The women behind Vision 2020’s exhibition, From the Absence of Many to the Presence of All…The Unfinished Business of Women’s Equality, wanted an exhibition that would:
- Celebrate achievements in the historic struggle for women’s equality.
- Sound the alarm that the struggle is far from over.
- Be sure that everyone understood the risks that pioneering women brought to the fight.
- Women working toward equality today are also given their due.
- Cautiously celebrate the present, while celebrating the past.
- Imagine a future when the fight for equality is a thing of the past.
The exhibition at the National Constitution Center is something of a whirlwind – or maybe tornado — to catch at visitors’ sleeves just as they’ve done all their learning for the day and are preparing to exit into Signers’ Hall. Before they can go mingle with the statues of America’s founding fathers, our exhibition insists they spend just a little time with its founding mothers and with women today who are not ready to bring the story to a close until there is a finale we can all be happy with.
We couldn’t build life-size statues of our founding mothers, but we’re hoping that visitors feel just as compelled to seek out that photo op with Sojourner Truth as they do with Ben Franklin. That they’ll read Abigail Adams words addressed to her husband, then meet her husband’s fellow founders in the next room and wonder if he ever conveyed to them her warning: “If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or representation.”
We do hope that visitors will see just how much women have achieved and continue to achieve toward equality, even as laws, customs, poverty and ignorance all continue to push back progress. If visitors leave understanding that equality can be attained – and it can be taken away, or even given up – it’s our belief that when they meet the women of our exhibition, as well as the men in Signers’ Hall, they’ll leave knowing that for all people, the blessings of liberty are contingent and not guaranteed.
In the end women’s status is evolving and transitional. The women featured in the exhibition had one thing in common: the belief that less is NOT more, that failure is NOT an acceptable option and that equality IS in sight if we sharpen our focus. We hope visitors enjoy what they see and will leave the exhibition newly invigorated and inspired toward achieving the perfect vision of 2020.
This is a guest post by Rosalind Remer, Ph.D., Remer & Talbott