Women advocating for the right to vote in 1920. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

This summer marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment ratification, granting women the right to vote. But that’s far less time than it took women to gain that right since the U.S. Constitution was ratified 132 years earlier, in 1788.

Women have overcome significant milestones since. One example: It took another 45 years after the 19th Amendment for the 1965 Civil Rights Act to eliminate voting barriers for minority women.

But the story isn’t over. 

A law can legally mandate people to treat women as equals. But it cannot stretch to ensure social equality ensues. Marisa S. Cianciarulo, Chapman University’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, is well aware of this.

Dean Cianciarulo took time for a Zoom session with us to talk about the 19th Amendment as a benchmark for women’s rights, and the work for gender rights that still goes on.

Cianciarulo has specialized in gender, immigration, and human rights at the Fowler School of Law. She has also taught in the Family Protection Clinic. Among her accomplishments: She founded Chapman’s Family Violence Clinic in 2006, has worked as an attorney with the American Bar Association’s Commission on Immigration and has published highly praised research on immigration and human rights law. In 2010 students at the law school voted her Professor of the Year.

During the pandemic, she is working at home, alongside her husband and two young children. She has made it a priority to prevail in her career but also making co-parenting a priority to help her children avoid stereotypes society can impose on youth.

In January, Cianciarulo hosted a symposium for Chapman Law Review on the effects of women’s women’s suffrage after the 19th Amendment.

Headshot of Dean Cianciarulo, a law professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Fowler School of Law. She’s also a specialist in immigration law with a human rights focus. Photo courtesy of Cianciarulo.

Here is part of her interview with us:

Mari: Can you tell us about the panel you hosted in January?

Dean Cianciarulo: A running theme throughout the day was while the 19th Amendment was a highly significant shift in terms of politics and full representation of citizens in terms of being able to vote, it wasn’t a panacea. Much is still elusive in terms of voting and also in terms of gender equality. In many ways, a lot of people are still disenfranchised. A panelist on the one before mine talked about people living on reservations who don’t use street addresses, they use PO Boxes and are not able to register to vote or exercise their vote at the polls. These are deliberate attempts to disenfranchise people.

While we have the vote, it doesn’t mean we’ve achieved this perfect full equality with men.

Karley: What inspired you to get involved on this panel?

Cianciarulo: One of the courses I teach is gender and the law. One of the topics that we cover in that course is women’s struggle for the right to vote and it seems to us as very archaic reasons as to why they were denied the right to vote. I knew we were coming up on the 100-year anniversary of the 19th amendment. I wanted to get it on the radar because this was a big moment in history. There are so many diverse viewpoints on various topics.

Mari: Why do you think history since the ratification is so significant to better understand and appreciate the efforts that women before us put forth?

Cianciarulo: I think because it’s something that’s so taken for granted today. And yet, we hear the same arguments against full gender equality that we heard from people who were very much opposed to the right to vote, including many women who were opposed to the right to vote. We see this today, I think there’s this fear that if men truly see us as equals and if the law treats us as full equals then we lose something, we lose certain protections that the law gives to us as women. That we lose certain privileges that we see as women. My personal viewpoint on these things is that we don’t lose anything. 

The reality is we are equal to men. We’re different in many respects but we shouldn’t be denied any kind of problem or responsibility under the law and that diminishes everybody, men and women when that happens. 

I think you hear a lot of arguments like when the Equal Rights Amendment was trying to be passed. It was thwarted largely because of arguments by women saying it’s going to hurt us as women. Our husbands aren’t going to have to support us anymore. That seems archaic today, right? We’ve gotten to a point where most of us don’t want that to begin with. But even if we do, it’s an equal responsibility. 

I don’t think anybody gets married with the assumption that if things go badly with their job then their spouse is going to be like “Hey I’m cutting you off from the bank account.” And ya know good luck finding a new job. That’s not what marriage is about.   

What’s now on the table is having women register for the draft, “oh well we can’t do that.

Why would we put women in that position?” Well, why do we put men in that position? We’re not in a day and age where we’re running around with broad swords and claymores and engaging in hand to hand combat with crude force. There are plenty of combat positions in any kind of military positions that even people who don’t have the physical capability engaging that kind of hand to hand combat can still protect the country in times of need. 

So a lot of these things diminish women, but they also diminish men at the same time. They say to men “You have a certain role, you have certain responsibilities, and because you’re men and we have certain expectations of how you’re going to behave because you’re men.” But then we don’t have those certain expectations for women. And that’s not fair to anybody. 

It’s the same way for families in terms of women’s position in the family and responsibility for childcare and housekeeping and all that. To say men are somehow unequal to the task of caring for a family and a home is demeaning to women, but it’s also demeaning to men, and it’s unfair.

Mari: What specific areas do you think gender equality needs the most significant improvements and in what ways do you think people today can contribute to making those improvements?

Cianciarulo: I think most of the things we’re looking at today can’t necessarily be addressed through just a simple statute, like a new law that would just “fix” that. I think we’re, for most things, past that and there are some things that laws can fix. 

I think the biggest problems we face now are really societal and the perceptions of men’s roles and women’s roles. In the workplace, for example, I always worked in law and there’s a popular term in law, in big law and law firms, called “the mommy track.” Which means when female associates have a family they take themselves off the partner track and bill [clients] differently and don’t have the same billing requirements. It also means they’re never going to make partner so they are taking themselves off the partner track. 

There is nothing called the “daddy track” because men don’t do it, and women don’t expect them to. So there’s this divide and we see this with earnings. This is what I mean by how it’s now societal, no law firm is saying “I’m going to pay you, female associate, at $85,000 and your male counterpart at $95,000.” That’s not happening, and if it is happening it’s completely illegal and it’s actionable. 

But what does happen, is at year five, year ten, when a male associate is now transitioning to the partner phase, a female associate is switching to the mommy track. This is fine if it’s what the female associate wants to do and that’s what her male associate spouse wants to do as well. But I suspect that those decisions being made by both the female partner and her male spouse are often very much influenced by societal expectations and not so much about what we really want to do. 

In an ideal situation, both of them would say, “I want to work about 50 hours a week and still be able to have a significant role in this law firm but not give up my time with my family.” But we don’t have those options. We still have these very rigid lines and we often see them falling along gender-based expectations.

Karley: What specifically would you say society needs to change in its viewpoint on women and its expectation of them?

Cianciarulo: I think anything that’s just stereotypical. For example, any sense that women are somehow better at raising kids. In my personal experience with observing other families, there is no, absolutely NO, science to support that and it’s just not realistic. 

Both parents in heterosexual relationships, whether they’re good or bad [parents]-all parents think they’re doing a terrible job. But it’s certainly not because of their gender. It’s not because I was somehow born with this innate ability to deal with a temper tantrum from a five-year-old, which I was just dealing with 10 minutes ago. 

My husband isn’t any better equipped because of his anatomy to deal with that either. Yet, these stereotypes really persist and they do impact promotion decisions, sometimes hiring decisions. Even though businesses are required to pay equally, if they’ve got two equal candidates and one’s a woman and one’s a man, and they’re deciding who they want to invest their time and money in, it’s going to be the person they think is going to stick around and be a partner and end on the partner track, not on the mommy track.

That’s a real term and an actual phenomenon that occurs every single day. So, I think those stereotypes are really the biggest problem and a lot of that is up to us individually to change those. The law can only go so far and that’s what we see with the limitations of the law.

Karley: I always hear the term “glass ceiling” as well, where there’s always that moment where women stop progressing in the workforce and have to focus more on their family, rather than their own career.

Cianciarulo: Yes, and I think that plays a lot into those more mid-career decisions. Who are we going to promote? Who are we going to trust with this big account? Who are we going to trust with this prestigious client? I think gender stereotypes frequently factor into that.

Karley: In what ways do you think we can change the perception of powerful people making those decisions and change their idea of who can hold these positions?

Cianciarulo: It’s a great question and I don’t know that I have an answer for it. I think that’s where the law helps, the law says you can’t discriminate based on gender either in hiring or in pay. So as more women have gotten high paying, more prestigious jobs I think men – the older senior leadership men -, have started to recognize that women are equally capable. 

In terms of changing stereotypes, I feel like that comes down to individual people doing things in their own lives to change that. How to overcome with people who have very set beliefs, if their own experience working women, working with minorities, working with LGBTQ+ community, anyone where stereotypes factors in, if their own experiences aren’t enough to show them that these stereotypes are not reliable, I don’t know what else we can do. 

I think we just need to keep on doing what we’re doing, which is women pursuing these jobs and opportunities, and women are doing really well and we’re excelling. We excel in school, we’re starting to surpass the boys in grade school and high school and now in college with young men. And then you get to a certain point in your life and people make decisions. I think as long as you’re confident in yourself and your partner and you go into it with everyone understanding one another’s expectations, then that can really start to change things.

I remember when my spouse and I started talking about having kids, and there were expectations that neither of us were going to quit our jobs or ratchet down our jobs. We made the decision that our kids would go to daycare full-time from the time they were infants. That’s a decision that would have been very judged and criticized in the past. We went into our relationship knowing that both of us fully intended to pursue our careers as well as have a family if that was possible for us.

Mari: Since the 19th amendment was ratified, what do you think are some of the most significant ways, socially or lawfully, that women’s rights have progressed in the past 100 years?

Cianciarulo: Probably one of the most significant ways was in the 60s as the civil rights movement was really taking root. The roles that women played then were really significant. It was a time for women to very much assert their rights. 

