Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why All Women Should Vote

I had a friend, a black woman, who wouldn't sit in the back of a bus. While this was hardly an act of radical resistance in 1998, she explained that it was an homage to her grandmother's generation who dedicated their lives to a struggle that would one day allow everyone, regardless of race, attain the simple right to sit where they please.

Those who know my politics know they hardly fit in the mold of the mainstream electoral system. To those, the fact that I am so adamant about women, immigrants, and people of color exercising that right is puzzling, and often garners some intense criticism and debate. I'm accused of playing into "petty identity politics." Well okay. Not to bring more "petty" identity politics into it, but everyone who has ever criticized me for voting have been white males. That is, people who would have had the right to vote (whether they chose to exercise that right or not) at any given time in U.S. history. Identity politics be damned, those of us with a different historical identity tend to see things a bit more uniquely. Women have had the right to vote for less than 90 years now. African American males have had the right for 138 years, but literacy requirements and the use of poll taxes effectively blocked most from voting until the Voting Rights Act that was only passed a mere 44 years ago. Immigrants continue to face many challenges in gaining citizenship, one of which is the right to be able to choose their representatives.

And we continue to struggle on these fronts. Our version of democracy holds very little variation; any candidate who has a snowman's chance in hell is guaranteed to hold the interests of the "bosses" at the forefront of their policy, lest they get literally "bought out" by another candidate's funds. But taking the time to actually go to the polls, regardless of which party we support for or whether or not we write in "Mickey Mouse" if we just couldn't care less, continues to be an act of every day resistance to tens of thousands of Americans who have not always had that right. And given the hours and dollars and sleepless nights I've spent on grassroots efforts, to criticize me for taking 45 minutes out of my day, minutes I probably would have spent picking my nose or cleaning my kitchen, to do something I perceive to be of relative historical significance is just offensive, if not completely ludicrous. Unless of course you're going to argue that me picking my nose or (heaven forbid) cleaning the kitchen is going to instigate the goddamn revolution.

Especially when you consider the sacrifices people have made to even be allowed to hold a legitimate political opinion, to show the government and board of elections that you are retaining that right can be a powerful homage to those who gave their lives for this cause. That's why all women should vote. Not just for the "leaders" (Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony), but for all our grandmothers and great grandmothers who sacrificed more than some of us can even begin to comprehend. For Lucy Burns, who was arrested at a 1917 suffragist protest outside the White House, beaten to a pulp, and left hanging by chains around her wrists. For Dora Lewis, who, the very same night, was thrown into a jail cell so hard her head was smashed against an iron bed frame, and she was knocked unconscious. For all the women arrested that night, thrown into Virginia's Occoquan Workhouse and fed food infested with worms. For Alice Paul, who went on a hunger strike and was subsequently force-fed through a tube until she vomited, then was tortured for weeks for acting on one very basic belief: the belief that women and men are equal.

And conversely, for Grace Saxon Mill, anti-suffragist extraordinaire, who wrote this piece of garbage to argue against women's suffrage in the UK during the early 1910s:

Arguments Against Women's Suffrage

Because women already have the municipal vote, and are eligible for membership of most local authorities. These bodies deal with questions of housing, education, care of children, workhouses and so forth, all of which are peculiarly within a woman's sphere. Parliament, however, has to deal mainly with the administration of a vast Empire, the maintenance of the Army and Navy, and with questions of peace and war, which lie outside the legitimate sphere of woman's influence.

Because all government rests ultimately on force, to which women, owing to physical, moral and social reasons, are not capable of con­tributing.

Because women are not capable of full citizenship, for the simple reason that they are not available for purposes of national and Imperial defence. All government rests ultimately on force, to which women,
owing to physical, moral and social reasons, are not capable of contributing.

Because there is little doubt that the vast majority of women have no desire for the vote.

Because the acquirement of the Parliamentary vote would logically involve admission to Parliament itself, and to all Government offices. It is scarcely possible to imagine a woman being Minister for War, and yet the principles of the Suffragettes involve that and many similar absurdities.

Because the United Kingdom is not an isolated state, but the administrative and governing centre of a system of colonies and also of dependencies. The effect of introducing a large female ele­ment into the Imperial electorate would undoubtedly be to weaken the centre of power in the eyes of these dependent millions.

Because past legislation in Parliament shows that the interests of women are perfectly safe in the hands of men.

Because Woman Suffrage is based on the idea of the equality of the sexes, and tends to establish those competitive relations which will destroy chivalrous consideration.

Because women have at present a vast indirect influence through their menfolk on the politics of this country.

Because the physical nature of women unfits them for direct com­petition with men.

So for any woman who refuses to allow her "best interests" be entrusted in the hands of men, for any woman who refuses to be represented only by her husband, for any woman who refuses to let society think you lack the capacity to think politically, to any woman who knows she is not unequal on the basis of her sex, and the women who know they are more than fit to compete with their male counterparts, I say to you today, GO VOTE!

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