Trusting Women

Last night, I delivered the following as part of a series of “Big Tent” speeches at an event hosted by the Morgan County Democratic Central Committee here in Illinois.  It was a fundraiser and a meet-and-greet event featuring the Illinois Secretary of State, Jesse White, with whom I am pictured below.

It’s about trusting women.

When progress has been made in this country, it has been when institutions, leaders, individuals, and politicians trust women.  We have seen it throughout history, and we see it still today.

Nearly one hundred years ago, efforts to secure the vote for women did not succeed because of arguments about women’s essential goodness, it was because of women’s inherent humanity.  It started with realizing that they as well as men could and should be trusted to make decisions that had bearing on their lives.

Opening the doors of the university, the factory, the board room, and the operating room to women workers didn’t happen because of women’s superiority, it was because of women’s inherent humanity.  It started with acknowledging that they as well as men could and should be trusted to learn skills and exercise creativity that might make the world a better place.

Developing and approving safe methods of contraception happened when scientists and activists listened to women.  They took seriously the need to save women’s lives, and protect their ability to have a full and flourishing future.  It began with knowing that they as well as men should have the ability to plan their families and protect their health and well being.

The history of this country has been about progress when we have collectively decided to trust women.

  • With the vote in 1920
  • With equal employment protections under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission in 1965
  • With equal access to education from Title IX in 1972
  • With the right to safe and legal abortion in 1973
  • With the right to have a baby and return to work because of 1994’s Family Medical Leave Act
  • With affordable access to health care in 2010.

We know that there are people and parties out there that don’t trust women.  They trust bosses.  They trust corporations (and they think they are people!).  They trust each other to decide what you, your daughter, your sister, your wife, and your neighbor should and should not be able to do.  Just this week, they are trying to convince the Supreme Court that your boss should be able to make decisions about your access to health care.

I don’t trust them.

I trust people and parties who trust women.  Because as President Barack Obama said in a speech in January, “when women succeed, America succeeds.”

It was Democratic politicians who wrote, passed, and continue to support the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.  They trust women to know when they need help getting out from under violence and abuse.  By opposing it, other politicians opposed funding law enforcement training and education, and providing support services for survivors.

It was a Democratic president who dramatically expanded access to food for people living in poverty in 1961, 70% of whom continue to be women and children.  Today, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is a political hot potato for politicians who don’t trust that women are in fact working hard to feed their families might still need some help to provide for their kids.   By opposing this, other politicians let us know that they don’t think that 47% of Americans are, in fact, entitled to food.

It is the Democratic party today who trusts women to make decisions about their own health.  Not their bosses.  For nearly eighteen months since key provisions of the Affordable Care Act went into effect, millions more women have had access to cancer screenings, annual physical exams, and low or no cost contraception.  The provisions went into the law in the first place because the best scientific evidence supported these ways of expanding and protecting women’s health.  Strong families are possible when women and their partners are able to plan when and how often to have children.

It is the Democratic party today who trusts women and men to marry the person that they love regardless of gender.  This party respects the religious freedom of all Americans, including those of us whose faith celebrates loving families of many kinds.  We don’t think that commitment and family can take only one form and we don’t think that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are second class citizens.

In order for this country to continue making progress, we must continue to trust women.  Even and especially now, when the forces of mistrust and misogyny are infiltrating the halls of Congress and arguing before the Supreme Court, they affect the lives of your sister, your friend, your daughter, and your mother.

If you trust them, you will trust politicians and parties who trust women.

About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.


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