Historically, that made sense as well. I think also the role that women played albeit a supportive role in the 1940s or  World War II. I think that was a significant achievement and then, of course, it was followed by the 50s which was a period of domesticity and returning to rewarding the war heroes with this very traditional, domestic life. That was quickly overcome by the 60s where everyone realized they were just kind of fed up with that and it just wasn’t realistic anymore. 

Even before that, Seneca Falls (anti-slavery convention by women) and the push for women’s rights, we had the industrial revolution which was the first time women were working outside the home. In all of these different developments, women thought that they could and would want to do something outside of the home were all significant ways in which we gradually came to where we are now.

Mari: Do you think there are any areas in which women’s equality has digressed?

Cianciarulo: Certainly not since where we were back in the 1920s. I think it’s hard for us today to grasp what life was like for women prior to the 19th Amendment. Even after, I remember reading books written in the 1920s where it would be a common thing for a husband to say “Well, my wife’s going to vote the way I tell her, or else.” There’s this very pervasive sense of men being the head of the family and having a lot of authority over the wife and the children.

But in terms of us having regressed, it’s always a little bit of two steps forward, one step back. In the ’40s there was a lot of independence and then we get the 50’s but then we get the 60’s and there’s this other resurgence of women’s independence. 

Today, I think we’re better off even than we were 10 years ago in a lot of ways, but we also see a lot of resistance to that. Historically we’ve always seen that. We go back to what I said in the beginning, there were a lot of women opposed to women’s suffrage, strongly opposed to it. I think we’ll always have that, that somehow the differences between the sexes and insisting on the recognition of equality somehow means that we’re diminishing both sexes. Whereas I think it achieves the exact opposite. I think we all better realize our potential when we don’t have these artificial obstacles that are based on stereotypes rather than facts and reality.

Karley: Do you think there’s a separate standard for other minorities, like women of color?

Cianciarulo: Yes, I think women of color face the dual obstacle of gender and race. Not only do they have to deal with the stereotypes that are attached to gender, but they have to deal with the stereotypes that are attached to race. We see that everywhere, we can see it in the comments and student evaluations for women professors of color. It’s quite pervasive.

Karley: How do you think the different waves of feminism have succeeded in granting more women’s rights and have built off of one another?

Cianciarulo: Every time we have successes in terms of achieving gender equality, they build on each other. When women in the 40s were working in factories and supporting the war effort and serving in the armed forces, that was something that was built upon in the 60s.

Women had these capabilities that were integral to our society, to our national defense, to production. I think we see that now there are very little areas where women are denied entry. 

So as we do more and are given more opportunities to do more, that will always start to defeat those stereotypes. Women fighter pilots, women in combat, they’ve shown that they are capable of doing it. I think what it always comes down to is choice and making sure people have choices to do things. If a woman wants to be a fighter pilot, there should be no prohibition on that if she can meet all of the requirements that everyone else does. 

For someone to simply say “no, you can’t do that because you’re female,” doesn’t make any sense. If you think about where we would be in terms of science and innovation, if all of the women who had been forced out of education, forced into the home, forced out of the workplace over the last millennia, you could imagine where we would be if we had 50 percent more brainpower behind all of that, who knows where we would be. 

So many women continue to not be allowed to realize their potential all around the world and that hurts everybody. There are brilliant scientists out there, brilliant doctors who we’ll never know about because they’re being married-off at 14 or 16-years-old, or trafficked, or pulled out of school and not given any opportunities. And that’s just the sad reality. 

Karley: How do you think we’ve changed in the way we view boys and girls’ toys?

Cianciarulo: That’s another kind of thing people have to do individually and have a mutual understanding about. We have a boy and a girl and we buy them whatever toys they want. 

And that’s challenging, because if my son wants to wear something that is stereotyped as girly to school then I have to make the decisions. Okay, do I let him do that and explain that he might get made fun of and risk him getting hurt, or do I tell him no and risk him equating things that are traditionally girly with something that is undesirable because that’s something we still deal within society?

Girls always want to be like the boys, we want to work, we want to play sports and do what they do. We wear pants now, but boys never want to be like the girls. That is persistent, No one says “you throw like a girl” and means it as a compliment. There’s no aspiration. We don’t hear men saying, “I really want to be a stay-at-home dad.” It happens, but it’s rare. And it certainly doesn’t happen in the way that women say “I want to be a lawyer. I want to be a doctor.” We don’t hear the opposite coming from men. I think that’s largely because things associated with women are always seen as demeaning somehow. That starts in childhood. 

That’s why we’re really careful about how we characterize things in front of our children. We never say “that’s girly” or “that’s just for girls” or “that’s just for boys.” But we do run into that problem. How do we explain this when we are cognizant of the fact that we live in a society that punishes boys for girls and that’s the trick.


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