In my last post, I noted how much I’ve appreciated the chance to read through the American Girls series with my oldest daughter, in part because of the ways it has led to some wonderful conversations about class, race, and culture. As I write this on the eve before Election Day, I cannot help but reflect on the questions of gendered inequality and political change.
Political change is rarely an easy or nice process. In this election, I have a number of friends and family try to tell me that the election does not matter that much. Neither candidate is perfect. Our trust should be in God. Good people support both candidates. I agree with Yancey’s recent post that the demonization of the other side is problematic. And yet while I agree with some arguments offered by citizens uninterested in the election results, it does not negate the fact that the stakes are high. I suspect during the era when women were fighting for the right to vote, or African-Americans fighting for changed laws during the Civil Rights movement, people also made similar arguments.
Political change can be a contentious process. Recently, a posting on Facebook alerted me to a set of political anti-suffrage images from about a century ago. While the accompanying article was meant to highlight the ways that women are still treated with a lack of dignity in the media, it was the portrayal of the women in the images that caught my attention. The women are painted as ugly, lazy, hateful of their spouses, and indifferent towards their children (not all that unlike some of the more negative depictions of current feminists).
When my daughter reads about Samantha (an American Girl) and her discovery of the women’s suffrage movement, a very different portrait is presented than the images just referenced. Samantha finds her beautiful aunt speaking at a rally; her aunt is able to convert her mother-in-law to seeing that change is good. The story ends well. People see the light. And maybe for a six-year old, that is an appropriate way to introduce the story.
But it’s not reality. In a world divided by partisan politics, my intent is not to suggest that we should stake our identity on political affiliation, or hold politics as the answer to all of life’s problems. But the implications of who wins matter. It matters for everyone. The marginalized are often the ones who know this the best.
I continue to love those friends and family members with whom I strongly disagree, and value the chance to dialogue with them about important issues, including (but not limited to) politics. And I hope they continue to love me. But the answer is not for me to pretend the election does not matter, and to turn to questions about the weather or Sunday’s football game. During the suffrage movement, I’m sure many also wanted to move to ‘easier’ topics, to believe that women’s voting was no big deal. It was easy to portray the women who fought strongly for the right to vote as a bit overzealous or misguided.
To return back to the stories of the American Girls, I appreciate the ways that gender inequalities are presented, and the ways that readers are introduced to a wide variety of gendered norms that have existed throughout time and across culture. In championing the ability of girls to do anything, the books show the strong spirits that the girls have; they show the ways that they challenge expectations that others have. The girls are portrayed as strong, capable, caring, and creative.
But within that, fighting inequality is often depicted as too easy. As I take my three daughters into the voting booth with me early on November 6, I hope to also instill in them the importance of politics and policies when it comes to issues of inequality. Yes, God is in control. Yes, neither Romney nor Obama (nor any other elected official) will rid the world of sin. Yes, we can try to rise above our circumstances (to some degree). But let us admit that we will start the day Wednesday affected by what happens at the polls. It will impact America. It will impact the world. We have acknowledged the important role that the women’s suffrage movement and Civil Rights legislation has had on the country. Let us remember that so will our choices concerning immigration policy, welfare, corporate personhood, health care, and the dignity of life.