.

I consider both of these women modern day suffragettes. They’re choosing active civic engagement for the rights of others, putting the welfare of society’s vulnerable and the common good of all humans first, before their own personal comfort. They do not have to choose that. Yet, they are compelled to promote the good that they wish for themselves onto others. To me, that seems the real heart of being both human and woman.

Female emotional intelligence wiring gives many of us the stamina to stand up for the most vulnerable…from kids treated unjustly at schools to those still facing systemic oppression through unjust cultural norms. Maybe, it’s also because we women understand oppression. We still remain the largest sub-dominant people group in the world!

Historically, the original women’s movement of suffragists and suffragettes in Britain was fighting for the same cause. Their common goal was to gain women’s overall rights and, in particular, the right to vote. Their differences were defined by their methods; but, ultimately, they both strove for equal rights with men. Their combined efforts achieved the right for women in the U.K. to vote in 1918.

Suffragists – women united for change, using peaceful methods such as holding meetings, writing letters and hanging posters.

Suffragettes – women united because they felt the suffragists methods were failing. They wanted a more direct approach and became militant, willing to use violence and while imprisoned for civil disobedience they even arranged hunger strikes.

History also seems to show us that there tends to be two types of partnering movements for needed reform within “civilized” societies. One is a more passive style and the other an active, protest style that creates disruptions and sometimes breaks laws. Both always seem to be combined in some manner to promote social or systemic transformation for the common good.

How does that movement descriptor set with you? Do you resonate with it; or, do you feel a need to provide a “yes, but…” rebuttal? Let’s be real. We must own the fact that our binary reactions, or entrenched “right and wrong” responses can keep us stuck and not digging deeper for life-giving responses, or creative means to support healthy systemic transformation.

I did end up marching; but, in Chicago, with my neighbors. Thousands chose to march in many cities across our nation and around the world. They marched as those who both see and experience unfavorable humane conditions for women everywhere.

I did not agree on all stated positions or march signs; yet, sometimes to promote change, you have to choose to unite for a greater common good. And, as I remind some of my privileged, rule-following female friends who give me push back about this… If those rebel suffragettes had not stood up in history, women might still not have the right to vote today!

We still have a long way to go in getting equal pay for equal work and ridding our U.S. “civilized” culture of rampant sexism. Yet, I see so much potential with inspiring women to think deeper, listen better and to be more strategic with their power. I dream about what could happen with an even larger movement of women promoting equality and choosing lifestyles incorporating equity, advocating for the vulnerable. Might our combined emotional intelligence gifting produce suffragette steps big enough to move our country closer to a society truly promoting liberty and justice for all?

Ladies, in the words of Sheryl Sandberg – Lean In!

You were created for such a time as this.

PS – Here is a short, historical video documenting the UK Suffragette/Suffragists:

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