‘Twas Ever Thus: U.S. Women 100 Years Post-Suffrage.


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.]

It continues:

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.

Without who, the historians? Well sure; they’ve studied, you know, history. They’re probably among the select few who are in on the Big Secret that conservative women exist!

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.”

Why would women ever want to be “unsexed” when they’re already almost as good as men, huh? (Hmmm….something about “taking away their liberty” sounds very familiar to me, I just can’t quite place it…)

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.

Portion of a table titled "Americans' Self-Identified Position on Abortion, 2019" showing "pro-life" women outnumbering pro-choice women 51% to 43%, respectively. (via Pro-Publica)

“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?”

No. No, we cannot. I’m no mathamuhtishen, but I can tell you this. If on one side we have equality, and on the other “equality with nuances of difference,” we can definitively say that those two things are not equal. Feminists are not now and were not then fighting for almost as good as equality.
equals sign with a slash through it

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.

Comments

  1. says

    See above re: conservatives having no new ideas, EVER

    Well of course. The ENTIRE THEORY of conservatism is that we had everything we needed last generation. The entire strategy is to foreclose the possibility of new ideas. (Although the entire goal is something else again: preserving power amongst those who already have it.)

    When you spend your entire life foreclosing the possibility of anything new, then even when a new idea does occur to you, you have trained yourself to dismiss it as “bad” because it hasn’t been done before.

    Even mirroring “arguments, tactics and public relations strategies” (including swag & merchandise) isn’t a surprise because of when it happened. 40 years after Seneca Falls and 20 years after the disappointment of a voting rights amendment that excluded Black men, an entire generation had grown up seeing the Suffragists succeed politically using those arguments, tactics, and PR strategies.

    If it was proven last generation, it’s acceptable in this one. I’m sure they thought it was a terribly novel idea to rip off these specific strategies of these specific leftists who had been succeeding in moving their society forward, but the idea of ripping off the ideas of the leftists also wasn’t new. Goodness me, it wasn’t even new when Charles I tried it. It wasn’t even new when Caesar Augustus tried it.

    No new ideas ever is the conservative brand. It’s not a failing of theirs. “No new ideas” is what they celebrate.

    In any case, with that riff done, I should (belatedly?) congratulate you on another article well done.

    This fits, by the way, into an idea that I’ve been exploring lately, that EVERYONE in the USA thinks that they would have been on the right side of history in past political and social battles. Everyone would have been brave enough to burn draft cards and opposed the war in Vietnam. Everyone would have registered Black folk to vote in Mississippi in 1964. Everyone would have voted for FDR and against Prohibition. Everyone would have been for the 19th Amendment. Everyone would have fought against slavery. Everyone would have opposed conquest and genocide.

    But it’s just not true. The conservatives only think they would have been on the right side because those were questions settled when they were children or before. The progressives think that because they think that being progressive on one issue means that they would have been progressive heroes on every issue. And the centrists? The centrists think that because they simply don’t think. “The good guys won, because by definition if they won they must be the good guys, and I’m not a bad guy, am I?” is as deep as their analysis goes. They can’t even analyze the positions themselves, or the risks of advocating one position or another in that long-ago context. They can’t even rock the boat in the imaginary past, so they simply place themselves solidly amongst the winners so as to guarantee stability, certainty.

    It will be interesting 20 years from now to find out how many hundreds of thousands are just certain they supported BLM actions, gave money for equipment and organizing, personally came down to listen to speeches by Black leaders, even inhaled the same tear gas I did.

    We are a severely deluded people.

  2. brucegee1962 says

    @1 Crip Dyke,
    One of the things that is hardest to understand about conservatives is how they are unable to see any parallels between themselves and their conservative forbears (almost always, the losers of history), even though every single generation of conservatives uses the WORD-FOR-WORD EXACT SAME ARGUMENTS, right up until they lose.

    The anti-trans folks today sound exactly like the anti-gay folks of the 80s, who sound like the anti-civil rights folks and anti-miscegenists of the 60s, who sound like the anti-suffragists of the 1900s, who sound like the pro-slavery folks of the 1850s, who sound like the pro-British of the 1770s. All the arguments against progress come down to the same thing, yet conservatives never notice their own reflection when they look in the mirror of history. Well, I suppose it’s also likely that, for all their supposed love of it, they aren’t truly very interested in history at all.

  3. says

    When I was first doing research on queer marriage in the 1990s I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I mean, marriage can be a really fucked up institution and has a horrible past, and why should people have to marry to get health insurance instead of just giving everyone health care?

    but what changed my mind is that in the 17th century it turns out that the British crown refused to recognize Quaker marriages b/c Quakers were, and get this, anti-god, anti-family, sexually depraved, drunkards (read: drug users), and disease ridden.

  4. says

    Dear Lard! I have awakened this day to behold THE BEST comment thread on the entire goddamn internet, right here on my own fucking blog!

    Crip Dyke, just…wow. First, I am deeply moved by your compliments regarding my writing (on this thread and others). Second, the thoughtfulness, knowledge, compassion and passion that inform your insights are, as usual, powerfully evident here. I really think you should give some serious consideration to starting your own blog! XD

    @brucegee:

    One of the things that is hardest to understand about conservatives is how they are unable to see any parallels between themselves and their conservative forbears (almost always, the losers of history), even though every single generation of conservatives uses the WORD-FOR-WORD EXACT SAME ARGUMENTS, right up until they lose.

    Based on what you wrote here, you are thisclose to understanding the phenomena you describe; Crip Dyke (@1) touches on the answer as well in observing that everyone just knows they would have been on the right side of history, and being completely – and as you point out, quite obviously and demonstrably – wrong about that.

