Barack Obama appeared before a packed chamber of the United States House of Representatives and delivered his fifth State of the Union address to not only those present in the chamber, but to millions of Americans watching from the confines of their televisions, laptops, and other devices. He opened the speech with a greeting, but more importantly a story of a female teacher, something that would not have been normal in the history of State of the Union speeches.
In the history of State of the Union addresses, there is a serious scarcity in not only the rights of women, but the mention of women at all. The first significant clause about women’s rights is stated by Woodrow Wilson in his 1918 State of the Union address: “And what shall we say of the women…Their contribution to the great result is beyond appraisal…The least tribute we can pay them is to make them the equals of men in political rights as they have proved themselves their equals in every field of practical work they have entered,…”. Although Wilson had a lukewarm support for women’s suffrage, he was known to pay the suffragists with lip service instead of actual service. In the end this urge towards women’s rights was a first in the clear impartation of the political and social gap between men and women in the history of the State of the Union addresses.
Frequency of the mentioning of women as compared to men in State of the Union speeches since 19th century.
Although many other presidents afterwards do say the word woman and/or women once or twice in their State of the Union addresses (something that does not become common until after President Jimmy Carter), any other significant stating of women’s rights in State of the Union addresses are only to be be seen again in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speeches starting from 1939, eerily close to World War II which would start just two years later. Roosevelt could thus be accused of beginning his campaign of women’s rights in his SOTUs just as a way to encourage the largely women workforce in America due to the war.
The depressing fact is that after Franklin D. Roosevelt, the women’s rights radar in State of the Union addresses becomes rather undisturbed until a whopping 30 to 35 years later, when President Jimmy Carter makes a quick mention in his speech of 1978 on the necessity of equal opportunities for women and colored people.The mention of women’s rights and women had a general increase in further State of the Union addresses made by the next four presidents after Carter until eventually, President Barack Obama.
But there still seems to be a problem in how women are actually represented in these speeches. President Obama spoke the famous words “When women succeed, America succeeds.”, but how much of it was charisma and how much of it was actual initiative? The matters at hand with income inequality and the many matters of women suffrage that America has seen have been evasively spoken of during many if not all State of the Union addresses, with no actual regard towards future policies of change and current policies enacted towards these issues. Being 2014 and no longer the 20th century, it is weird to note the eerily similar evasiveness the State of the Union address has towards issues of women, and although the word count of the word “woman” and/or “women” has evidently gone up, when will the actual representation of women’s rights increase to become just as evident?
Barack Obama: “State of the Union 2014 Address” January 28, 2014.
Woodrow Wilson: “Sixth Annual Message,” December 2, 1918. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=29559
Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Annual Message to Congress,” January 4, 1939. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=15684 (First FDR SOTUs cited in post)
http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/sou.php (other FDR SOTUs cited generally in post)
Jimmy Carter: “The State of the Union Address Delivered Before a Joint Session of the Congress. ,” January 19, 1978. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=30856