The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Women, always there for America, are taking a knee this year

An abortion rights supporter takes a knee at the Supreme Court last month. (Eric Lee/European Pressphoto Agency/Shutterstock)
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No fireworks, no parades, no grill and definitely no blueberry-strawberry-whipped cream flag cake. Plenty of American women are taking a knee on July Fourth this year. And who could blame us?

“Joining women in solidarity wearing black and Not Celebrating the 4th of July, because it certainly is not a day of independence for us,” tweeted actress Rosanna Arquette. “It never was.”

With one of the most important human rights, control over one’s body, imperiled with the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in a nation where polling has found 1 in 5 women has experienced an attempted or completed rape, it doesn’t feel like the land of the free.

With women’s faltering place in the workforce further destabilized by the pandemic, jeopardizing tepid progress on issues such as equal pay, we don’t look like the home of the brave. Women took the hardest hit when schools and day cares shut down, especially Black, Latina and immigrant women. In more than 60 percent of the heterosexual households surveyed in the latest Marketplace-Edison research survey, it was the mother who took on the learning responsibilities of children stuck at home.

This is going to delay women’s slow (very slow but steady) trudge to pay equality.

“Despite the federal Equal Pay Act of 1963 and other protections for women, unless something changes, women and men will not reach pay parity on average until 2059” and “not until 2133 for Black women or 2206 for Latinas,” according to recent research by the National Partnership for Women and Families. Moreover, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development said last fall that globally, the pandemic pushed these timelines back.

Where are all the ways to help children now that Roe is overturned?

None of these measures account for the latest American hurdle: forced motherhood. Across social media and among friends, women, especially White women, are expressing solidarity with the marginalized people who have long sat out the celebration of our imperfect union, or at least questioned what it could be, if it lived up to the ideals taught in our elementary school classrooms.

I also wasn’t feeling too festive. I’m heading out of town next week, and getting ready to travel was on top of my list over the holiday weekend, giving me the easy excuse to bow out of the sweaty grilling, picnic packing and planning that mark the unseen work of most women in the household while the men helpfully hold the beers.

So over the weekend, I let them fend for themselves and headed to a neighborhood food pantry for a future column. I drove past the Supreme Court, with its street still blocked after waves of protests, and remembered the emotions I witnessed there.

They were the same emotions I saw when proclaimed crotch-grabber Donald Trump took office five years ago, and when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lay in state two years ago. Women saw it coming. Our rights were evaporating.

Then, going west, I saw the fencing erected to control the July Fourth fireworks crowds around the Capitol. It made me queasy, reminding me of that day in January last year, when I was jostled by crowds knocking those meek barricades down and storming the building.

There was as much red, white and blue there as you’d see at any hometown parade on Independence Day. But it was garish. And the crowd broke windows and smeared feces on the inside of the Capitol.

What have we become over the years? Will the nation move backward along with women’s rights? Where exactly do we go from here?

“Would you like some extra produce, Stanley?” Sara Schwartz asked a retired veteran who came to the food pantry that day. The veteran was happy to take the apples. “Without these women, I wouldn’t make it,” he said. Without these women.

A family of Afghan refugees arrived in a van from Virginia.

“Yes, they’re here every week,” said Judith Ingram, a federal government worker who thought she should do something constructive with the extra two hours she had every day once the work-from-home order cut down her commute time amid the pandemic.

She began delivering food donations to seniors unable to venture out in the pandemic. And the network of people in need grew until she opened a food bank. A line now forms down the street every Sunday, waiting for the doors to open and the women, plus two male volunteers, to offer help they can’t get anywhere else.

Where do we go from here? Follow the women.

During the Revolutionary War, they kept farms, homesteads, businesses, cities and newspapers going, all while raising families. Generations of enslaved women and their children built the foundation of our wealth and power. For every war that earned men medals and monuments, women kept the rest of the nation running, earning little besides grudging acceptance.

All this, with no mention of the word “women” in the Constitution. From the nation’s founding to the tumult of today, they’ve been leading the whole time.

Take a knee, and a seat, ladies. We deserve a rest. We deserve equal rights. And we deserve the nation’s respect.