August 26 has been dubbed “Women’s Equality Day,” in celebration of the anniversary of the 19th Amendment. Passage of that amendment was the culmination of years of hard work and dedication on the part of America’s noble suffragettes, and it is indeed amazing to think of all of the progress women have made in our society in the ninety years following that breakthrough.
Too bad so much of the rhetoric surrounding “Women’s Equality Day” promotes the notion that women remain an oppressed segment of American society. It has been used as an occasion to dredge up statistics about women earning less than men (while ignoring how men and women’s personal preferences influence their earnings), how America lags in terms of female-elected representatives (ignoring the other ways women wield tremendous political power), and even how little girls make assumptions that there are male jobs off-limits to women.
Talk about seeing the glass half empty! A more balanced approach might have noted figures on how women now earn a majority of bachelor’s degrees, how girls are more confident about their future prospects than boys are, or how women outlive men. Even better might have been to look past numbers that pit women against men. After all, men’s lives aren’t the yardstick against which women’s lives should be measured.
Women’s equality was supposed to be about equal opportunity. Surely the suffragettes didn’t believe women, once given the vote and treated equally under the law, would begin behaving exactly as men. There are basic differences between men and women that make it unlikely women will ever comprise exactly 50 percent of Congress or 50 percent of the board members of Fortune 500 companies. That’s okay. Part of celebrating Women’s Equality Day should be celebrating what’s unique about women, even if those attributes tend to mean we make, on average, a little less money and spend a little more time with family instead of in the office or the political arena. So long as the opportunity for individual women to make free choices exists, the aggregate result of those choices just isn’t that important.
This year we are seeing women — particularly conservative and libertarian women! — entering the fray as candidates and activists and helping drive the political debate. This should be cause for celebration by all sides, and it’s more evidence of how far women have come in the past 90 years.