By Ruth Gadebusch
Those women gathered in Seneca Falls, N.Y., on that hot July day in 1848 knew that the vote was simply a symbol of equality. They expected it to open the door for eliminating discrimination suffered by women. Little did they know how long it would take to acquire it, much less that equality would be a continuing struggle more than a century and a half later in 2013.
In our so-called enlightened society we have the vote but we are a long way from equality. Congress membership is just a quarter female with Nancy Pelosi the only female Speaker of the House. We await a female president or vice president.
Largely males, joined by an occasional female, continue to press measures that would deprive women the control of our own bodies treating us as though pregnancy were a lark allowing the “enjoyment” of an abortion. Saying that rape seldom produces a pregnancy—despite all evidence to the contrary—a member of Congress has introduced another bill making politicians, not doctors, the arbitrators of women’s health.
Meanwhile, Congress dallies around the issue of sexual assault in the military believed to be 26,000 per year, most unreported. They act as if more talk about the dastardly act and how it should not happen is sufficient to prevent it. Never mind that the perpetrator can be of higher rank taking advantage of the situation, or that in the name of unit cohesion commanders have wiped out punishment meted by disaffected parties.
Fifty years after President John Kennedy signed the Fair Pay Act, women make only 77 cents on the dollar for the comparable work of men.
In the 1960s, NASA secretly tested for the space program 13 women who did as well, or better, than the men who ultimately became astronauts. Jerri Cobb scored higher than John Glenn, who noted that it was just “not in the social order” for women to be in space. Wally Funk, another of the 13, has paid to go on the first civilian flight.
It was not until 1983 that Sally Ride, a scientist, became the first American female astronaut, following Russian Valentina Tereshkova. It was 1995 before Lt. Col. Eileen Collins became the first female space pilot with Mae Jamison and Ellen Ochoa the first African-American and Hispanic women, respectively, in space.
On a more hopeful sign, California first sent two women senators to Washington when Barbara Boxer joined Diane Feinstein; however, we have yet to elect a woman governor.
Locally, Ashley Swearengin is our second woman mayor with Karen Humphrey having been the first. Linda Mack had preceded Humphrey as the first woman on the City Council when it transformed from commission status. All too often, women have been conspicuously absent on the City Council with Alma Sterling appointed, provided she promised not to run for office, and daughter Cynthia elected some years later.
At one point, we had a majority of women on the Board of Supervisors, and at times, we have had a majority on the Fresno Unified School District Board. Mary Curry became the first African American serving on the FUSD Board.
Holding countywide elected office are Sheriff Margaret Mims and District Attorney Elizabeth Egan. The Valley sent Roseann Vuich to Sacramento as the first woman senator, requiring the building of a restroom still called the Rose Room. Sarah Reyes represented us in the Assembly. We have moved from the difficulty Annette Larue had in becoming a judge to women at all levels of the judicial system. Still, the numbers are far from our proportion of the population.
This list, by no means all inclusive, is only a sampling of women’s contributions to the quest for equality, given with the hope that it will inspire more to take the plunge. It is time to make the dream of those Seneca Falls women a reality be it in the professional or political world. Progress has been made, but equality remains elusive. Women, where are you? Go for it.
An excellent way to get involved is through the National Women’s Political Caucus, which meets at 5:30 p.m. the first Tuesday of every month at Toledo’s Mexican Restaurant (367 E. Shaw Ave.). For more information, call 559-439-3577.
Ruth Gadebusch, a community activist, is a veteran, a former member of the Fresno Unified School Board and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, and an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Civic Education.