Women’s Movement and Rights

The women’s suffrage movement began on both sides of the Atlantic with passion and grit. This revolution was the descendant of the Enlightenment ideas placed forth by philosophers during The Age of Reason. The idea of the suffrage movement was founded upon the concept that all human beings are created equal and are born with natural rights that they have a duty and an obligation to exercise. The Women’s Rights Movement was a struggle throughout because of the people in power who opposed it, but the movement was ultimately triumphant because of the men and women who fought devotedly for their beliefs. That fight for the vote now allows women today to freely practice a fundamental right. It took a hundred years for it to come to pass, beginning at the time of Mary Wollstonecraft and the Marquis de Condorcet. The law now permits women to practice the rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship.

The women’s suffrage movement became a struggle to achieve because of the people, who opposed the notion that women had a duty to stand up for their natural-born rights. The movement imposed the principles of equality, liberty, and political justice and these ideas were not advantageous to the people who had power in a divided society. The proletarians were the ones that supported women’s rights, but the prominent, affluent, and powerful were afraid to change a system that worked to their benefit. The socialist and feminist ideas were not appealing to the people who had positions in parliament or government. Henry James, a British politician made a speech in The House of Commons in 1871, that gave reasons to neglect and disregard social equality when it came to matters of the state. He warningly advised the House of the wrongdoings of the opposite sex, “… women would have to make judgments on the basis of information obtained second-hand, and not from practical experience?”

Henry James states that women do not have superior experience when it comes to having an opinion and deciding on political matters. James is part of a political system that gives him power and authority to converse to a group of prominent men and place substantial amount of influence on them. The socialist vision of equality cannot chime with men who wish to gain a higher social standing in a community. A year before this speech, in 1870, the husband of Emmeline Pankhurst, (a women who was the driving force behind the suffragettes) Dr. Richard Pankhurst, drafted the first bill that allowed women to get the right to vote known as the Women’s Disabilities Removal Bill which was later introduced in House of Commons. This proves that the ideas of Henry James are slowly beginning to deteriorate because men and women were on their way to persuading the government that women needed their natural rights. This can be compared to the Industrial Revolution and the dominance the factory owners had over their workers. The factory owners did not want to give up the power that they had over their laborers the way the people of Parliament wouldn’t want to believe that their power might be equal to that of a women’s.

Francesco Crispi, a liberal Italian politician believed that women must not have an opinion when it comes to political arrangements that are made by the government. Women are made for the well being of the man. Crispi regarded women as peacemakers that are made to calm a man after a tiresome and laborious day. In 1883, to the Italian Senate, Crispi authoritatively declared “… the day when women participate in public business, you will find war.” He believed that the suffrage movement would cause social and political disorders in society that would lead to an universal imbalance. He is considered a liberal but his ideas reflect on orthodox and traditional ways of thinking. This “liberal” Italian politician is ignorant of the ideas of the Enlightenment and has taken many steps back because of his ideals. The French philosopher Condorcet said, “Have they all not violated the principle of equality of rights in tranquility depriving one half of the human race of the right of taking part in the formation of laws by the exclusion of women from the rights of citizenship.” Francesco Crispi, the future Prime Minister of Italy, is known as the precursor of Benito Mussolini, a man who was against women’s rights. Crispi is also speaking to the Italian senate and wants to appeal to them, and so his ideas, like that of Henry James are directed to commanding men of government. Many Italian men might be against the concept of social equality of both genders. If involved in government, male authoritarians ascertain that women may neglect their household duties and the peace that they create for the man’s benefit and pleasure will slowly diminish.

Henry James and Francesco Crispi have similar ideologies to that of Count Reventlow. Count Reventlow, a Nazi politician spoke for the Prevention of the Emancipation of Women in 1912. The German man appreciates only a certain kind of women. Reventlow passionately stated to the crowd, “Women want to rule and we don’t want to let them. The German Empire was created with blood and iron. That was man’s work. If women helped… they stood behind their men in battle and fired them on to kill as many enemies as possible.” Count Reventlow believes that men have fought for their rights during wars, and he only appreciates the women who supported their men when they fought for their country, and he looks down on the women who fight for their individual rights. Women are meant to support men and are not meant to make decisions for the man. Reventlow, a German naval officer and Nazi politician enjoys both his national identity and his place in the social hierarchy. Since he is speaking to a group of people who are against the women’s suffrage movement, we can decipher that he is encouraging men & women of wealthy backgrounds who do not need to the right to vote to work against a proletarian cause. Rosa Luxemburg a German revolutionary socialist on the same year (1912), made a speech concerning Women’s Suffrage and Class Struggle.

“In truth, our state is interested in keeping the vote from working women and from them alone. It rightly fears they will threaten the traditional institutions of class rule, for instance militarism (of which no thinking proletarian woman can help being a deadly enemy), monarchy, the systematic robbery of duties and taxes on groceries, etc. Women’s suffrage is a horror and abomination for the present capitalist state because behind it stand millions of women who would strengthen the enemy within, i.e., revolutionary Social Democracy.” Rosa Luxemburg has remembered the ideas of Condorcet and Wollstonecraft and through her words, like Count Reventlow, is trying to influence a specific group of people. Their ideas vary and are at opposite ends of the table. Luxemburg is moving forward with her ideas about equality in gender, and Reventlow makes a proposition to the people of authority to pause and realize that women do not deserve the rights that men have gained over time. However, Count Reventlow has forgotten the times when men and women (proletarians), together fought for individual rights like the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. In these cases, women did not only support the men, but were willing to fight along with them to gain the justice that they deserved.

Because of the rising importance of the suffrage movement, Reventlow wants men and women on his side. The ideas of the socialist women were growing stronger and the ideas of the prominent men were only addressed to the opulent. In 1919, a Speaker for the French Senatorial Commission concurred with the ideas of James, Crispi, and Reventlow, with a degrading and derogatory tone. “Rather than handling the ballot, the hands of women are meant to be kissed… ” The speaker is trying to say that women are given so much love and it is not necessary for them to acquire an unrealistic advantage when they already have been given much. Like the three men before him, this French man has acquired for himself a position of power and comfort in society. Like Count Reventlow, this French man is moving backwards. In the same year of this speech, the 19th Amendment of the US Constitution was submitted to the Congress for ratification. It said, “The United States Constitution prohibits any United States citizen to be denied the right to vote based on sex.” The world was moving forward in its ways and the French man maintains an archaic understanding of women. Although the speaker, in some ways praises the opposite sex, he negates the fact that their ideas would be necessary from a political standpoint.