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Nov 12 2012

People Have Always Had a Hammer Ready for Uppity Women

Since getting the Kindle Fire, I’ve been teaching myself the history I never learned. School wasn’t big on freethinkers (although they were big on paens of praise for the Founding Fathers – the real secularist ones, not the weird rabid Christian ones that only exist in right wingers’ heads). My education glossed the suffragettes. It somehow left me thinking that women kicked up a brief fuss and got voting rights justlikethat, and that Susan B. Anthony had something to do with the American Revolution. Well, she was a revolutionary fighting a war of sorts, but I had her badly misplaced. Elizabeth Cady Stanton might have come up at some point – her name seemed familiar when I rediscovered her as a Freethinker – but if so, she wasn’t exactly expounded upon.

The impression I took away was that a woman’s right to vote was a natural evolution in American history, practically inevitable, and that bloomers were a big deal. I got the sense these women were rather freaks in their time. They were, but I don’t think the public school system meant me to think they were quite weird and somewhat undesirable.

But that’s exactly what anti-woman suffrage frothers wanted folks to think. Note the conservative hysteria in this series of political postcards. It should be depressingly familiar to anyone who’s followed the sexism and misogyny outbreaks in our community and the world at large recently.

Anti-suffragette postcards. Image courtesy ROFLrazzi.

The artwork is different, the issue of woman suffrage is (mostly) settled, but the sentiments are the same: Women speaking out for treatment as equal human beings hate men and want to dominate and destroy them. They’re ugly and masculine. Familiar silencing tactics, aren’t they? And there’s the terrible fear that the natural order of things will be overturned if the little ladies ever get so much as a hint of independence. Men won’t be able to get their way anymore! Women will voice their own opinions, wear pants, make men do housework! Horrors!*

In some ways, we’ve come very far. So far that every teacher throughout my education took it for granted that woman can and should vote. And yet we’re still stuck in the past in so many ways. Terrified, angry men in the atheist, skeptic and other communities freak out over feminism on a regular basis. Terrified, angry, authoritarian men in conservative, evangelical and fundamentalist religions, along with others on the political right who may not be so overtly religious but still have definite Ideas about a woman’s place, would like to see the clock set back to an era when birth control and abortion were illegal. Some have gone so far as to call woman suffrage “evil.” There are a lot of people who would reverse our gains and take away our right to vote if they could.

We’ve put up with this shit for a long time. We’ve faced down the attacks on our minds, our bodies, our personal safety. Most women have resisted the efforts to stuff them back in the house, into the role of housemaid and baby producer. We’ve fought for our right to vote, we’ve fought for birth control and legal abortion, and now we’re fighting to make sure those things aren’t taken away from us. We’re fighting gender roles that tell us girls can’t do math and boys don’t cry. We’re fighting the sexism and misogyny that infest every group of people which includes men who want to retain their dominance, and the women who enable their bad behavior. We’re fighting to be recognized as human beings, with all of the rights, responsibility and equality that entails.

The efforts to silence us didn’t work then. They won’t work now. Women voted. We voted pro-rape candidates down. We voted women in. Women are used to battles, and we’re used to the antics of those who want us to stop fighting.

We won our right to vote. We won on birth control and abortion. And we will continue to win. Those who want to take us back to the 19th century will eventually have to face the fact they’ve already lost, and are now merely dashing about like headless chickens in a doomed attempt to regain their supremacy.

Not even scathing postcards from the past will save them.

 

*Those last two are nightmares that sexist atheists mostly seem to have outgrown, but men in the Christian patriarchy movement seem terrified their servant-wives may break out of their bonds and decide gender roles are for suckaz. The fear of lady pants is still strong with some.

 

(Standard reminder for posts on sensitive subjects: First-time comments go automatically to moderation. Due to the vagaries of work and sleep, they may not be released immediately. Swearing and disagreement are fine, but keep it within bounds. Gendered epithets, misogyny, abuse of other commenters, and other misbehavior won’t be tolerated. You might wish to review the cantina’s comment policy before you comment. There are also ground rules for this discussion here.)

