Warning: political discussion ahead! If you think bloggers who write about music should keep their traps shut about politics, ignore this post.
I apologize for not writing much on the blog lately; I’ve been busy with my personal life, and I haven’t been able to give entries the time and thought they deserve. But after the results of the presidential election, I thought it would be therapeutic to check in with you guys. That’s what I feel like I want to do: connect with the people who mean a lot to me. And you, dear readers, mean a lot to me.
Here are where my thoughts have been lately… There are desperately important questions to be asked about politics and race and culture right now, but since I focus on gender on this blog, I’ll drill down into that particular topic. Mainly I want to explore how Hillary’s defeat, and Donald’s victory, made me feel as a woman last night.
Fun factoid: like many other Americans, I’m a direct descendant of Elizabeth Alden Pabodie, potentially the first white woman born in New England. She was born in 1623. Yesterday I kept thinking about her. How would she feel if she could see a woman winning the popular vote for President of the United States? How would her daughters and granddaughters and great-granddaughters and so on and so on and so on for centuries react? She endured so much building America. They all did. What would they say about this election? What insights might they have about the journey we’ve shared with them?
Elizabeth Alden’s grave; photo from Wikipedia
On the other hand, I want to be careful not to idealize or romanticize Elizabeth or her descendants. (It goes without saying that the recognition of her as the first “white woman” is uncomfortable: somehow it seems to negate so many other babies born over so many other centuries on this continent.) I have to believe that I had female ancestors who endured and did heartbreaking things…simultaneously. I’m sure there were women who endured difficult marriages because society gave them no way out. Women who were hit and raped. Women whose personal interests were brushed aside, or who felt pressured to brush them aside themselves. Women who were treated as breeding machines and nothing more. And I’m also sure that there were women who were virulent racists. Women who shunned immigrants. Women who abused their own family and friends. Women who, for whatever reason, chose apathy. In other words, women who were human beings.
But somehow, in fits and starts over centuries, progress was made: slowly, slowly, slowly, yes, but also surely. Later, Elizabeth’s descendants multiplied first by the dozens, and then by the hundreds, and then by the thousands, and then by the tens of thousands…maybe more. They saw so much progress in their collective lifetimes: they saw so many American women doing so many amazing things. I’m so humbled to think about the process. It feels like a dinner party has been going on for centuries, and I’m just now popping in, aware of but unable to totally grasp the significance of what has come before. And that was a feeling I didn’t have until this election, honestly.
I’m looking at this Wikipedia page now – “List of American Women’s Firsts” – to try to put the evolution I’m talking about in perspective. I highly recommend you check it out, and read these women’s biographies.
In 1647 Margaret Brent was the first woman to demand the right to vote.
In the 1700s Henrietta Johnston became the first woman working as an artist in the colonies.
In 1762 Ann Franklin became the first woman newspaper editor.
In 1776 Margaret Cobin was the first woman to serve as soldier in the American Revolution.
In 1784 Hannah Adams became the first woman to become a professional writer in America.
In 1849 Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman in America to earn a medical degree.
In 1850 Harriet Tubman was the first American woman to run the underground railroad.
In 1853 Antoinette Brown Blackwell became the first woman to be ordained as a minister.
In 1869 Arabella Mansfield became the first female lawyer in America.
In 1870 Louisa Ann Swain became the first American woman to vote in an election.
In 1872 Victoria Woodhull became the first American woman to run for president.
In 1878 Emma Abbott became the first woman to form her own opera company.
In 1887 Susanna M. Salter was elected the first female mayor in America.
In 1911 Harriet Quimby became the first licensed female pilot.
In 1916 Jeannette Rankin became the first woman to to be elected to Congress.
In 1921 Edith Wharton became the first woman to earn a Pulitzer.
In 1922 Rebecca Felton became our first female senator.
In 1925 Nellie Tayloe Ross became the first woman in America to be elected governor.
In 1931 Jane Addams was the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1932 Hattie Caraway was the first woman actually elected, rather than named, to the U.S. Senate.
In 1933 Frances Perkins became the first woman to serve as a cabinet member under FDR.
In 1934 Lettie Pate Whitehead became the first woman to serve as a director of a major corporation.
In 1944 Cordelia E Cook became the first woman to receive both the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart.
In 1972 Katharine Graham became the first female Fortune 500 CEO, as CEO of the Washington Post company.
In 1981 Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to join the Supreme Court.
In 1983 Sally Ride became the first woman in space.
And in 1984 Geraldine Ferraro was the first woman in America to run for vice president on a major-party platform.
And five years later, I was born. And I’m only 27.
Obviously I only scratched the surface. Look at that list of firsts, with each woman working on the shoulders of the women who came before her. When I step back and think of how far we’ve come over the centuries… And when I think about how, in the long run, our setbacks as American women generally seem to be temporary… It makes me want to talk to Elizabeth and ask her:
What do you think?
And: will other demographics be so lucky?
It goes without saying, this doesn’t mean we should be content with where women are now, or stop fighting to improve our lives and the lives of the other and the marginalized. But when a disappointment this huge comes along, after crying a bit at the chance so unexpectedly lost, I feel it is important to take a step back and remember that bigger picture.
I’ve been trying to figure out why I still feel hope in the pain today. I’m someone who deeply values respect of women. (Obviously.) A man who bragged about committing sexual assault has just been elected to the highest office of the land, and somehow I’m not completely destroyed by the idea. (Yet, at least.) (Am I shell-shocked?) My best guess as to why that is? Because I feel like the history I ticked off above is more powerful, more sustained, than any one man or any one movement. Our mothers fought against horrifying odds, and still they put one foot in front of the other and stayed on the path of progress. But…we’ll see.
Also, my mom’s tragic early death, and even watching the Minnesota Orchestra lockout, taught me how catastrophe can cause people to bond in profound ways. Our tears will teach us. Laugh if you will – call me naive if you want – be deeply concerned about what Mr. Trump’s election means to non-white-males, and to the country and the world at large (I’m concerned, too), but also… When you think about us American women, at least, remember our strength, and how many setbacks we’ve overcome before.
You know, I’m not even sure if any of this makes sense, but I just wanted to say something. Given how often I write about female musicians on the blog, silence didn’t feel right. I’m also working to let go all that I don’t control, and fighting like hell over the things I can. And I’m looking forward to finding the dark humor in the struggle (dark humor is the best).
I’m also trying to remind myself how blown away Elizabeth Alden would be if she could know that one of her great-times-many granddaughters, born 366 years after her, had the chance to vote for a female president. And it’s not just me who had the chance; it was many thousands of her descendants. Barring catastrophe, there’s a decent chance we’ll be able to do it again. Maybe soon.
The work goes on, and so does the beat.