During confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, Senator Tom Colburn theorized that Americans are less free than they were 30 years ago.
Have you ever contemplated the idea of what your freedom was like 30 years ago and what it is today? Well, I want to tell you a lot of Americans have, and I certainly have. There's a marked change in this country from when I was 20 and now that I'm 62 […] a lot of Americans are losing confidence because they're losing freedom. They're losing liberty.Senator Amy Klobuchar’s response later in the hearing was a classic (and very professional) smackdown. In the video after the link, she wonders aloud about the year 1980 -- a moment when the number of women on the Supreme Court and in the Senate Judiciary Committee was precisely zero. How, exactly, were we more free under those circumstances?
In fact, over the three decade “loss of freedom” bemoaned by Senator Colburn, women have experienced a bunch of changes that look suspiciously like gains in freedom.
8 ways women have benefited from “losing freedom”
Sitting on the Supreme Court
Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman named to the US Supreme Court in 1981; Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined her in 1993, and Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed last August.
Going to outer space
In a crushing blow for American liberty, Sally Ride rocketed out of the Earth’s atmosphere in 1982 – the first woman to do so. Just a few months ago, there were four women in space at the same time.
Getting elected more and more frequently in the U.S. …
Since 1980, hundreds of women have been elected to the United States Congress, along with thousands more at the state and local level. These election victories are thanks in part to organizations like EMILY’s list, which is dedicated to getting women elected. During Colburn’s allegedly dark, freedom-losing decades, we’ve seen the first female candidates for Vice President (Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin, notably), as well as the first female U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (Jeane Kirkpatrick in 1981) and the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Senate (Carol Moseley-Braun in 1992).
… and all over the world
Benazir Bhutto became the first woman prime minister of a Muslim nation after winning parliamentary elections in Pakistan in 1988. In Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been president since the 2005 election – she is the first woman to hold the office. And just a few weeks ago, Julia Gillard became Australia’s first female prime minister.
Winning at pretty much any sport they try
In 1985, Libby Riddles of Teller, Alaska, became the first woman to win the Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race. Australian Kay Cottee was the first woman to sail solo, unassisted and non-stop around the world in 1988. And thanks to Title IX, girls’ participation in high school sports has increased 940% since the early ‘70s.
Continuing to serve in the U.S. military
Women served in combat for the first time in 1990, during the Gulf War, but it wasn’t until a Supreme Court ruling in 1996 that the historically all-male Virginia Military School was required to admit women in order to receive public funding. The tide continued to turn in 1999, when Nancy Mace became became the first woman to graduate from the Citadel.
Getting paid what they’re worth
Though the wage gap persists, victims of pay discrimination are finally starting to get their due. In 2009, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which improves the ability of employees who are paid unfairly to file complaints and seek amends.
Demanding justice when they’re subjected to harassment and violence
In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court found that sexual harassment is a form of illegal job discrimination. And in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act increased funding for services for survivors of rape and domestic violence; it also provided for special police training and increased penalties for sex offenders.
Given the huge improvements in women’s rights over the past thirty years, I have to wonder… what would more freedom look like to Senator Colburn? And how do I help prevent that vision of freedom from becoming a reality?
Photo credit: The unnamed