Antiquated Ideas

December 16, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

Who’s afraid of Virgina Woolf? The answer seems to be: men.

MessyNessyChic (here) has posted some anti-women’s-suffrage posters from the 1890s and early 1900s.* The common theme is fear – fear that allowing women to vote will destroy masculinity.

The anti-suffrage logic rests on the assumption that voting is masculine. Therefore women who want to vote are masculine, and men who would allow women to vote are feminine. If women get the vote, it’s the end of masculinity as we know it. Gender roles will not just be more similar, they will be reversed.

This masculinity must be very fragile. It cannot survive unless the game is rigged so that men start with all the high cards – economic, social, political, and legal. Anything resembling a fair deal, and masculinity shrivels. Of course today, nearly a century after the Nineteenth Amendment, men’s anxiety about equality is hard to find. Or is it? 

I live in a politically liberal district, Manhattan’s Upper Left Side, but the other day, I found this message chalked on the sidewalk outside an Irish bar.

If you really want to see the revival of the fears animating those anti-suffragette posters, wait till Hillary Clinton gets the nomination in 2016, and watch for the reaction on the right.  Republicans seem to infuse many political questions with masculinity-anxiety. In 2009, when Obama ordered the CIA to stop using torture, conservatives argued that he was “emasculating” the CIA. Yes, that’s the word they used. (See my post from September, 2009, here.) Some ideas and anxieties are just timeless.

* The Nineteenth Amendment was finally ratified in 1920, more than a half-century after the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteed all races the right to vote.

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