This past month marked the centennial of women gaining the right to vote in the United States with the passing of the 19th amendment in 1920. One hundred years. I cannot stop thinking about this.
1920 seems like another lifetime ago, and it was another lifetime as few women who are still alive today were alive in 1920. And yet, in the greater scheme of our country’s history and the history of mankind, one hundred years is the blink of an eye.
To put this into perspective, the passing of the 13th Amendment and the abolishment of slavery in the United States occurred only 155 years ago. We struggle with our terrible and troubled past still today. This has become ever more clear in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and the events that precipitated it.
I have often found myself not only frustrated, but deeply angry. Deeply saddened by the injustice, hatred, bias and inequality I see around me and in our world. How can we act and treat each other, as human brothers and sisters, as we do? All human beings are sacred, loving beings, and good at our core. We are born into this world as perfect, and imperfect, beautiful beings. We are inherently good. No child is born into our world knowing how to hate. We are shaped by our environment, as we grow into our world.
I recently read Tara Mohr’s wonderful book, Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create and Lead. In it, she calls on women to “Join the Transition Team.” In the larger scheme of our world history, women have only just begun to break free from hundreds of years of oppression. One hundred years is nothing.
Fifty years ago, women could only dream of becoming physicians, lawyers, senators, and CEOs. Now we have a world where women are leading countries, and more than 50% of medical students in the United States are women. Yet, while we are beginning to finally gain Equality, we all know that Equity does not yet exist.
The focus of the last 100 years has been gaining Equality as women: the right to vote, the right to work, the right to attend medical, business and law school as men do, and the right to receive equal pay. Equity, creating a world where resources are based on the needs of the recipient, is the goal of our next 100 years.
Melinda Gates writes eloquently in The Moment of Lift of our modern workplace based on the assumption there is a woman at home to care for the family. Our paradigm of work, home, family, elder and childcare must shift to reflect the new reality of women comprising 50% of the workforce. Fair and equitable familial leave, work flexibility, breastfeeding and breast pumping policies, and access to childcare are only the tip of the iceberg.
I am no historian, but as physicians we have an intimate understanding of human nature, and of the suffering of our human race. Nothing exposes the innate frailty of humanity like illness. When I think of women gaining the right to vote only 100 years ago, and the abolishment of slavery only 155 years ago, I am forced to realize that of course things are not perfect yet. We could not even vote 100 years ago. Of course, there is still inherent and implicit bias against us. There is still bias at work, at home, and in the boardroom. We cannot expect hundreds of years of oppression of women to go away in only 100 years.
This broader perspective has helped me, and it has given me peace. It has helped me to feel less angry about our world, and less angry about the injustice and bias I see. Instead, I am filled only with love. Love for all of us as a human race. We are all on the Transition Team, my friends.
Rather than focusing on what is wrong — and I know there is so much that is unfair in our world — what can we do instead? What can we do to focus on what is going right? What can we learn, how can we grow, and what can we create together in the next 100 years? We are only here where we are now because of the grit and passion of so many women before us. What will be our legacy together, dear friends? What kind of world will we create together 100 years from now?