Sunday, January 29, 2006

100 Years Since Susan B.: Consider the Anthony Legacy

"I wonder if when I am under the sod - or cremated and floating in the air - I shall have to stir you and others up. How can you not be all on fire? . . . I really believe I shall explode if some of you young women don't wake up."

Susan B. Anthony, 1898
Fourteen years after Susan B. Anthony died in 1906, women won the right to vote. But one hundred years later, we are still only 15% of the U.S. Congress. (The U.S. is 59th in the world for the number of women in our national legislature. Sweden, South Africa and Rwanda all have more.) 107 men and 2 women have served on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Would a woman president change our political culture? With Michelle Bachelet elected president of Chile and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf president of Liberia (the 1st woman president in Africa), a New York Times article suggests voters wanted the kind of change these women were especially able to bring: "'We have been fighting wars for 15, 20 years in this region," said Rosaline M'Carthy, leader of the Women's Forum in Sierra Leone, who traveled here last week for the inauguration. 'To see the first female president elected from a war-torn country shows people are now beginning to see what men have wrought in this region. It is the minds of men that make war. Women are the architects of peace.' " ("Where Political Clout Demands a Maternal Touch," New York Times, Sunday, January 22, 2006.)
What would change if women made up more than 50% of the U.S. Congress? WEDO's 50/50 Campaign is inspired by evidence that a critical mass of elected women makes a difference:
"There is evidence however, that when women enter decision-making bodies in significant numbers, issues such as child care, violence against women and unpaid labor are more likely to become priorities for policy-makers. In Norway, women Members of Parliament brought about the "politics of care" which obligates the state to increase publicly sponsored child care services, extend the paid parental leave period, introduce options for more flexible work hours and improve pension rights for unpaid care work. In South Africa, through the efforts of women Parliamentarians the "women's budget process" was introduced to analyze the government's budget from a gender perspective and allocate more resources for women's needs. In India, the women chairpersons in the panchayats of Dehra Dun district in northern Uttar Pradesh obtained funds to build a network of four-foot wide concrete roads and drains."
What would Susan say?
"From the cradle the children of the manly woman and womanly man of the 20th century will be trained in the principles of good government. They will be taught that might is not right, either in the home or the state; that arbitration rather than human slaughter should settle all international difficulties." Susan B. Anthony, 1900


Adam B. said...

I agree with the theory that a greater number of women in legislatures lead to topics such as child care being addressed more often. I also think that a woman president would also likely press these issues as her priorities more often. The notion of a woman President being elected in the United States in the near future, however, is one that I believe to be mistaken.

Don't get me wrong, I would fully support someone like Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for President any day of the week. But in this era of national security, roadside bombings, terrorism, etc., the American public simply is not ready to elect a woman to run the most powerful country in the world. Sen. Kerry was deemed a wish-washy, Massachusetts liberal dove and he had years of heroic military service in Vietnam behind him. He looked fairly tough, sounded tough with non-stop rhetoric like "we will hunt down and kill the terrorists" and voted for the war in Iraq. I think that other things stopped Kerry from winning, but I think the major issue was whether Kerry could be trusted in an era of terrorist attacks to protect the country. The American public seemed to say no. Even Tad Devine, Kerry's chief strategist in 2004, said at a Harvard Institute of Politics conference, "We found that among those who believed terrorism to be the biggest problem facing the country, those individuals were more likely to support George W. Bush. Among those who believed it was Iraq, they were more likely to support John Kerry. In 2004, more people turned out who believed terrorism was the biggest problem, and those people supported George W. Bush." That, right there, indicates to me that this is an era of concern about terrorism and candidates like Clinton cannot be elected until we reach a new era.

I don't believe any of the polls saying voters would be willing to support a woman for president... many of them have been found to be factually biased as respondents are not willing to admit their own prejudices against electing female presidents. Sen. Clinton has many other problems, but rather than focus on her, I want to make the argument that the public cannot trust a woman to lead the country at this time. I think Susan B. would agree.

Nathan said...

It's important not to confuse what "will" happen with what "should" happen. Let's face it, our government will continue to do a lot of things that should not be done. And, perhaps as Adam B. says, a woman will not get elected. But should a woman be president? I would argue that, even in times of conflict—perhaps especially in times of conflict—a woman should be president. I don't mean a woman who talks tough like a man, but a feminist who understands how to build consensus, bring voices to the table, and can understand the complexity of the issues our country faces.