21 comments

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  1. 1
    rq

    This video was up on someone else’s blog here at FtB a while back – maybe even Almost Diamonds, sorry, I can’t remember, but I’m reposting this , because this post reminded me of the video. Maybe even you had it up, I don’t remember…

    Anyway, amazing post. And considering a few of the comments I received on something I posted elsewhere just recently, fighting the whole divison-of-labour and gender roles idea is a constant battle against the whole concept, that these things can be divided or somehow separated. Funny, though, how the more ‘but men to man things and women to woman things!’ argument came from a woman…
    I don’t know, has she seen the world in which she lives?? And if she honestly does want a man to open all her doors for her, fine – but if I’m speaking out against violence against women (in general as well as a specific case of a funny abuse joke that I saw on TV), how can you justify that with ‘men to man things’? Eh.
    More thoughts, hopefully, later.

  2. 2
    rq

    Am I not allowed to comment on this post? This is the second time I haven’t been able to do so…

  3. 3
    rq

    Weird. Is it the link in the comment? Or am I using some wrong words?

  4. 4
    Christoph Burschka

    Holy hell.

    I knew that this material hasn’t been updated much over the past century, but it’s pretty amazing to see precisely the same arguments as then ones lobbed around on the internet these days. Some things really are timeless.

  5. 5
    rq

    I have also re-read your comments policies and the groundrules, and I may just be combining the wrong words in a comment – except it doesn’t even appear as a comment awaiting moderation (security feature?).
    Basically, the thought I wanted to express was, It is a constant battle to be fought. :) And I have experienced some of the battle personally (now), because apparently I have the wrong sense of humour to understand a truly good joke.**

  6. 6
    rq

    **Violence against women, from previous comment.
    Anyway, I find it strange that so many women support the division of labour/gender roles argument. That was the other part of my point. :) Sorry for spamming the comments a bit. :P I’ll refrain from doing so in the future!

  7. 7
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    The impression I took away was that a woman’s right to vote was a natural evolution in American history, practically inevitable, and that bloomers were a big deal. I got the sense these women were rather freaks in their time. They were, but I don’t think the public school system meant me to think they were quite weird and somewhat undesirable.

    There are all sots of reasons these things happen, from giving less space to some things so that other things considered “more important” are granted more time, to a general sort of suppression by those who would change things back if they were honest with themselves and/or could have their way. Positive motives can also produce the same effect: Don’t make a deal about how different, unusual, and socially unacceptable women’s suffrage was, because the intent is to normalize it.

    Plus primary and secondary history textbooks in the US are amazingly teh sux, for a multitude of reasons. This influences what is covered and how educators cover it.

    The postcards, as is usual for such subject matter, are so fractally wrong and unintentionally admissive as to wherein the real problem does lie, it is incredible.

  8. 8
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    rq

    Probably just server barfage. You aren’t really spamming, it is clear you are trying to get your points through in a series of smaller, cautious bites.

  9. 9
    rq

    I’m just trying not to use all the same potentially evil words together as in the original post. :P
    As for the postcards, what struck me is that they’re so incredibly demeaning to what women do (wash, clean, mind the kids). Yes, of women as well, but I rather liked the first one – with the women sitting around and smoking – if it was painted in a more positive light (you know, ‘Men, it’s ok to do the laundry! You can do it!’).
    What I’m surprised about is that they were used to show how bad women’s suffrage would be. What comes to mind now is a way for men to try to connect to how women feel, in a way to let them understand the woman’s perspective – as in, Imagine this was you! Would you still maintain the status quo?
    And I think therein lies the most painful point: because women are other, putting themselves in their place never allowed men to consider the fact that maybe things should change. Because women were lower, it allowed men to laugh at these things and say, Hey, that’s so mean to US! That these postcards served not as an awakening for men to consider the personhood and feelings of the women around them, but as a reminder of their lower-class other-ness that needs to be reined in…

  10. 10
    Gretchen

    The purpose of women is to be attractive to men, and in order to be attractive to men they must be as different from men as possible. They must dress differently, do different work, think different thoughts, and play a different role in society– specifically, the role of serving men. Any deviation from this amounts to an attempt to become men and/or usurp them, and this will not be tolerated. Any woman who would desire such a thing must be an ugly harpy who can’t find a man to love her, and therefore she seeks revenge via equality– and then domination. This is the anti-feminist narrative of feminism.

