Facts vs Feminism, election edition | HBR Talk 59

Most of the antifeminist women I know who discuss politics have heard it: “Feminists got you your voting rights, so you owe us your loyalty forever!” 

The problem is, they actually didn’t, and we don’t. 

Prior to the suffragettes’ agitation in the UK, there existed a universal suffrage movement making slow progress over time, because a limited set of both sexes could vote, but neither sex had universal voting rights. A similar movement evolved in the areas colonized by the British Empire. Attitudes within these movements evolved as society evolved, resulting in repeated calls to widen the spectrum of people who had the franchise. The suffragettes waded into this environment interested only in women’s voting rights after the most recent UK law at the time to reduce economic standards for the franchise used the word “men,” thereby excluding the upper-class women who were, to that point, accustomed to having those rights.

That’s correct - women had voting rights prior to the suffragette movement in Britain. They were just limited to women who met the same economic standards men had to meet in order to have the right to vote.

Their response was a massive, violent temper tantrum that included bombing churches, random bombing of publicly used mailboxes, throwing rocks through windows of private businesses, public disruptions, and plotting to kill members of parliament. They exploited lower income and minority women’s interests with no intention of actually seeing the franchise extended to them.

The U.S. suffragettes were less overtly violent, but not less racist or classist. They opposed the 15th amendment because they could not stomach the idea of black men getting voting rights before white women. This, despite the fact that part of the reason for the 15th amendment was the that many emancipated slaves took up arms and fought in the civil war. 

Susan B. Anthony openly claimed white women had it rougher in life than black men did. 

According to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “What will we and our daughters suffer if these degraded black men are allowed to have the rights that would make them even worse than our Saxon fathers?”

Man-hating AND racist… but feminism was always about equality, right?

Then there was Anna Howard Shaw, president of the National Woman Suffrage Association, who opposed the 15th amendment by claiming it would make black men “political superiors of white women.” 

If that’s not openly racist enough for you, Mississippi state senator Belle Kearney flat-out said that “The enfranchisement of women would insure immediate and durable white supremacy.” 

How’s that dictionary definition working out for you, feminists?

Frances Willard, founder of the National Council of Women, compared black people to locusts.

Rebecca Ann Latimer Felton, first woman to serve in the Senate, called black men “ravening beasts” and responded to the possibility of black suffrage predating women’s by advocating lynching. 

Suffragette terrorism and racism seemed to have done little more than set back their efforts by convincing that same public and those same lawmakers during the same time, that women were not rational enough to be trusted with voting rights, delaying reform rather than achieving it. At best, feminists have taken credit for something otherwise inevitable that they hindered. Rather than a struggle to free women from a system of gendered oppression, their actions were nothing but another example of feminism’s gendered approach to genderless issues. 

Suffragists, on the other hand, used public speaking, handing out leaflets, and talking to people directly to build public support for universal suffrage, with the goal of influencing lawmakers through that public support. They had quite a bit to advocate. When the suffragettes began agitating, about 1 in 4 British men could vote. Meanwhile, there are examples of women voting before the women’s suffrage movement. To do so, they had to meet the same qualifications men had to meet, save for one: They couldn’t be drafted to fight in wartime.

Of course, feminists also fail when it comes to understanding the relationship between men’s voting rights and wartime drafting, and that partly explains why so many of them are unaware that suffrage history in the US is also not as feminists portray it. 

As in the UK, US suffragettes began agitating supposedly for voting rights for all women in an environment in which their male countrymen’s voting rights were far from universal. And as in the UK, US suffragettes really didn’t mean all women. US suffrage history shows that.

For instance, in 1876, the supreme court ruled that Native Americans were not even citizens as defined by the 14th Amendment, and therefore could not vote. In 1890, they were told they could apply to become naturalized citizens in their own ancestral land. Laws denying citizenship to various Asian immigrants passed in 1882 (the Chinese exception) and 1922 (Japanese immigrants.) In 1919 Native Americans and in 1925 Filipinos were told they could earn citizenship by risking their lives serving in American wars.

In some areas, local laws, violent intimidation, and arbitrary literacy tests and poll taxes, left most minorities and the poor subject to the rule of the American government without representation by officials for (or against) whom they had the right to vote – the same injustice that sparked the Revolutionary war. Asian-Americans did not see their voting rights universally recognized until the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952. Native Americans’ right to vote was not fully recognized until 1957. It was not until 4 years after the first manned American space flight and 4 years before we put a man on the moon, that the Voting Rights Act passed, protecting the rights of all voters, minorities included. Upper class white women got the vote in 1920. Impoverished citizens and minority men and women did not truly get theirs until 1965.

Until July of 1971 when the 26th amendment became part of the constitution, a year before I was born, U.S. men age 18 to 20 were ineligible to vote despite being subject to the draft, a stipulation that had earned other men their voting rights decades earlier. Prior to this the U.S. used the draft to command young men to fight in 3 major wars; WWI, WWII, and the Vietnam war. In the UK, suffragettes used handing out white feathers to shame men and boys into volunteering to fight in two of those wars.

Feminists are quick to point out that men’s voting rights are not directly tied to selective service registration. That can be called true if you ignore how many men’s voting rights were contingent on wartime service, and if you can count on the continued choice of the U.S. government to not exercise the full power of the today’s laws. Failure to register is a felony crime with the potential for heavy penalties, including jail time and the loss of voting rights. It’s not enforced that way during peacetime, but there is nothing to stop the federal government from changing that during a war. It is disingenuous to try to claim there’s no direct tie there in light of that history, one that dramatically differs from women’s pathway to the franchise. From the revolutionary war to Vietnam, men fought and died to earn their right to vote. UK men also fought and died at the will of their government, earning at great length, recognition of their right to vote. Women got theirs by throwing tantrums.  

Their ability to do even that relied on the freedom earned and protected by the lives and deaths of their male countrymen, and every time feminists try to use the suffragettes as leverage to demand female loyalty they forget that.

They dishonor and disrespect our forefathers, our fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons, and our male friends, neighbors, and coworkers. What do we owe them for that?