It's ridiculous to me that people talk about George W. Bush being a strong leader when he has done so much to divide the country. A strong leader unites, not divides. Unfortunately, he's shown himself far more able to divide and conquer the American electorate than he has to defeat the Iraqi insurgency. In the process, we find ourselves in an incredibly rancorous political era, with our country and war effort suffering for it.

Feminist theory, the feminist lens for evaluating problems, is to seek resolution by bringing disparate perspectives to the table. Just imagine how much more coherent our approach in Iraq could be if the president had listened to more perspectives than simply Cheney and Rumsfeld. A woman, feminist president would never find herself relying on two trusted advisors.

So our country might be too scared, too terrorized by our own government, to see beyond tough-talk cowboy language. But, if we want to win the war on terror and strengthen our civic spirit, then we should elect a woman president

Jennifer said...

One day I was thinking about how Susan B. died before the 19th Amendment was passed and that thought made me so upset that I had a vision. I imagined being transported back in time, as I/we are now, and running up to Susan B. and saying something like, "You did it! You did it!"

When I consider all that I have now and can do, compared to what women were allowed to have and do then, I am amazed and grateful.

I think that Susan B. would be stunned to see all that the women of the world have accomplished. The liberties and opportunities we enjoy today are profound. Regardless if there’s a woman president of the United States, the fact that women can strive to accomplish their dreams, and have solid legal support if they are told that they may not do so, we have the foundation to affect the new world.

Additionally, even though the US doesn’t have a female president, there are other countries that do. Finland has a woman president who was single and dating when she was elected for office! Can you imagine that happening in the USA?

Marc Roemer said...

Hello, as an alum of the U of R, I'm intrigued by the year-long program about Susan B. Anthony. I'm especially interested in how women frame the
issue of "equal rights." One of the organizers, Nora Bredes, in her discussion published in the Rochester Review, makes nothing of the fact that women have outnumbered men in college since at least 1983. Apparently the SBA program will not give any attention to this and other areas where females have the advantage, such as women's better health, exemption from military service, reproductive and automatic parental rights, lower accountability for crimes they commit, and disproportionately large share of consumer spending.

Not that I'm surprised. My observation is that women strive for "equal rights" only when they stand to benefit, and rarely, if at all, when they stand to lose. This really makes it difficult to take women seriously as Susan B. Anthony hoped. She said in 1872, "For any state to make sex a qualification that must ever result in the disfranchisement of one entire half of the people, is to pass a bill of attainder, or, an ex post facto law, and is therefore a violation of the supreme law of the land." There are many laws today in the United States, some vigorously enforced, that unambiguously make sex a qualification, such as military conscription of males and the Violence Against Women Act, just to name two. Women have little if anything to say about the double standards that benefit them (except maybe that they deserve it!).

So this article, "What Would Susan Say?" is another interesting example, making an issue of the sex composition in Congress. Only 15% female! Does anyone really think men don't or can't represent women's interests? And nevermind about the homeless who are only 10% female, the imprisoned only 10% female, workplace deaths only 5% female, casualties of war less than 1% female. These statistics, and the 56% of voters who are women, are apparently not important in the discussion of "equal rights."

I think the workplace should be safe for men. I think men shouldn't have to register to have their human rights violated. Boys should be able to keep all the healthy body parts they were born with. Males should graduate from high school at the same rate and with the same reading, writing, and speaking abilities as females. Yes I think the 149,000,000 boys and men are more important than the 450 members of Congress. Unfortunately, the institution of feminism makes it impossible to do anything about these problems, and stands decidedly against the stated aims of Susan B. Anthony and other early feminists. A bill is currently pending in Albany that would establish equal rights for men and women as parents. Feminists are against it. They've been against shared parenting laws for 30 years.

Are women the architects of peace? Far from it. Condoleeza Rice is an architect of war in Iraq, like Margaret Thatcher, who invaded a tiny helpless island with nuclear weapons, Indira Gandhi who spearheaded India's acquisition of nuclear capability, and Madeleine Albright who facilitated US military action in Bosnia.

Don't get me wrong. I love women. Many women I talk to about these issues see the unfairness feminism has created. Prominent people though, men and women, keep the blinders on. The best I can do is call it selfishness when I see it.

Beverly said...

It saddens me that this blog seems to be dead. What a fantastic project! Keep going - there is still half the year to go. :)