    And it’s why I “like” the first postcard most. It amounts to “Feminists are wrong because they’re ugly,” which is an argument convincing only to third-graders and MRAs.

  11. 11
    rq

    @Gretchen – Well, then I’m alright then, aren’t I? As a bonus to my husband, I also gave birth to 3 boys. Yay me!
    But wait, does asking him to do the dishes count as harpy-behaviour…?

    I also see that my previous comments have made it into the thread. :/ Seriously don’t know what is up with that. Sorry, Dana!

    1. 11.1
      Dana Hunter

      ZOMG you asked him to do dishes?! You are teh evul feminazi!!!!!!! Well, at least according to some of our lesser lights. I’m just in awe of you surviving three boys.

      As to your first comment – the spam filter did bad things. I smacked its nose with a rolled-up newspaper. Hopefully it won’t happen again!

      1. rq

        Actually, he ‘volunteers’ for the dishes. And don’t praise me too soon, I haven’t yet survived all of the boys (but for amusing reference, the cat happens to be a male, too – but he’s the only one who’s been fixed ;) ). My work has only just begun.
        And again, sorry for the spam bit (I’ll try to use the right words from now on :P). I hope the spam filter will learn its lesson, and will never tempt the rolled up newspaper again with such activity.

  12. 12
    Bix

    You’re totally right about suffrage being treated as a natural evolution, rather than something that was really hard fought. I think the same thing occurs, perhaps to a lesser extent, with abolitionism, as if slavery just ended as a matter of course. Which is a shame, because it’s a disservice to the people who fought to make society better, and because people forget how deeply unequal society was, and that has ramifications when we’re faced with people who want to return to “the good old days”.

    1. 12.1
      Lyle

      Actually woman’s sufferage arose out of abolitionism in the US. Recall Senca Falls in 1840 was sponosored by William Llyod Garrison a leading abolitionist, however not all abolitionists agreed with him. Of course at the same time there was the movement in the UK which formed a national organization in 1872 (Pankhurst as featured on an old PBS series). In the UK sufferage came to all women over 30 because of WWI. and in 1928 women were given the same vote as men. So the movement was at least common in the english speaking world and in 1919 German women got the right to vote. So it was a world wide movement, arising in the US from the abolition movement and the UK from the reform acts and the removal of property qualifications for men voting, Germany was probably as a result of loosing WWI. For reference the British empire abolished slavery in 1833.

  13. 13
    Jean Gogolin

    I’ve always found it telling that the root of the word “hysteria” is the same as that for “uterus.” Hence, “hysterectomy.”

  14. 14
    comfychair

    Tribalism never dies, which is both horrifying and fascinating all at the same time, much like a train wreck.

    This malignant thought process seems to be one of the foundations of tribalism, this notion of ‘well if the group we’ve oppressed for so long ever gets any power, surely they will treat us the same way we’ve treated them!’ – while at the same time denying the oppressed group has ever been oppressed at all.

  15. 15
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    This is what the electoral map would have looked like if only men had voted. So, arguably women’s suffrage is all that kept Romney out of office.

    1. 15.1
      rq

      That just makes me all the more grateful.

  16. 16
    moarscienceplz

    When I was in 5th grade (1969) in a small town in Arizona, the girls fought for and eventually won the right to wear pants whenever they wanted to. Believe it or not, up until then they could only wear pants on Fridays!

    I also got a good lesson in not pre-judging people: My homeroom teacher, Mrs. Wells, whom I’d always thought was an old fuddy-duddy, supported the girls. Meanwhile, the Science teacher, who I expected would be the cool one because she was much younger and also because SCIENCE, actually made a big speech in class about those darned disrespectful unfeminine girls.

  17. 17
    lcaution

    What I find most depressing is the constant battle, the one step forward, two steps backward. Think of the Roaring 20s followed by the 30s. Women kept the factories going during WWII, then were sent back home. With the 60s came the Pill, abortion, anti-discrimination and affirmative action. Hard fought battles. Fighting not just men but other women. At least a generation of young women who insist they are not feminists. The ERA lost in part because of female opposition, the legislators in Congress and State Houses who passed laws restricting the rights of women to control their own bodies could not have been elected without the votes of women.

    I despise the MRAs but at least understand where they come from. Their women enablers baffle and infuriate me.

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