You might not, but your mother likely remembers the original “Year of the Woman.” Spurred on by Anita Hill’s testimony in 1992 during Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation hearings and Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, a record-breaking number of women ran for office, with 24 winning in the U.S. House and 11 in the Senate.
In 2018, on the tail of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation despite sexual assault allegations, those records were shattered again, with more than 100 women elected to the House and 24 to the senate.
This parallel has many calling 2018 the return of the “Year of the Woman.” But what do these two landmark events, 26 years apart, show? That nothing has really changed. There’s an eerie similarity between Hill’s testimony and Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against Kavanaugh in September 2018.
The political climate surrounding the testimonies is also very much the same – three of the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for Hill’s testimony were also present for Ford’s.
History repeats itself, and we are seeing that live. Despite statistical progress in women’s representation, female politicians are still ridiculed for what they say, what they wear, how they act and even what they did in college (Really, what’s so bad about dancing in public?) Sixty-one percent of people surveyed by the Pew Research Center believe that male politicians are held to a lower standard for proving themselves than women.
So what gives? Why, despite years of championing for change, incremental progress and the resurgence of the movement to have more women in government, are men and women still not always seen as equals in politics – or any other facet of society, for that matter?
It’s symptomatic of a deeper issue. Women are often noticed for their outfits or physical appearance than by the ideas that they bring forward.
Enter Women’s History Month. Too often, the history of the women’s rights movement and women’s contributions to society, science, technology and literature are glossed over, summarized or just plain ignored. Did you know about the thousands of women who served as top-secret code breakers during World War II? That a woman was the first black candidate to run for a major party’s presidential nomination in 1968?
Most people don’t, and that’s the problem. Women’s contributions today can’t fully be appreciated without acknowledgement of the groundbreaking, historic strides made in the past.
It’s great that women are slowly gaining representation in government. But we can’t forget that events like the “Year of the Woman” cycle often not driven by passion for the work, but perpetuated by women growing tired and angry. We’ve been here before, and we’ll be here again. But it doesn’t have to be a cycle, the change can be permanent. Don’t let complacency and exhaustion take over.