Places & Faces
On Being a Strong Louisiana Woman
11/1/2020 1:00:00 PM

Earlier this year, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of women earning the right to vote in this country. Emphasis on the word earned. The reason women today enjoy the full rights of citizenship is because our grandmothers and great-grandmothers demanded it. They literally took to the streets in protest, picketing in front of the White House while being harassed by spectators and arrested by police for "obstructing sidewalk traffic.” They were jailed and mocked and ignored and still they persisted. And eventually — together — they won.

Here’s something you may not know about this historic milestone: When the 19th Amendment that gives women the right to vote was passed by Congress in 1919, it required the approval of 36 states to become law. Thankfully, 36 other states did vote for it, because Louisiana did not. Though the new law went into effect nationwide in 1920, our great state didn’t get around to actually ratifying the 19th Amendment until 1970. 

Through a combination of individual daring, collective might and dogged determination, women have come a long way since then. Right here in Lakes Charles, when Willie Landry Mount first ran for mayor in 1993 (just a little over 20 years after our state voted to give women the right to vote), many people thought she was crazy. "A woman mayor?!?” But she won, and suddenly the unthinkable became . . . normal. 

She went on to serve as mayor for six years before running for the office of State Senator. She won and was re-elected for two additional terms without opposition. 

Just last year, there was a record number of women elected to Congress, but even at that high water mark, women still only hold about a quarter of those 535 seats (as of the date this publication was sent to printer. This could change in the November 3 election). We’re half the population of this country, we vote in larger numbers and at a higher rate, but we’re still grossly underrepresented at both the federal and state levels. And, as of last year, women hold only 15 percent of seats in the Louisiana state legislature. That’s one of the lowest percentages in the country. We would need to elect 51 more female lawmakers just to get it up to 50%! Let’s get to work on that!

It’s not just a matter of political representation. Our wage gap is one of the widest in the country. If current trends continue, women in Louisiana will not see equal pay until the year 2115! According to the nonprofit Institute for Women’s Policy Research, if employed women in Louisiana were paid the same for comparable work as men, their poverty rate would be reduced by more than half and poverty among employed single mothers would also drop by more than half!

There is good news to report, however. The percent of women business owners in Louisiana has risen over time and now represents more than a third of all owners. Women have always owned businesses, but the pace has picked up because women are better educated and have more corporate experience than before. The Center for Women’s Business Research reports that 65% of the women who have started businesses in the past decade learned the ropes as managers in big corporations. They made it to the top, decided the view from the corner office wasn’t what they thought it would be, and took their talent and experience elsewhere - to create something they could call their own. Women start more than twice as many new companies every day as men do. And multiple studies show these businesses are more successful than those owned by men. Many women would agree that’s because we have learned we don’t have to play by the established rules to succeed. We can leave those rules behind and carve our own path to success, one that includes the flexibility we need to take care of our families and our career.  

In so many ways and thanks to much hard work and sacrifice, women are emerging as the powerful force in society we were meant to be. That we are making progress is a credit to the untold, nameless women who showed up to vote, took jobs in traditionally male industries, demanded fair treatment and fought back against injustice. Perhaps most of all, it is thanks to the women who used their success and strength to lift up other women.

As Maya Angelou said, "Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it, possibly without claiming it, she stands up for all women.” 

We all face obstacles and setbacks, many devastating. But as women we are at our most powerful when we can use our pain, our disappointment, and our frustration to drive fundamental change and help others in need. We need not be held back by what we do not have, or do not yet know. We must not be daunted by the size and scope of the problems we encounter. We can transform the injustice and discrimination we face as women into something that fuels our passion, that unites us in action to make our state a better place for our daughters and granddaughters. As the saying goes: "Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.”

Posted by: Kristy Armand | Submit comment | Tell a friend


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