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Women's suffrage is the right or ability of women to vote in elections, the subject of considerable campaigns in the late 19th and 20th century. While it was once highly controversial, seen as an idea of uppity feminists that would result in the end of the world, today it is largely uncontroversial. Except for a few people.
Early and late adopters
The Isle of Man, a British territory otherwise known for its reactionary policies in areas such as homosexuality and corporal punishment, actually changed its laws in 1880 to give women who owned property the vote, with the first election held in January 1881; this change was apparently slipped into legislation in a surreptitious way without anyone really noticing.
Britain gave some women the vote in 1918 and full suffrage in 1928, while in the USA women gained equal voting rights with the 19th Amendment passed in 1920 (although Mississippi did not formally ratify it until 1984, an amendment only needs the support of 3/4 of all states).
Switzerland allowed women to vote in federal elections from 1971. Different cantons had different rules for local elections, with some allowing women to vote as early as the 1950s. The last holdout was Appenzell Innerrhoden, perhaps not coincidentally near the powerful Roman Catholic Abbey of Saint Gall; the canton was forced by a federal lawsuit in 1990 to give women the vote, and their first non-federal election with women voters took place in 1991.
Outside Europe, other countries have been even slower. Saudi Arabia first allowed women to vote and stand as candidates in 2015, although they are basically an autocracy with votes limited to local councils with few powers. Afghanistan was one of a few countries where women lost the right to vote: following liberalization in the 1960s and totalitarian rule from the late 1970s. The Taliban removed almost all women's rights in 1996, but after the Taliban were defeated women regained the right to vote with full participation in elections in 2004.
There were many opponents of women's suffrage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including women-led organizations like the National Association Opposed to Women Suffrage (NAOWS) in the USA and the Women's National Anti-Suffrage League in the UK. Most disbanded once women got the vote, but some held out, and continued to campaign against female suffrage even after it had become thoroughly uncontroversial for most.
For some there is a biblical justification, such as 1 Timothy 2:12, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet." Others just don't like the way that women vote.
Those calling for women to be stripped of the right to vote include:
- Reformed Political Party (SGP), a Dutch conservative Protestant Christian political party, was an opponent of female suffrage certainly until the late 20th century, preferring a system that would allow the (male) head of the household to vote on behalf of its family. It refused to allow female members or candidates until forced by lawsuits in the 21st century. As its acceptance of female candidates was largely forced by the courts, it is unclear how sincere its conversion to female suffrage is.
- Other eccentric Protestants seem to share this belief, such as Baptist New Zealander Pastor Logan Robertson who says he doesn't believe in women voting and that women should not hold political power but should go home to their kitchen. Despite this, a social democrat woman Jacinda Ardern was elected prime minister of New Zealand in 2017.
- Pranksters from some YouTube channel called Whatever managed to get American women to sign a petition opposing women's suffrage in 2013, largely because some women have no idea what "suffrage" means and probably think it means "suffering".
- RepealThe19th, a short-lived movement of Donald Trump supporters, who noted Donald's greater popularity among men. It never went much beyond the hashtag and some posts on the usual tiresome antifeminism websites such as Roosh V. MGTOW extremists continue to argue that (as someone put it on Reddit), "…it seems inevitable that when women are allowed to vote, a country inevitably swings towards all out socialism and eventually collapses."
- Controversialist media personality Ann Coulter has claimed that women should not have the right to vote, for similar reasons to the RepealThe19th movement, although Coulter would also stop young people and other Democrat-leaning groups from voting. John Derbyshire has uttered similar sentiments.
- Vision Forum, a Texas evangelist group connected with "Biblical patriarchy" theology, produced a purported civics study guide "Law and Government: An Introductory Study Course" arguing that women should not be allowed to run for office and criticizing women's suffrage. This included contributions from former judge Roy Moore and Vision Forum chief Doug Phillips. Both Moore and Phillips have been accused of having sexual relationships with underage girls.
- American far-right personality Richard Spencer has also expressed ambivalence about women being able to vote, although in "fairness" he does not seem terribly keen on democracy in any form.
Some men seem to feel that suffrage campaigners (especially in the UK) were terrorists (and hence the most evil of all evil people). The most radical British organisation, the Women's Social and Political Union, often targeted property but avoided violence against people: hence whether they are labelled as terrorists depends on whether you require terrorism be the targeting of property or solely people.
This might be a debate about what means of protest are legitimate or tactically valid, with historian Simon Webb saying "Far from hastening the granting of votes for women, the suffragettes impeded the political progress towards this aim by their dangerous actions, causing most people to reject them as violent fanatics." It can involve using "terrorism" as a snarl word to delegitimise their struggle, as with historian Christopher Bearman comparing them to Al Qaeda. This easily spills over into the fallacious argument "You used bad tactics to get this goal, therefore the goal must be bad!" or a general disdain for women taking action to improve their situation. Right-wing controversialist Melanie Phillips claimed they "were in effect sexual terrorists, using violence to browbeat the Government, provoke a disproportionate reaction and thus manipulate public feeling into support for their cause." Another figure from Phillips's stable, Peter Hitchens, claimed "This glorifying of the suffragettes is all part of a general rewriting of history to suit the prejudices of the Left-wing cultural revolutionaries who have now got control of almost everything in this country." His claims that he would have supported female suffrage in the 1910s are no more believable than anything else he has uttered.
Things radical suffrage campaigners did include:
- Slashing a famous painting, Velazquez's Rokeby Venus, in the National Gallery, causing serious damage.
- In 1912, 150 women in a single action broke shop and office windows in London's West End.
- Numerous arson attacks, including on an unfinished (and uninhabited) house for Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George. They also planted small explosive devices in many locations including churches, railway stations, the Bank of England, Royal Observatory in Edinburgh, and the National Gallery. Arson attacks were made on many empty buildings.
- Other destruction of property including post boxes and telegraph lines.
- The use of letter bombs, which they are credited with inventing.
- Possibly planning to assassinate Prime Minister Herbert Asquith in 1909.
It was a violent struggle on both sides, with hunger-striking prisoners force fed and Emily Davison martyring herself by throwing herself under a horse belonging to the King in a horse race; although not all campaigners agreed with the tactics even then. Ultimately, just as the Civil Rights movement in the USA ranged from the non-violence of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks to the Black Panthers' calls for armed insurrection, the struggle for women's suffrage saw many different personalities and tactics, none of which affect the value of what they were fighting for.
Votes in other organisations
The right of women to participate in elections for their political leaders is (mostly) well established. But the same is not true in other votes. Many religions give women fewer voting rights. The Roman Catholic Pope is chosen by an all-male electorate of cardinals.
- See the Wikipedia article on Women's suffrage.
- Votes for Women!, Isle of Man government, 5 Dec 2017
- See the Wikipedia article on Women's suffrage in Switzerland.
- Timeline of Women’s Rights in Afghanistan, PBS, Oct 25, 2011
- See the Wikipedia article on Reformed Political Party.
- Baptist Pastor: Women Shouldn't Vote and Female Politicians Belong in a Kitchen, Friendly Atheist, Patheos, 16 August 2017
- American Feminism Students Sign Petition To End Women's Suffrage In Embarrassing Prank, Huffington Post, 9 July 2013
- Trump Supporters Call for Repealing Women's Suffrage After Poll Shows Men Support Him in a Landslide, People, Oct 13, 2016
- repealthe19th, Know Your Meme
- How To Save Western Civilisation, rooshv.com
- Is MGTOW generally in agreement that women shouldn't vote?, MGTOW board, Reddit
- Ann Coulter: I'm OK With Revoking Women's, Young Americans’ Right to Vote, Generation Progress, 9 March 2012.
- GOP Writer: Women Shouldn’t Vote Mother Jones, Oct 7, 2009
- Textbook co-authored by Roy Moore in 2011 says women shouldn’t run for office, Think Progress, Nov 29, 2017.
- Women shouldn't have the right to vote, says ‘alt-right’ leader Richard Spencer, Newsweek, 14 Oct 2017
- Letter bombs and IEDs: Were the suffragettes terrorists?, Sky News
- Suffragettes 'were like al-Qa'eda', Daily Telegraph, 10 Feb 2007
- Were the suffragettes wrong?, Melanie Phillips, Daily Mail, 16 October 2003
- Suffragettes? A terrorist gang who DELAYED women's votes, Daily Mail, 11 February 2018
- Were extreme suffragettes regarded as terrorists?, Melissa Hogenboom, BBC, 11 February 2012
- How Glasgow’s suffragette bombers nearly brought the city to its knees, Craig Williams, Glasgow Live, 6 Feb 2018
- Government feared suffragette plot to kill Asquith, The Guardian, 29 Sep 2006