Tuesday, March 01, 2005

I have all the usual objections to women's history month: it's a ghetto; it suggests that women can be relegated to a single month; it brackets women's history off from everything else. It suggests that the study of women is about identity or women's self-esteem, rather than the real stuff of history. So this isn't really in honor of women's history month, unless you'd like it to be. But I stumbled across this today, and it reminded me so much of women's contemporary struggle to get our issues regarded as "serious politics" that I thought it was worth noting:

From Jailed for Freedom, Doris Stevens's history/ memoir of militant women's suffrage, written in 1920:

A few days later the first deputation of suffragists ever to appear before a President to enlist his support for the passage of the national suffrage amendment waited upon President Wilson. Miss [Alice] Paul led the deputation….The President received the deputation in the White House Offices. When the women entered they found five chairs arranged in a row with one chair in front, like a class-room. All confessed to being frightened when the President came in and took his seat at the head of the class. The President said that he had no opinion on the subject of woman suffrage; that he had never given it any thought; and that above all it was his task to see that Congress concentrated on the currency revision and the tariff reform. It is recorded that the President was somewhat taken aback when Miss Paul addressed him during the course of the interview with this query, "But Mr. President, do you not understand that the Administration has no right to legislate for currency, tariff, or any other reform without first getting the consent of women to those reforms?"

"Get the consent of women?" It was evident that this course had not heretofore occurred to him.

"This subject will receive my most careful consideration," was President Wilson's first suffrage promise.

He was given time to "consider" and a second deputation went to him, and still a third, asking him to include the suffrage amendment in his message to the new Congress assembling in extra session the following month. And still he was obsessed with the paramount considerations of "tariff" and "currency." He flatly said there would be no time to consider suffrage for women. But the "unreasonable" women kept right on insisting that the liberty of half the American people was paramount to tariff and currency.

There was a lot wrong with Alice Paul and the National Women's Party. If you know anything about the history of first wave feminism, you can probably fill in the next bit. They were fixated on the vote and ignored many of the problems facing non-elite women, even as they worked to include working-class women in their movement. To their eternal shame, they were willing to sell out African-American women. But you've got to give them credit for insisting that their issues were real issues, and that they shouldn't have to take a back seat to tariffs or currency reform. They insisted that it was hypocritical to tell them to shut up and concentrate on winning a war to make the world safe for democracy, since they themselves were denied the vote.

So it's been almost 90 years, and we're still hearing the same bullshit. We're still hearing that there are no women political bloggers, because feminism isn't thought to be real politics. Somewhere, Alice Paul is rolling in her grave. Somewhere, Alice Paul is telling us to go raise hell, chain ourselves to the White House gates, get arrested, make them hear us whether they want to or not. Somewhere Alice Paul is reminding us that half the human race is not a "special interest."

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?