In celebration of 100 years of the passage of the 19th Amendment, a law that gave women the right to vote, we need to take a moment and think about where we are in the fight for equality in the United States, Oregon and Columbia County.
Women in this country have been fighting for the right to equality for opportunity, equal pay and the right not to be discriminated against ever since 1919. The fight is not over. The #metoo movement shows that women are a regular target of sexual harassment and abuse by men in positions of power. This movement has caused women of all backgrounds to finally come forward and share their stories, many of which are painful and full of years of shame and guilt.
You would think that in 100 years we would have come further along than this and that people would treat each other better, but that is not the truth. The truth is that many people still feel that they are better than others by the color of their skin or the gender they were born with. What will it take for people to decide that treating women as equals and not subservient is the right thing to do? What will it take for people in power to see that the decisions they make can either make the situation better or worse, depending on how they act?
I have been a teacher for a long time at St. Helens High School, and in that time I have seen a lot of change in the attitudes of students. This year I had a really bright female student in class, a student who is by every measure one of the most outstanding students I have had the opportunity to teach. In class we were discussing equality of pay and opportunity for women and she could not accept the idea that women did not have the same opportunity that men have for jobs, promotions and pay. I presented evidence that women and men in our country do not make the same pay, even when working the same jobs. This student assured me that in the United States, opportunity comes to those who work hard and achieve, and that gender will not be a factor in her success. I agreed with her that her gender shouldn't be a factor, but what saddens me is that her view of the world is naive and idealistic and, in my experience, not the world I live in.
That night I went home and talked with my wife about this situation and this student's understanding of the world. My wife's comment was, "She will believe that until she gets passed over for a promotion she deserves."
I thought about that and it just makes me frustrated, as a teacher and as a person living in the United States and Columbia County.
When will the time come when your gender does not prevent you from achieving what you are capable of?
What will it take?
I hope my student never finds out she is wrong. I hope that the people she works for are people who believe in equality and doing the right thing.
My fear is the world is not ready for her yet. I hope I am wrong.
Keith Meeuwsen is a history and social studies teacher at St. Helens High School. He lives in Scappoose.
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