It was about ten years ago that I had a sudden and, in hindsight, long-overdue realization: The world I lived in as a white, middle-classed male was dramatically different than the world my female friends lived in.
A friend described to me what it was like to walk in a parking lot at night; how she had to be careful to park in the light and as close to a door as possible; how every van parked beside her car made the world seem a less secure place; how she walked with her keys protruding from her fists just in case.
It was such a simple description of how our worlds were different. I never thought about cars or vans or where I parked my car, never considered where the lights were or how far I was from a door. Once the blinders were lifted by grace of her gentle clarification I found myself in a different reality.
It was a profound moment of empathy, and one I am ashamed to say I had to be led to. I've never looked at a parking lot, among many other things, the same way again.
Bloggers Unite recognizes this day, August 26, as Women's Equality Day, in honour of the United States of America's adoption of its 19th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1920. It was in that year that the US provided their female citizens the right to vote, 57 years after Sweden started the ball rolling, 51 after England, 27 after New Zealand provided full voting rights to all women. The domino affect would require most of the twentieth century to work itself out. Switzerland, for the record, was a notable hold out, waiting until 1971 to grant women full voting rights under their law.
To me, the timeline and my friend's story both highlight how great a gulf there is between the laws we make and the ethics and morality we practice. In Canada, where I live, women have been considered full 'persons' and equal under the law since 1950 when full sufferage was granted.
Only sixty years ago... My mother was ten when her mother finally became a full person under the law.
I find that fact hard to process.
The international recognition of suffrage is a great accomplishment, without a doubt. But the equality our laws provide is not always mirrored in the real world. Suffrage, as huge a step as it was, is only one part of creating any real equality.
Women, on average, are still paid less than men, are still threatened and abused, are still mistreated or ignored by courts.
Women still have to be aware of vans parked beside their cars where men probably don't even notice them.
We've come a long way, but the road is only half traveled. We're nowhere near 'there' yet.
So, by all means, we should take a moment and recognize where we've come from and how much has been accomplished. But when we've caught our breath and shared a toast, perhaps remembered the brave women who have paid enormous prices to get us this far, when we've done these things it will be time to make sure our boots are tied tightly so we can start the walk again.
There's a long way to go yet.
August 26th is Bloggers Unite's Women's Equality Day.