Last friday, just a day after the Afghanistan elections were held, I spent the lazy summer afternoon sprawled on my couch eating lunch and surfing my new HBO channels. I happened upon what looked like a made-for-television movie called, "Iron Jawed Angels." The guide's info listed Hilary Swank as the leading actress and the description mentioned something about the women's suffrage movement. I admire Ms. Swank's on-screen work and love a good historical period piece so I settled in with mild interest and a little skepticism as I had never heard of the film and there were no "stars" listed under the movie rating.

Two hours later, I was wiping away tears and processing a new found admiration for the women who led the way for the women's right to vote in the U.S. They endured years of scorn, jailings, and imprisonment under brutal conditions, so that almost 89 years later I could fax in my absentee ballot vote from Canada for the next president of the United States.

Myself, voting in the 2008 Presidential elections

I had vaguely remembered reading maybe a few paragraphs or a chapter on women's history in the U.S. in either highschool or college. Names like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony seemed familiar but were just names of women pioneers that other women should know. But somehow seeing Alice Paul and her cohorts' tenacity and courage displayed on-screen brought to life a privilege I had taken for granted since I had turned 18.

There's a scene in the movie where President Woodrow Wilson and his closest staff are confounded about why all these women were making such a fuss. It was 1917 and the U.S. was sludging it out in WWI. It seemed there were greater causes to fight for at the time than letting a woman mark her name on a ballot form. Besides, black men had already been given the right to vote, women were sure to follow in due time. But for Wilson's administration the time was not now.

Many of the picketeers had been hauled off to prison on the charges of "obstructing traffic." While in prison, the leader of the National Woman's Party, Alice Paul, went on a hunger strike declaring herself and her female compatriots "political prisoners" and the conditions inside the prison "inhumane." For her efforts, Alice was marked as suicidal and therefore labeled insane.

Alice Paul

The American patriot, Patrick Henry, was famously quoted as saying, 'give me liberty or give me death.' One could argue his cause was a higher cause worth fighting for and that Alice and other women like her were merely driven to crazy feminist obsessions. However, one of my favorite lines in the movie played by a male advocate for the suffrage movement sums it up and shuts it up best when he says, "In women, courage is often mistaken for insanity."

On August 26, 1920, Congress ratified the 19th amendment to the United States Consitution allowing women all across America their opportunity to explore liberty and democracy to its fullest and for themselves. I am thankful to that generation of women who would not take "no" or "later" for an answer, but rather said, "now."

Our definition of equality has always been restricted by the norms of the society and culture at the time. Thankfully, there are those, like Alice Paul, that have been willing to rock the boat and if need be, sink it, to help redefine the parameters of the highest notions of human equality.

Draining tears and snot into my paper towel, I watched the movie credits roll by and wondered what I have ever fought for that mattered? Would I have what it takes to be willing to lose my reputation or even my life for something I believed in? There are some women in Afghanistan who still do. Even with the barrage of violence and death threats from the Taliban, the women of Afghanistan persisted to the polls on August 20, 2009 covered in fierce determination and a burqua. Although technically "free" to cast their vote, many of them never made it, held back by hundreds of closed polling stations for women, cultural taboos, and perhaps a lingering sentiment in their own minds that women aren't truly equal.

Today, I salute the steps of the women that traveled before me to turn my privilege into a practiced right. I also salute the steps of the women who travel now in trembling towards their right to vote, but do it none the less in the hope that they are blazing an easier trail for their daughters to travel down.