Women’s Equality Day: A Study In the Fear of Feminism

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

The United States took 144 years of individual advocacy and 72 years of organized lobbying, but at long, long last women won the right to vote on August 26, 1920. No, we were not a stellar world leader on the issue of suffrage. Women in such countries as Germany, Austria, Netherlands, Belgium, New Zealand, even Russia and the Ukraine, from whence come so many mail-order brides today, beat U.S. gals to the punch card ballot, so to speak.

Nonetheless, all told, it was a stunning accomplishment of our turn-of-the-century suffragists, given the obstacles: Female activists were often incarcerated in prisons and insane asylums when their goodly husbands or fathers couldn’t keep them barefoot and pregnant in their sculleries.

SuffrageParadeYou see, men, having the only votes of course, were disinclined to share their power with the gender perceived to be lacking the temperament and intellectual capacity for making such serious choices as selecting our leaders. (You know how women are during that time of the month. Just ask those conservative white males pretending to be television and radio journalists, a la Marc Rudov and G. Gordon Liddy). This compels me to mention that our persistently male super-majority leadership has surely gotten us all into a fine mess. Hapless Laurel and Hardy could have done no worse. And this, while women’s proper role was deemed to be that of supporting their husbands and their husbands’ households, to which women held no legal claim, and attending to what the men perceived to be the less demanding tasks of child rearing (the anti-suffrage fellows obviously never tried their hands at it).

One esteemed gentleman in the throes of the women’s suffrage movement, Benjamin Vestal Hubbard, went so far as to opine that feminism and suffrage were akin to socialism, atheism and communism (oh, my!) and that they posed the prospect of an abysmal end to civilized Christian society. (I wouldn’t be surprised, given Hubbard’s social commentary, if his mother’s maiden name, Vestal, proved a constant torment to him, given the independence enjoyed by the ancient Roman virgins.) In his 1915 book, Socialism, Feminism, and Suffragism, the Terrible Triplets Connected by the Same Umbilical Cord and Fed From the Same Nursing Bottle, Hubbard culled from writers of his time and warned that suffrage, birth control, the “commercial employment of married women” and myriad other female horrors debased women, that they would destroy the family, and that pregnant women who cast votes put their fetuses at risk of deformity or idiocy.

I suspect the stress of attempting to graciously suffer foolish men was much more likely to induce fetal abnormalities. Nonetheless, it’s a good thing we've made some headway since then.

Or have we?

Consider those who today quote Hubbard or his anti-feminist ideology, not for the unadulterated joy of ridicule, but for the purpose of enlightenment, male bonding, child rearing — even fund raising.

Fathers for Life favorably quotes Hubbard’s book, while slamming the feminist-dominated media (what channel are they watching?!) and bemoaning women’s advances (and I’m not talking sexual, because those would likely be considered the happy-making type).

Pat Robertson, well-coiffed televangelist and founder of the Christian Coalition, has yet to renounce his oft-quoted 1992 statement about feminism: "The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians." It’s particularly interesting that this statement was part of Robertson’s fund-raising effort to topple Iowa’s equal rights amendment. Thank the goddess the amendment failed or I might have to be cuddling up with a broad right now!

Bestselling Christian author Vicki Courtney describes herself as a “former agnostic and feminist” who has since found God, and she does so with the conviction of a prostitute proclaiming her religious conversion. (She also wants to save teens from the “virtue-less” culture into which they’ve been birthed with some well-intended practical and spiritual advice, but her blog, Virtue Alert, touts Janet Jackson’s Superbowl boosiasm baring as an atrocity. Yikes! So, what about the Holocaust?)

The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), which airs Robertson’s 700 Club, even tossed the F-bomb in its Monsters vs Aliens movie review, under the heading Say What? Questionable Content: “Strong moral worldview with redemptive elements and positive American qualities and ideals, plus, however, Romantic and feminist elements, and evolution talk about being a Missing Link…” Saints preserve us!

A CBN video also deftly points a finger at feminism for the sexualization of girls and women in today’s media:

Interesting, while CBN blames feminism for this distasteful trend in the media, the media remain vastly male dominated — go figure! — and I'm betting those moguls are not fretting about women's equality.

So what is it about feminism; why is it so abhorrent to so many? Do any of these folks actually know what it means?

Some years ago, a San Diego County legislative candidate, completing a women's group endorsement questionnaire, responded to "Are you a feminist?" with "No, but I support giving women the same rights as men." And I remember having that same thought: Doesn’t this nitwit know what the word means?

And what about you? Are you a feminist? You could be and just not realize it. Or perhaps you are afraid to admit it? Has your religious institution put the fear of feminism in you? Or what? Jeez!

How about this: Before you reject or accept the concept, how about looking it up?

From the Oxford English Dictionary:

Feminism [after French féminisme.] Advocacy of the rights of women (based on the theory of equality of the sexes). (Cf. womanism n.)

1895   Athenæum 27 Apr. 533/2   Her intellectual evolution and her coquettings with the doctrines of ‘feminism’ are traced with real humour.

1908   Daily Chron. 7 May 4/7   In Germany feminism is openly Socialistic.

1909   Daily Chron. 29 May 4/4   Suffragists, suffragettes, and all the other phases in the crescendo of feminism.

 So, now. Is it feminism that frightens you? Or — come on, let's be honest — is it the fear of men losing the upper hand?

Love, K-B

©2009 Kit-Bacon Gressitt

(1913 photo of New York crowd breaking up women's suffrage parade courtesy of Library of Congress.)