The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
With its passage, the Nineteenth Amendment made the last great legal change to suffrage in the United States. Now–at least legally–our country guaranteed the right to vote for all adults. To be sure, women’s ability to vote had been available to various degrees in different states before 1920, but it was only with this amendment that it was made universal.
Less than 100 years on, it is difficult to think that there was a point at which approximately 50% of the national population was not guaranteed full voting rights. So customary has voting become–almost pedestrian–that we fail to realize how unique an opportunity it is, historically speaking. And it isn’t just that women have been guaranteed suffrage for only 93 years, but that for almost anyone it has been a rare thing throughout all of human existence.
While there is a sense in which an individual human being always has at least some say over parts of their life and being, we also know that this ability can at times be severely proscribed, almost to the point of sheer non-existence. Not being allowed to vote is one of the ways this has historically been accomplished. Women, certain races, non-property owners, commoners, and anyone outside of the palace or royal chambers have all be excluded from such political rights over time. It has only been the slow march of our society away from the blood clan/warrior-chieftain mentality towards the Modern idea of the individual that advancements in this area have been made. Once begun, they moved forward with marked rapidity.
Full suffrage for only the past century or so out of all the centuries of human existence. That’s something to think about.
Yet even in the face of this optimism and triumph, we must also acknowledge that simply providing someone the right to vote does not mean that they then control all aspects of their destiny. Suffrage–for any of us–carries with it both the potential for increased personal agency in this world even as it means that we must contend with the agency of others (individually and collectively) that may at times be arrayed against us. Not to mention all of things that are out of anyone’s control.
Though I would never want to relinquish my right to vote, understanding the limits of that ability are important. So then: votes for women? Absolutely. I’m thankful to live in this relatively small sliver of history where such things is possible. But: are votes all that women (or any of us) need? Not by a long shot.