"That sounds more like a quarrel across a breakfast table than something you'd read in a manifesto," Murolo says. But that doesn't mean it should be overlooked. Self-confidence and independence make it possible for women to participate fully in the affairs of the day, and in this way, such "personal" grievances are in fact very relevant to the generation of political and social movements.
Lastly, Murolo stresses the overlap that existed at the time of the Seneca Falls Convention between women's rights activists and abolitionists. The fight for female equality "grew out of the desire for women to play a larger role in the movement against slavery," she says. The lesson to be learned here, Murolo advises, is "that the most effective way to nurture feminism is to foster women's activism around all of the great issues of the day, whether or not their easily identified as women's issues."
Also on Friday, the president of the Portland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Rachel Talbot Ross, will discuss "Selma" — a series of protest marches that took place in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. The bloody demonstrations, organized in support of voting rights for African Americans, helped to make the rest of the country aware of the deep-seated racism that plagued the South, and propelled forward the civil rights movement in general and the 1965 Voting Rights Act in particular.
The third event mentioned in Obama's address will be tackled by queer writer and activist Kate Bornstein, author of several books including Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us (Routledge) and Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws (Seven Stories Press). Bornstein will be unable to attend in-person due to health problems, but will be beamed in remotely to offer her portion of the program, which will discuss the Stonewall riots of 1969, a seminal event in the history of gay rights.
When Obama mentioned Stonewall, he was referring to a series of New York City demonstrations during which gays and lesbians finally fought back against government and law enforcement attempts to stifle and suppress them. The catalyst was a police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar located in Greenwich Village; the rebellion led to the creation of the Gay Activist Alliance.
While the causes embraced at Seneca and Selma have been addressed (which isn't to say, not by a long shot, that we live in some sort of post-feminist, post-racist society), the GLBT fight for equality is still raging. Obama's mention of Stonewall at his inauguration (as well as his more explicit call for equality, one sentence later) was a strong indication that the president sees gay rights as a defining issue of our time.
USM Women and Gender Studies annual Women's History Month Celebration: "Seneca, Selma, Stonewall, Social Change" | March 8 @ 7 pm | Hannaford Hall, University of Southern Maine, Portland | Free | 207.780.4289