I want to talk a little bit about women’s suffrage. For many people, the start of the modern feminist movement began here, with first-wave feminism and the fight for basic legal rights like holding a voice in one’s own government. Many trace the start to the Seneca Falls Convention, in 1848, when men and women gathered to sign a Declaration of Sentiments, a document echoing the Declaration of Independence that argued for the equal rights of all people, including women.
Now, there were men at this convention, including abolitionist and writer Frederick Douglass, who expressed his ardent support for women’s suffrage. And throughout the push for women’s right to vote, men, such as Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s cousin politician Gerrit Smith and Henry Blackwell, husband of suffragette Lucy Stone, all raised their voices and stood up for women’s rights. These men, like the women they fought alongside, are heroes.
But many men also actively fought women’s right to vote. You’ve already seen my post on anti-suffrage political cartoons. It’s no secret that suffragettes were disparaged and demonized as man-haters, hussies and sour old maids. This pamphlet from The Atlantic details the National Organization Opposed to Woman Suffrage’s reasons for wanting to deny women the right to vote, including that it would place women “in competition” with men, instead of a system of cooperation.
That argument is still used to this day to discredit feminists, though any competition from suffrage, I believe, has been a competition of ideas and that is a good thing.
You say “to even acknowledge that it was men who freely gave women the vote is some sort of betrayal of feminist values.” It’s not a betrayal of feminist values, Dad. It’s a betrayal of historical fact. Just the fact that 72 years of tireless protesting passed between the Seneca Falls Convention and the ratification of the 19th Amendment should be proof enough that men did not “freely” give women the right to vote.
Women’s suffrage in the United States was ratified less than 100 years ago. There are still people alive today who lived in an era when women could not legally vote. And people fought long and hard to obtain that vote, being ridiculed, scorned, ignored and even imprisoned.
You say you fear that feminists “are not looking for partners but only supporters of feminist values as define by hard-core feminism.” But I am not upset because you and others disagree with me. I am upset because you and others seek to distort very important parts of my history, and women’s stories. I’m not looking for a bunch of yes men (get it? Because this is about men?). I am looking for the importance and validity of women’s struggles to be recognized, and waving away suffrage is one step toward waving away feminists’ very real concerns, such as stopping sexual violence, objectification of women and toxic masculinity.
Women have made a lot of progress in this country. We can now own property, vote, work and report a spouse for rape. This is HUGE. And much of that progress we made with the assistance of men. But we still have a lot more progress to make, Dad, and looking back on the struggles of our mothers and sisters before us is a reminder of how brave and powerful women can be. And I won’t have that courage and strength erased by your men who “freely” gave women a voice.
Love and peace,