I can honestly say it has been a long time since I read the “I have a dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It has also been a long time–50 years–since he delivered that historic speech in Washington, DC. His dream, simply stated, is that all people are created equal. His speech focused on the rights of African Americans as he led peaceful movements throughout much of the South. What impact did Dr. King have on the rights of women? Have we come a long way since the adoption of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote? Or do we still have a long way to go?
From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King fervently declared, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” The true meaning of the creed and his peaceful marches for equality paved the way for women to begin to compete with their male counterparts within many fields, including science and business.
Dr. King saw freedom as the only means of existence within our country, influencing the adoption of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But his words, his actions, and his leadership opened the doors of freedom to all people who were oppressed.
The roles of women began to evolve in the 1960s and 1970s; women were no longer expected to stay home or be limited to stereotyped employment. Women stood up and led marches for gender equality, not just within the workplace or educational fields, but in the upbringing of our daughters, paving the way to a world of possibilities.
Today in the United States we boast the highest number of women in history serving in the U.S. House and Senate, 18 women are CEOs of Fortune 500 countries, and Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo made headlines after becoming a mom, successfully balancing work and family, being quoted in saying that her priorities are “God, family and Yahoo.”
An appropriate, albeit clichéd, quote comes to mind from the 1968 Virginia Slims commercial, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” Women have come a long way since the middle of the 20th century and much of that progress is due in part to the influence of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his peaceful journey toward equality for all.
To play devil’s advocate, however, just how far have women come? Sure, women in our country have the freedom to pursue and achieve their goals, but women on average continue to make less money than their male counterparts. Therefore, are we truly equal?
What about women abroad and gender equality? Recent brutal attacks on women in India have caused turmoil and violent protests regarding gender equality. We cannot turn a blind eye to Malala Yousufzai, the young Pakistani girl who was shot for her bravery speaking in favor of educating Muslim girls. What influence can the very historical nature of Dr. King’s 50-year-old speech have on the global stage where women and girls are not seen as equals, if seen at all? We should remember Dr. King’s words: “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
So where are we today? As Dr. King sacrificed his life in fighting for equality, so many of today’s women continue fighting for not only their equality, but that of future generations as well. Where our nation has come a long way, we still have a long way to go on a global scale to promote, protect, and encourage women’s rights.
Where do you see the evolution of women’s rights headed in the future?