Since getting the Kindle Fire, I’ve been teaching myself the history I never learned. School wasn’t big on freethinkers (although they were big on paens of praise for the Founding Fathers – the real secularist ones, not the weird rabid Christian ones that only exist in right wingers’ heads). My education glossed the suffragettes. It somehow left me thinking that women kicked up a brief fuss and got voting rights justlikethat, and that Susan B. Anthony had something to do with the American Revolution. Well, she was a revolutionary fighting a war of sorts, but I had her badly misplaced. Elizabeth Cady Stanton might have come up at some point – her name seemed familiar when I rediscovered her as a Freethinker – but if so, she wasn’t exactly expounded upon.
The impression I took away was that a woman’s right to vote was a natural evolution in American history, practically inevitable, and that bloomers were a big deal. I got the sense these women were rather freaks in their time. They were, but I don’t think the public school system meant me to think they were quite weird and somewhat undesirable.
But that’s exactly what anti-woman suffrage frothers wanted folks to think. Note the conservative hysteria in this series of political postcards. It should be depressingly familiar to anyone who’s followed the sexism and misogyny outbreaks in our community and the world at large recently.
The artwork is different, the issue of woman suffrage is (mostly) settled, but the sentiments are the same: Women speaking out for treatment as equal human beings hate men and want to dominate and destroy them. They’re ugly and masculine. Familiar silencing tactics, aren’t they? And there’s the terrible fear that the natural order of things will be overturned if the little ladies ever get so much as a hint of independence. Men won’t be able to get their way anymore! Women will voice their own opinions, wear pants, make men do housework! Horrors!*
In some ways, we’ve come very far. So far that every teacher throughout my education took it for granted that woman can and should vote. And yet we’re still stuck in the past in so many ways. Terrified, angry men in the atheist, skeptic and other communities freak out over feminism on a regular basis. Terrified, angry, authoritarian men in conservative, evangelical and fundamentalist religions, along with others on the political right who may not be so overtly religious but still have definite Ideas about a woman’s place, would like to see the clock set back to an era when birth control and abortion were illegal. Some have gone so far as to call woman suffrage “evil.” There are a lot of people who would reverse our gains and take away our right to vote if they could.
We’ve put up with this shit for a long time. We’ve faced down the attacks on our minds, our bodies, our personal safety. Most women have resisted the efforts to stuff them back in the house, into the role of housemaid and baby producer. We’ve fought for our right to vote, we’ve fought for birth control and legal abortion, and now we’re fighting to make sure those things aren’t taken away from us. We’re fighting gender roles that tell us girls can’t do math and boys don’t cry. We’re fighting the sexism and misogyny that infest every group of people which includes men who want to retain their dominance, and the women who enable their bad behavior. We’re fighting to be recognized as human beings, with all of the rights, responsibility and equality that entails.
The efforts to silence us didn’t work then. They won’t work now. Women voted. We voted pro-rape candidates down. We voted women in. Women are used to battles, and we’re used to the antics of those who want us to stop fighting.
We won our right to vote. We won on birth control and abortion. And we will continue to win. Those who want to take us back to the 19th century will eventually have to face the fact they’ve already lost, and are now merely dashing about like headless chickens in a doomed attempt to regain their supremacy.
Not even scathing postcards from the past will save them.
*Those last two are nightmares that sexist atheists mostly seem to have outgrown, but men in the Christian patriarchy movement seem terrified their servant-wives may break out of their bonds and decide gender roles are for suckaz. The fear of lady pants is still strong with some.
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