    Do you know someone who can never, EVER be wrong, about anything? (I’m sure you do – please forgive and bear with me as I attempt to type something coherent into this box here; I had a rough night and am having extra difficulty today with both my sight and clear thinking.) Anyway! One of the hallmarks of these 100%-correct-at-all-times-even-when-self-contradicting types is that they are constitutionally incapable of apologizing when the harm they cause, even inadvertently, is brought to their attention.

    They might, under duress, utter the words “I’m sorry,” but those words will be followed immediately by justifications and rationalizations, some of which can be jaw-droppingly absurd in light of copious evidence to the contrary, and/or shamelessly criminal violations of the strictures of logic and the laws of physics. But perhaps the most characteristic “tell” in this context is blame-shifting: maybe to a third party, but often enough, when confronted with their own harmful actions or speech, they will reflexively blame their victim(s). In other words, there will be no apology at all.

    (Incidentally, in case anyone reading is unfamiliar, this tactic has a name: DARVO, an acronym for “Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.”)

    What I am getting at is that this particular…hmmm, what shall we call it…personality quirk? Is a prominent feature of virtually every conservative I have ever known, or observed in the wild. They simply cannot, EVER, admit even to themselves that they are wrong, about anything. That is why “conservatives never notice their own reflection when they look in the mirror of history.” They cannot “see their conservative forbears (almost always, the losers of history),” precisely because they were the losers of history – and therefore WRONG.

    This discussion brings something else to mind. I had occasion recently, during offline conversation with our FtB colleague Nathan Hevenstone, to revisit Robert Altemeyer’s seminal work, The Authoritarians (freely accessible pdf).

    Altemeyer may distinguish between right-wing authoritarians (“RWAs”) and common-as-dirt U.S. conservatives, but I do not. (ToMAYto, ToMAHto. Pffft.) One of his conclusions has really struck and stayed with me, because it is so eloquently simple and yet offers broad applicability and explanatory power. I am both quoting and paraphrasing here, but in essence: for conservatives (i.e. “high RWAs”) “Truth is already known,” and it is therefore not a conservative’s “job to discover it, but to read it, even memorize it.” Whereas “low RWAs” neither learn nor believe that “Truth [is] in the bag, but that [one would] have to figure it out for [oneself].” The implications of this core belief are enormous.

    A few other tidbits from the same chapter (2) for your infotainment:

    Conservatives are profoundly fear-driven.

    High RWAs are, in general, more afraid than most people are…[W]e do know that they were raised by their parents to be afraid of others, because both the parents and their children tell us so.

    Sometimes it’s all rather predictable: authoritarians’ parents taught fear of homosexuals, radicals, atheists and pornographers. But they also warned their children, more than most parents did, about kidnappers, reckless drivers, bullies and drunks–bad guys who would seem to threaten everyone’s children. So authoritarian followers, when growing up, probably lived in a scarier world than most kids do, with a lot more boogeymen hiding in dark places, and they’re still scared as adults. Fort hem, gay marriage is not just unthinkable on religious grounds, and unnerving because it means making the “abnormal” acceptable. It’s yet one more sign that perversion is corrupting society from the inside-out, leading to total chaos. Many things, from stem cell research to right-to-die legislation, say to them, “This is the last straw; soon we’ll be plunged into the abyss.” So probably did, in earlier times, women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, sex education and Sunday shopping.

    Earlier times? Hahaha hardly, at least with respect to the civil rights movement and sex education.

    Altemeyer continues with an interesting finding that bodes very well for our current times:

    Most people seem spring-loaded to become more right-wing authoritarian during crises.

    I can attest to this: in post-9/11 NYC, I was absolutely astounded when my previously leftist dear friends began spewing pro-Bush (?!!!) and other right-wing tropes and propaganda.

    HOWEVER:

    The only situation I found in which a crisis lowered RWA scores involved a repressive government that assaulted nonviolent protestors.

    Well, well, well. Muy interesante, amigos. Muy interesante…

  5. says

    @#3

    When I was first doing research on queer marriage in the 1990s I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I mean, marriage can be a really fucked up institution and has a horrible past, and why should people have to marry to get health insurance instead of just giving everyone health care?

    Yep, marriage is an institution with horrible past and it is unfair that people are forced to marry in order to get various legal benefits never mind things like healthcare. So yeah, personally I dislike marriage and I intend to remain single for all my life. That being said, I wouldn’t doubt the necessity to legalize non-heterosexual marriage, because other people must have a right to marry regardless of how I feel about marriage—it’s their life not mine, I must not decide for them. Also, it is inherently unfair that some part of the society (cis, straight) can choose to get married while marginalized groups of people do not have the same right.

    My attitude is the same for many rights. For example, voting right, right to abortions, right to get euthanasia, etc. Such rights must exist for everybody who wants to use them. Those who want to use any of these rights are welcome to do so. Those who have never wanted an abortion or feel that dragging their asses to the polling station is too much effort are welcome not to use these rights. It’s their choice.

  6. says

    My take on marriage (I identify as a pansexual woman), fwiw. Remember how the right, particularly the religious right, was always screeching that allowing people of any gender to marry would “redefine marriage”? They said that like it was a bad thing, but they were right about that. What marriage equality accomplished was the de facto recognition of marriage as a partnership between equals, not a hierarchy of husband and wife. This is a TREMENDOUS GIFT from queer communities to straight and straight-passing couples, perhaps especially to women. Marriage licenses across the nation now require the names of “spouse A” and “spouse B” (or “1” and “2”, or similar). It means committed couples are not signing up for an old kind of bondage, but a new kind of freedom – without the baggage of traditional roles and duties and expectations from society, from their families, and most importantly, from each other.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *