FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Long, Long Journey to Female Equality

by

With the possibility of America’s first woman president looming, it’s appropriate to consider the monumental struggle for gender equality.

For millennia, female inferiority was presumed, and mandated, in virtually every human culture. Through most of history, the brawn of heavier males gave them dominance, leaving women in lesser status — often mere possessions of men, confined to the home, rarely educated, with few rights.

Many were forced to wear veils or shrouds when outdoors, and they couldn’t go outside without a male relative escort. Fathers kept their daughters restricted, then chose husbands who became their new masters.

Sometimes the husbands also had several other wives. In a few cultures, unwanted baby girls were left on trash dumps to die.

In Ancient Greece, women were kept indoors, rarely seen, while men performed all public functions. Women couldn’t attend schools or own property. A wife couldn’t attend male social events, even when her husband staged one at home. Aristotle believed in “natural slaves” and wrote that females are lesser creatures who must be cared for, as a farmer tends his livestock.

Up through medieval times, daughters were secondary, and inheritances went to firstborn sons. Male rule prevailed. Anthropologists have searched for exceptions, with little success — except possibly some Iroquois tribes in Canada, where women reportedly had some rights.

In the 1930s, the famed Margaret Mead thought she found a female-led group in New Guinea, but she later reversed her conclusion and wrote: “All the claims so glibly made about societies ruled by women are nonsense. We have no reason to believe that they ever existed…. Men everywhere have been in charge of running the show.”

As The Enlightenment blossomed in the 1700s, calls for women’s rights emerged. France’s Talleyrand wrote that only men required serious education — “Men are destined to live on the stage of the world” — and women should learn just to manage “the paternal home.” This infuriated England’s rebellious Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, contending that females have potential for full public life. (Her daughter married poet Percy Shelley and wrote Frankenstein.)

Reformer John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) wrote The Subjugation of Women in 1869 after his wife had written The Enfranchisement of Women, calling for a female right to vote. The husband protested: “There remain no legal slaves, save the mistress of every house.” As a member of England’s Parliament, Mill sought voting by women and became president of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage.

“The legal subordination of one sex to another is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement,” Mill wrote.

The western world wrestled nearly a century before women finally won the right to vote.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) was the bright daughter of a New York state judge. Few schools admitted girls, so her father arranged for her to attend male-only Johnstown Academy.

The daughter grew outraged by laws forbidding women to own property or control their lives. She married an abolitionist lawyer and accompanied him to London for a world conference against slavery. Women weren’t allowed to talk; they sat silent behind a curtain while men spoke.

Back in America, she joined Quakers to organize an 1848 assembly at Seneca Falls, New York, that launched the modern women’s equality movement. Frederick Douglass urged delegates to demand female suffrage. Stanton later joined Unitarians Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and Ralph Waldo Emerson in a lifelong struggle for female rights.

The Civil War temporarily suppressed those efforts, but they flared anew when the 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, allowed black males to vote, but not females of any color. Demands snowballed for decades. Mark Twain gave a speech calling for female voting. Various suffrage groups took to the streets, some more militant than others. The National Woman’s Party led by Alice Paul was toughest, picketing outside the White House, enduring male jeers, and physical assaults.

President Woodrow Wilson tried to ignore the clamor. When a Russian delegation visited the White House, pickets held banners saying “America is not a democracy. Twenty million women are denied the right to vote.”

The protesters staged Washington parades that were attacked by mobs, sending some beaten victims to hospitals. Women pickets on sidewalks were hauled to jail on absurd charges of “obstructing traffic.” When they refused to pay fines, they were locked up with criminals. Paul was sentenced to seven months. She went on a hunger strike and was force-fed.

Finally, Wilson reversed position in 1918 and supported female enfranchisement. Congress approved the 19th Amendment, and it was ratified in 1920, letting women vote.

Around the world, various other nations followed, some more slowly than others. In Switzerland, women didn’t gain full ballot rights in all districts until 1991. Saudi Arabian women finally gained only partial voting in December 2015.

Social struggles never really end. Western women still haven’t gained full equality. Their pay remains below the average for male workers. In some places, American women couldn’t serve on juries until the 1950s. Some Muslim and African cultures remain medieval, with women subjugated, with girls less-educated, with “honor killings” of flirtatious daughters who besmirch a family’s Puritanical standards, and with genital mutilation of girls to subdue their sex drive and keep them “pure” for husbands.

An Amnesty International report said:

“In the United States, a woman is raped every six minutes; a woman is battered every 15 seconds. In North Africa, 6,000 women are genitally mutilated each day. This year, more than 15,000 women will be sold into sexual slavery in China. Two hundred women in Bangladesh will be horribly disfigured when their spurned husbands or suitors burn them with acid. More than 7,000 women in India will be murdered by their families and in-laws in disputes over dowries. Violence against women is rooted in a global culture of discrimination which denies women equal rights with men and which legitimizes the appropriation of women’s bodies for individual gratification or political ends. Every year, violence in the home and the community devastates the lives of millions of women.”

More articles by:

James Haught, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Weekend Edition
February 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Richard D. Wolff
Capitalism as Obstacle to Equality and Democracy: the US Story
Paul Street
Where’s the Beef Stroganoff? Eight Sacrilegious Reflections on Russiagate
Jeffrey St. Clair
They Came, They Saw, They Tweeted
Andrew Levine
Their Meddlers and Ours
Charles Pierson
Nuclear Nonproliferation, American Style
Joseph Essertier
Why Japan’s Ultranationalists Hate the Olympic Truce
W. T. Whitney
US and Allies Look to Military Intervention in Venezuela
John Laforge
Maybe All Threats of Mass Destruction are “Mentally Deranged”
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: an American Reckoning
David Rosen
For Some Reason, Being White Still Matters
Robert Fantina
Nikki Haley: the U.S. Embarrassment at the United Nations
Joyce Nelson
Why Mueller’s Indictments Are Hugely Important
Joshua Frank
Pearl Jam, Will You Help Stop Sen. Tester From Destroying Montana’s Public Lands?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Attack on Historical Perspective
Conn Hallinan
Immigration and the Italian Elections
George Ochenski
The Great Danger of Anthropocentricity
Pete Dolack
China Can’t Save Capitalism from Environmental Destruction
Joseph Natoli
Broken Lives
Manuel García, Jr.
Why Did Russia Vote For Trump?
Geoff Dutton
One Regime to Rule Them All
Torkil Lauesen – Gabriel Kuhn
Radical Theory and Academia: a Thorny Relationship
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Work of Persuasion
Thomas Klikauer
Umberto Eco and Germany’s New Fascism
George Burchett
La Folie Des Grandeurs
Howard Lisnoff
Minister of War
Eileen Appelbaum
Why Trump’s Plan Won’t Solve the Problems of America’s Crumbling Infrastructure
Ramzy Baroud
More Than a Fight over Couscous: Why the Palestinian Narrative Must Be Embraced
Jill Richardson
Mass Shootings Shouldn’t Be the Only Time We Talk About Mental Illness
Jessicah Pierre
Racism is Killing African American Mothers
Steve Horn
Wyoming Now Third State to Propose ALEC Bill Cracking Down on Pipeline Protests
David Griscom
When ‘Fake News’ is Good For Business
Barton Kunstler
Brainwashed Nation
Griffin Bird
I’m an Eagle Scout and I Don’t Want Pipelines in My Wilderness
Edward Curtin
The Coming Wars to End All Wars
Missy Comley Beattie
Message To New Activists
Jonah Raskin
Literary Hubbub in Sonoma: Novel about Mrs. Jack London Roils the Faithful
Binoy Kampmark
Frontiersman of the Internet: John Perry Barlow
Chelli Stanley
The Mirrors of Palestine
James McEnteer
How Brexit Won World War Two
Ralph Nader
Absorbing the Irresistible Consumer Reports Magazine
Cesar Chelala
A Word I Shouldn’t Use
Louis Proyect
Marx at the Movies
Osha Neumann
A White Guy Watches “The Black Panther”
Stephen Cooper
Rebel Talk with Nattali Rize: the Interview
David Yearsley
Market Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail