Rob Christensen

With a history of resisting change on women’s roles, where does NC stand now?

Women campaigning for the vote in Charlotte early in the 20th century.
Women campaigning for the vote in Charlotte early in the 20th century. File photo

While much has been made of the #MeToo movement and what many expect to be a powerful surge of women going to the polls in November, we should not discount the #NotSoFast movement.

There is no actual movement called #NotSoFast, but there are powerful, socially conservative counter-forces that should not be overlooked as factors at the polls.

We were reminded of that recently by GOP congressional candidate Mark Harris, a former Charlotte pastor, whose comments about the role of modern women — dug up by a Democratic super PAC — stirred up some dust.

In a 2013 sermon, Harris said that “God’s plan for biblical womanhood” put an emphasis on being a mother and wife first, and he expressed concern that schools were encouraging girls to pursue careers as the main choice.

“But nobody has seemed to ask the question that I think is critically important to ask: Is that a healthy pursuit for society?’’ said Harris, who is running in the 9th district that stretches from Charlotte to Fayetteville.

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Harris is not just any candidate, but the former head of the North Carolina Baptist State Convention; a leader in 2012 in successfully pushing a constitutional amendment effectively banning same-sex marriages; and a major backer of HB2, which was aimed at banning transgender people from using public facilities such as bathrooms of a different sex from which they were born.

Don’t kid yourself. Harris speaks for many North Carolinians.

The Southern Baptist Convention, the state’s largest religious denomination, does not allow women pastors.

Harris taps a deep chord in Tar Heel politics. While the state has been progressive in many ways, it also has a broad conservative streak on social issues — a product of its rural, small-town, Bible-Belt roots.

That social conservatism has manifested itself in numerous ways.

When the woman’s suffrage amendment was first introduced in the North Carolina legislature in 1897, it was assigned to the Committee on Insane Asylums where it died.

In 1920 North Carolina had the opportunity to be the deciding state to ratify the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote. Instead, the amendment was defeated, after hearing arguments that allowing women to vote threatened the sanctity of the family, states’ rights, and white supremacy. North Carolina did not adopt the women’s suffrage amendment until 1971, in what was a symbolic gesture.

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In the 1970s, the legislature rejected the Equal Rights Amendment for women, with church leaders arguing it would lead to same-sex bathrooms, women in the trenches, and the decline of the family.

North Carolina was among the first states in the country to adopt Prohibition and one of the last to legalize the sale of mixed alcoholic drinks in restaurants.

We were among the last major states to legalize a state-run lottery.

The Tar Heel State was also slower than many states to elect women to high elective office, waiting until the 21st century. When it did elect them it kept them in office only one term — Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole was elected in 2002, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue in 2008. Dole and Hagan were defeated when they sought re-election, and Perdue retired when her re-election chances looked dicey.

North Carolina was also slow to elect women to the U.S. House. In a footnote, it sent Eliza Pratt in May 1946 to fill out the final year of the term of her boss, Rep. William O. Burgin. She retired in January 1947. She later worked as a secretary for another congressman.

It was not until 1992, when Eva Clayton was elected, that Tar Heel voters elected a woman to a full term in the U.S. House — one of the last states in the country to do so.

Of the 15 people who now represent North Carolina in Washington, only two are women — Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx and Democratic Rep. Alma Adams.

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But if you conclude that North Carolina is a chauvinist stronghold, the evidence suggests you are wrong.

The gender divide in the General Assembly is about the national average, with about a quarter of its members women.

Wallet Hub, a Washington-based personal finance website, used to various statistics to try to determine which states were best for women.

North Carolina ranked the 30th best state in the country for women, just behind Ohio but ahead of such states as Michigan and Pennsylvania, according to WalletHub. The state ranked 28th in women’s economic and social well being and 34th in health and safety, according to the website.

The Tar Heel State is the best in the South when it comes to gender equality in salaries, according to a survey by 24/7 Wall Street, a Delaware-based financial news website.

Last year North Carolina ranked the 4th best state in the country in female earnings as a percentage of male earnings, according to 24/7. The website found that women nationally earn 80 percent of what men earn, but North Carolina women earn 86 percent of what Tar Heel men earn.

North Carolina ranked 13th in the country in the percent of management jobs held by women, the study found.

Some of those findings suggest a more modern attitude toward women is taking hold. But one should not discount North Carolina’s historic resistance to social change.

Christensen: 919-829-4532; @oldpolhack
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