In the United States, nearly two centuries after women assembled in Seneca Falls, New York, “to protest against,” as Elizabeth Cady Stanton said, “a form of government existing without the consent of the governed — to declare our right to be free as man is free, to be represented in the government which we are taxed to support,” the male/female balance of power is still lopsided. Of the fifty states and five populated territories, for example, only ten have women governors (seven of them Democrats); of the 535 members of Congress, the Congressional Research Service reports, only 151 are women (127 in the House and 24 in the Senate, the great majority of congressional women Democrats). And, of course, no woman has ever been president of the United States. In Fortune 500 companies the same lopsidedness applies: in what one report on women at the helms of these powerful businesses called the “record-breaking year” of 2022, only 44 of the 500, or just under nine percent, are headed by women.
After decades during which U.S. women, with frustrating slowness, made much real and much only ostensible progress toward equality — acquiring voting rights, greater acceptance in the workplace (while struggling to nudge a bit closer to pay parity), and greater control over our personal affairs, including decisions regarding our own bodies — this slow progress seems to have stalled, or in some areas started to reverse. The most shocking example of this is, of course, the Supreme Court’s unconscionable reversal of Roe v. Wade this June — a decision that may well be a harbinger of more repressive SCOTUS decisions to come. Many state governments immediately moved to make abortion, and related medical treatments, more difficult, if not impossible. A story published on the United Nations News website shortly after the Supreme Court decision, and read by people around the world, bore the headline, “Overturning of Roe v. Wade abortion law a ‘huge blow to women’s human rights,’ warns [Michelle] Bachelet” (the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights).
This special issue of Persimmon Tree is a response to the reversal of Roe, to the trend toward reversing years of slow progress toward equality that decision seems to portend, and to the continuing second-class status to which so many women in this country and around the world are still relegated.
You will find articles here describing the painful challenges women have faced, and continue to endure. You will also find reflections of optimism and determination to continue the struggle for equality and self-determination, no matter the challenges — as in the inspiring lead essay by Alice Benson, “Hope and Persistence”; the work of the fourteen poets who contributed to this issue; and the words of the readers whose eloquent thoughts and moving experiences you will find in the Persimmon Tree Forum In the Resources section you will find information about organizations that are working to support women’s rights — as well as leads to informative books and articles. Knowledge truly is power; action based on knowledge — as well as compassion and respect, even for those with whom we disagree — is more powerful still.
In this country, much will depend on the outcome of the midterm elections on November 8. My colleagues and I — as well as contributors to the Persimmon Tree Forum — urge you to vote, and to nag, cajole, and/or insist that all those in your circle do so as well. We also hope you will send us your thoughts in the aftermath of the elections. Email me at email@example.com, with the subject line Forum Comment. And please sign not only your name but also your town and state.
Finally, and above all, we must fight discouragement, maintain hope, and do what we can to reverse the reversals of progress toward equality. Men do have their parts to play, of course. But I keep thinking of the title of a book that Eleanor Roosevelt wrote during the Great Depression: It’s Up to the Women.