Uh-oh! Must be a day that ends in Y! The New York Times is pissing me right off.*
Today’s email briefing starts with a splashy paean to the U.S. women’s suffrage movement. The 19th Amendment, which granted (some) women voting rights, was enacted on this date one hundred years ago.
The email piece naturally links to recent Times articles on women’s suffrage and related topics. As usual, their failure to connect the blazing red dots of our history – history they themselves reported – does a criminal disservice to readers. And as usual, what they don’t deliver is at least as damaging as the disinformation they do.
I don’t know why our infamous Liberal Media™ excitedly reports on “new” phenomena that are anything but. Actually, I do know why. I’ve thought about this for a while now, and just as our friend Mr. Occam would conclude: it’s because they hate lefties as much as the Democratic Party establishment does.
Who do you think reads their paper anyway? Faux-liberals who get some extra pep in their step from thinking they’re informed. If they had any interest in reality, they’d follow lefties like Michael Moore, for instance, who saw Trump winning the presidency from miles away, unlike the entire Editorial Board of the Times and every last opinion columnist on their vaunted pages.
Remember all the breathless reporting on the Tea Party, that zany and quirky movement that suddenly appeared on the scene out of nowhere? Yes, it was puuuure coincidence when white people in retro hats sprung forth ex nihilo right after the election of the first Black president! A (falsely accused) liberal, no less! And, coincidentally, after eight long years of the Bush/Cheney regime, notable for among other things catering to Christian theocrats, apoplectic far-right commentators, warmongering Uber-capitalists, fossil fuel fans, pollution enthusiasts, firearm fetishists and Torquemada wannabes. Bush/Cheney not only legitimized but elevated these fine citizens: they packed the nation’s courts and federal institutions with Liberty University grads and anyone else who could spit forth the “right” answers to their little litmus test on “god, guns and gays.”
And before that, the fascinatingly novel anti-Clintons pitchforkers.
And before that, the uniquely partisan Gingrich Congress.
And before that, apparently after our centuries of long, dark slumber, Mr. “Morning in America,” Ronald fucking Reagan.
And before that, the totally unpredictable defeat of the (still) proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which (still) reads in its entirety:
“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
And we haven’t even gone back very far. Does anyone doubt we could trace the same vein to the violent backlashes against the anti-Vietnam war and Civil Rights movements? We could easily track from there to the McCarthy era’s anti-communist witch hunts, or hell, to the actual witch hunts in the pre-founding Colonies.
In less that 500 words, I have told you what the The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, network news and even MSNBC cannot or will not:
AMERICAN CONSERVATIVES ARE NOT NEW.
AND THEY ARE TERRIBLE PEOPLE.
ALSO: CONSERVATIVE WOMEN EXIST.
Conservatives are and always will be rabidly defensive of an unjust, deadly and destructive status quo. This is because they are fundamentally incapable of giving a single shit about anyone other than themselves and their own kind. They will obsequiously grovel to those who would serve their personal or tribal interests while either ignoring or outright harming literally everyone else. Conservative policies (or just as often, obstructive actions) are always in service of these narrow interests, and always disastrous failures for the majority of their fellow citizens. (Yes I said always. Fight me.) Conservative hypocrisy, irrationality and amorality knows no bounds. They have no new ideas, ever: if they had imagination enough to envision an objectively better world, they would not be conservatives in the first place – by definition.
If you follow US politics, you will note with bitterness that the above paragraph does not only describe Republicans. The Democratic Party establishment and its power players tick every single shitty box on that list, and they do everything in their considerable power to keep it that way.
Given the unique
exceptionalism ugliness US conservatives wish to conserve (for-profit health insurance? for-profit prisons? JFC…) we could trace conservative evils back through our history along various predictable lines: racism jumps easily to mind. But given the date and the title of this post, today we take take on sexism. YAY!!!
The Times article I clicked on today (WHY, GODS? WHY?) is The Women Who Fought Against the Vote. The sub-headline reads: “To understand the suffragists, and why their battle took so long, you also have to understand the anti-suffragists.”
Jeezus Christ. Who does not understand the anti-suffragists? (Besides Times readers, apparently.) Is the headline of the piece supposed to blow our minds with the incredible and truly mystifying fact that women fought against their own right to vote?
It wasn’t even four years ago that we learned – probably from The New York Times – that 54% of white women voted for Donald Trump. Donald “Grab ‘Em By the Pussy” Trump, and his equally hideous and misogynous VP.
Maybe someone could look that up for them?
Early in the piece we read this:
Women at the polls (and on the ballot) are such an ordinary sight today that it can be hard to remember how long and hard women fought for the vote and the powerful forces arrayed against them, including business interests, religious organizations and the political parties, which feared an influx of unpredictable new voters.
I guess it can be “hard to remember how long and hard women fought for the vote and the powerful forces arrayed against them.” Particularly if you are completely ignorant of how long and hard women fought and are still fighting for equality with men, with the same powerful forces arrayed against them. [SPOILER ALERT! It’s conservatives.]
But one opposition group has long inspired puzzled reactions, if not outright disbelief: women themselves.
Who is puzzled? Who disbelieves this? Oh right, all the amnesiacs at The New York Times. It’s all they hire.
It goes on:
As the suffrage movement picked up steam in the late 19th century, it was increasingly countered by an organized, women-led anti-suffrage movement, which mirrored its arguments, tactics and public relations strategies, including cartoons, buttons, pennants and other swag. (emphasis mine.)
See above re: conservatives having no new ideas, EVER.
It’s tempting to dismiss the Antis, as they were sometimes called, as a bizarre footnote, or a joke.
Yes, I find myself very tempted indeed. Wait. WHAT.
