By Lorraine Connelly
The 2020 election is almost over, and we will have to live with the outcome. I, for one, am looking ahead with promise to 2036. In that year, my granddaughter, Willa, will be 18 years old and casting her first vote in the presidential election. Here’s what I wish for my granddaughter.
In 2036, I hope that a woman will have served as vice president or president. I also hope that equal pay for women will have been achieved. In 2018, the year Willa was born, a woman working full time earned 81.6 cents, on average, for every dollar a man received working full time. Additionally, women’s median annual earnings were $9,766 less than men’s, according to US Census Bureau data.
While some progress to obtain pay parity between the sexes has been made, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates that equal pay for women will not be attained until 2059. If that prediction is true, it unfortunately will be nearly a century since President John F. Kennedy’s signing of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, abolishing wage disparity based on sex. And it will be exactly 50 years after President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, the first piece of legislation passed by his administration, and the culmination of a groundbreaking Supreme Court case: Ledbetterv. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., (2007).
Ledbetter had worked for 19 years at Goodyear as a supervisor and filed an employment discrimination case against the company after discovering that she was being paid significantly less than her male colleagues. The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent against a pro-Goodyear Court majority opinion in that landmark case is considered, by many, to be one of her finest achievements. In her argument, Ginsburg invoked as precedent Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which she said had intended “to secure robust protection against workplace discrimination.” Justice Ginsburg did not mince words, admonishing the majority opinion for its “cramped interpretation” and “parsimonious reading” of Title VII.
With deference to precedent, I hope that in 2036 my granddaughter will still have the constitutional right to choose what is right for her body. For nearly half a century, Roe v. Wade has been the law of the land. The U.S. Supreme Court recognized that the U.S. Constitution protects a woman’s right to make her own medical decisions, including her right to safe and legal abortion. Since 1973, this has been an established precedent and should not be up for debate, not by a right-leaning Supreme Court in 2020, nor for that matter, by any politicized process in generations to come.
I also fervently hope that Willa will be celebrated for her multiracial heritage: Italian-Scottish, German-Swiss, and African-American. I hope that the America she lives in will treasure everyone’s particular abilities, regardless of gender, caste, or income. According to census projections, our country will become “minority white” by 2045. By that year whites will comprise 49.7 percent of the United States’ population with 24.6 percent for Hispanics, 13.1 percent for blacks, 7.9 percent for Asians, 3.8 percent for multiracial, and 0.9 for those who identify as other. These projections presage a racial, social, and cultural tipping point; one that may cause discomfort for those who set stock in a dominant white majority.
In her new book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, African American author Isabel Wilkerson challenges 400 years of systemic inequality and asks a pointed question that goes to the heart of our nation’s founding: “Will the United States adhere to its belief in majority rule if the majority does not look as it has throughout history? This tipping point, says Wilkerson, “will be the chance for America either to further entrench its inequalities or to choose to lead the world as the exceptional nation that we have proclaimed ourselves to be.”
I want my granddaughter Willa to feel wholly part of the American fabric and experience, and not perceive herself to be a fraction or portion of the American main by using such qualifiers as “only,” “part” or “other” to self-identify.
I know a genie only grants three wishes, but if I had a fourth it would be that in 2036, at age 82, I will be around to discuss with my 18-year-old granddaughter, the strides we have made in our democracy during my lifetime, and the many miles to go before achieving a more perfect and equal union.
Lorraine S. Connelly is a Wallingford writer and resident.