Omaha, Nebraska
Fall 1995
Volume 7, Number 1

Not Making a Difference Is Cost We Cannot Afford

Maryanne Stevens, RSM
Associate Professor of Theology

(The following address was delivered on August 26, 1995, at the city of Omaha's celebration of the 75th anniversary of women's right to vote. The celebration was sponsored by the League of Women Voters.)

So--against all odds, the women inch forward!
--Eleanor Roosevelt

Some might wonder what all the fuss is about. They might say 75 years ago women were recognized as human beings and as citizens, and they are included in the whole of our national life. It happened 75 years ago--so lighten up!

What's all the fuss about?

It's about power-over relationships.

It's about the assumption that a pyramid is an adequate lens through which to view power. A pyramid places power in the hands of a dominant person with all others ranked below in a graded series of subordinations reaching down to the least powerful who usually form a large base. This widespread pyramidal pattern of social relations evident in non-democratic forms of governance, in some families, and in some churches is so common as to seem natural. Often the forms of this pattern are understood to be divinely established; thus the ruling one is said to be delegated by God, exercising power by divine mandate.

But all power-over relationships, especially those thought to be divinely established, are questionable in terms of their ability to encourage the human to flourish as most human.

If, as historian Gerda Lerner argues, the social subjugation of women is historically the original form of the oppressor-oppressed relationship and thus the working paradigm for all other relationships of domination, then to resist personal and professional relationships in which power over women is expressed might allow us to take significant steps in moving beyond racism, classism, imperialism, and militarism--all of which diminish us and retard our ability to live in peace with one another.

Thus this celebration should impel us to realize that as women not making a difference is a cost we cannot afford.

It's about recognizing Mary Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and many other women as national heroines. It is time to move their images out of the basement of the Capitol rotunda. It is time for equal time in U.S. history for the story of how women shaped our country.

Not making a difference is a cost we cannot afford.The nineteenth amendment was not just about women. The women's movement is not just about women. It is about relationships that promote the human dignity of all, including women. It is about caring. It is about relationships that include rather than exclude. It is about retarding violence.

Not making a difference is a cost we cannot afford.

Fewer young women today are actively involved in politics or social activism. Indeed, they seem less aware, less concerned, than they were seventy-five years ago or even thirty years ago. We need women's voices. We need the vision of relationship they bring. The vision of human dignity. The vision of caring.

Not making a difference is a cost we cannot afford.

It's about affirmative action. It's about comparable salaries and comparable recognition for comparable work. It's about the glass ceilings. It's about sharing caregiving for the young--not because we want to be at the top of the pyramid but because we want to be engaged in power--with relationships that make a positive difference in today's world.

Not making a difference is a cost we cannot afford.

It's about Mother Earth being devoured for its resources. It's about war, famine, and political repression and their effect on women and men. It's about the violence in our own city.

Not making a difference is a cost we cannot afford.

It's about relationships. It's about women being rational and emotive and men being emotive and rational.

It's about what Sojourner Truth said: "If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back and get it right side up again!"

Not making a difference is a cost we cannot afford.

It's not just about giving nationwide suffrage to women. It's about women exercising universal suffrage in the voting booth, in the board room, and in the living room.

"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."

Not making a difference is a cost we cannot afford.