But historians argue that you can’t really understand the suffrage movement — and today’s unfinished debates about what true equality for women means — without them.
By the way, care to take a guess at who these anti-suffragist women were? If you guessed privileged white women – ding ding ding! – you win aaaall the internetz!
In 1871, in response to a proposed 16th Amendment that would enfranchise women (after the 15th enfranchised only Black men), 19 wives of Republican senators, Civil War generals and cabinet members published a petition against it.
[T]he organized anti-suffrage movement consisted mainly of elite white women, often married to prominent men. ([Author and historian Susan] Goodier has written that there is “virtually no evidence” of any Black women in the organized anti-suffrage movement.)
Well, see, you have to understand that waaaay back in the 19th century, Black women did not have the same elite privileges to defend as white women did, unlike today.
INSERT THE WORLD’S BIGGEST FUCKING EYEROLL.
And why wouldn’t those elite white women conservatives get themselves all riled up defending patriarchy? For exactly the same reason they do it today: they see themselves as benefiting from it.
The anti-suffragists (who received admiring coverage in The New York Times) [Hahaha. Awesome. –Ed.] included women like Helena de Kay Gilder, a trained artist and future founder of the Art Students League of New York. In a widely reprinted 1894 essay, written in response to a proposal to remove the word “male” from the New York state constitution, she laid out her case.
Women “are men’s equal, and almost as well educated, as good and as intelligent in ordinary matters,” she wrote. But the ballot was a burden that would corrupt and “unsex” them, and take away their “liberty.”
The Antis, scholars note, were not simply saying that women should just stay home. Instead, many believed that participating in the grubby world of party politics would undermine women’s distinct strength: their nonpartisan, politically disinterested commitment to the public good.
Now in the Space Age of course, we can all look back at the Earth and see their “political disinterest” from 125 light years away.
After World War I broke out, anti-suffrage women shifted their focus to war preparedness and support for the Red Cross. As men took control [of the anti-suffrage movement], the Antis increasingly made states’ rights arguments. Anti-socialist rhetoric also rose, with suffragists increasingly denounced as enemies of the state.
Ah, how quaint: enemies of the state. This was before 9/11, so they could not yet be dubbed the extra-legal term “enemy combatants,” or deemed “terrorists” as they would today. They still got spit on, violently attacked and thrown in jail, though.
But they won. THEY WON.
After the 19th Amendment became law in 1920, anti-suffrage women went in varying directions. Some, like Meyer, became active in the nonpartisan League of Women Voters. Others became active in the Republican Party, helping push it to the right. By the 1920s, the scholar Rebecca Rix has written, the Antis shed their elitism in an effort “to make anti-Progressivism appealing to a conservative working-class and middle-class electorate,” including the women whose voting rights they had opposed.
And some Antis got caught up in the first Red Scare.
Now that women could vote you see, conservative elites wasted no time cultivating a conservative electorate to serve – what else? – their own interests.
I wonder how conservative, exactly, the working- and middle-classes remained during the Great Depression? I fear we may all be about to find out the answer, in real time. I can certainly guess who they blamed for it, though! Everyone but themselves.
Some scholars draw a line from the Antis to post-World War II conservative women activists like Phyllis Schlafly, who mobilized a political army against both Communism and feminism.
At least one blogger draws that line too.
[Editor of a new Library of America anthology Susan] Ware, no fan of the anti-suffragists, said they became “more interesting” when seen as forerunners of later conservative women. But she said there are also differences between the Antis, who saw the vote as a “burden,” and Schlafly, who warned of the loss of feminine “privileges.”
Now I remember! About a million paragraphs ago the anti-suffrage women were whinging about how voting (of all things!) would “take away their liberty,” and though it sounded familiar I couldn’t place it. It’s because it’s exactly the same whinge as Phyllis Schlafly’s, this Susan Ware person’s opinion notwithstanding. Whether one calls it “liberty” or “privilege,” it still constitutes the same affliction: Special Snowflake-itis. No wonder conservative women fought for it, and still do. After all, women’s liberties and privileges are almost as good as men’s!
In a recent article in The Los Angeles Times, Gloria Steinem and Eleanor Smeal criticized “Mrs. America,” the FX series about the battle over the Equal Rights Amendment, for presenting a “catfight theory of American history.” The series, they argue, also exaggerates the importance of Schlafly and her group STOP ERA, which they maintain was less crucial in defeating the amendment than the insurance industry and other corporate interests.
Some historians have made similar arguments about the Antis, whose opposition, they say, was far less important than business interests, the political parties and men in general — who, after all, were the ones who decided whether women would be allowed to vote.
Another million paragraphs ago, I said something about the same powerful forces being arrayed against them, then as now. Or at least I think I did. I’m too tired now to go up there and see.
But still, they argue against being too quick to write the Antis off simply as history’s losers.
Because conservatives lost that battle, but they certainly have not lost the war.
“It’s not what we would think today,” Goodier said of their arguments. “But they have their points. Can we be so liberal-minded that we can see equality with nuances of difference?”
As the old saying goes, if voting could change anything, it would be illegal. It rings true to an extent: during my lifetime, it has not been possible in a presidential election to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs and its ilk, and it won’t be possible this November either. But generally speaking, I disagree: I think voting is necessary, but it is not sufficient.
Three years ago a good friend plaintively asked me “But where are our leaders?” I said, “We don’t need ‘leaders.’ We need movements.” Unless I’m mistaken, we now have them. And if past is precedent, sometimes movements shake the foundations of the (conservative) ruling class enough to gain progress like the suffragists did; sometimes they don’t. Either way, it won’t be long before there’s a backlash. And nobody at the Times will see it coming.
* Reason #6,858,945 I hate The New York Times.