Dear Women, Please Vote This Year

Last night, I attended a panel discussion on campus featuring four prominent professors and moderated by the provost on a few of the important issues in this year’s election (healthcare, the economy, morality in leadership).  The discussion itself was fun, and it was interesting to see gender and race divides so clearly (the two white male professors in almost constant opposition to the two minority female professors), but the overwhelming consensus between them was the importance of a voting decision.  Dr. Carol Awasu from Nyack College’s social work program encouraged audience members to vote.  If you are a woman, if you are a minority, if you don’t own property, she reminded the audience, you did not always have the right to vote, and so you should vote.  Vote, because people have died to secure the right for you.

Especially in this election, which is the most gender-divided election in recent history, everyone who is able to vote should be voting.  We owe it to our predecessors — to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, to Susan B. Anthony, to Alice Paul — to vote.  I almost don’t care who you vote for, so long as you vote (of course, I want people to vote my way, but I’d rather a fair exercise of free will than a bunch of people voting against conscience).

Susan B. Anthony

I think that’s what those wonderful suffragists would want to see: a fair exercise of free will.  That’s what they were after in pursuing equal suffrage.  As for how they would vote if they were alive today — I feel like my fair guess would be for Obama, and here’s why:

1) Party Allegiance would be inverted, and thus they would vote on principles as opposed to party.  After the Civil War, women’s suffrage split into two different camps, one aligning itself with the liberal Republicans and the other working to garner support from the more conservative Democrats.  Lucy Stone stuck with the Republican party, and those who followed suit worked to tie female suffrage with freedman (those who had until recently been slaves) suffrage, but when that move proved to be unsuccessful, they willingly took a back-burner position to freedman suffrage.  Now that women have the vote, a Republican suffragist from the mid-nineteenth century would likely choose to vote for Obama because of his egalitarian appeal and his insistence that female policymakers are necessary for appropriate lawmaking.  Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, frustrated by the sexism in the Republican party, broke off from their abolitionist roots and pursued a women’s rights platform through the Democratic party.  The Democrats, for the most part, were uninterested, but Stanton and Anthony persisted in their hunt for political equality in more than just the vote.  Fair pay, property ownership and child custody were also a part of their branch of the suffrage movement.  Stanton and Anthony would be drawn to Obama because of the Democratic Platform’s position on women.  All of these women would also be horrified by comments about rape that have come out of the Republican party during this election cycle (I’m looking at you, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock).  Don’t worry, women; Obama doesn’t understand their comments, either.

Lucy Stone

2) The restriction of voting rights that this election cycle has seen are abhorrent and being repudiated by the Democratic party.  In case you’ve missed it, several state governments have either successfully or unsuccessfully been implementing new voter registration laws that require voters to have excessive and unnecessary amounts of identification in order to vote.  My home state of Pennsylvania is also guilty in this; I chose to register here in New York instead.  If Alice Paul were alive today, you can bet that she would be vocally opposing this from all sides, and as such, she would align herself with today’s Democratic party.  Voting rights are an important part of the Democratic position, and the legislators who are creating the new voter id laws have largely been Republican.  Think I’m inflating things?  Check out this surprisingly astute Sarah Silverman video on voter id laws (my apologies for the profanity, if you find profanity an issue):

3) Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act; Republicans voted almost unanimously against it.  Look at the vote results from the Senate on the 2009 act.  Of the 61 senators that voted in favor of Lily Ledbetter, only two of them were Republicans; however, of the 36 senators that voted against it, all of them were Republicans.  On top of that, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney did not support the Lily Ledbetter Act in 2009 and he would not have signed it.  Would Romney overturn it if he reaches office?  He says not, but early suffragists Anthony and Stanton would still be casting their vote with Obama because of this law.  Though Anthony’s faction of suffrage did grow toward favoring the white middle class, she made a few concerted efforts to mobilize working class women to demand suffrage and fair pay.  Toward the beginning of the film Iron Jawed Angels, the characters of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns advertise for suffrage amongst working class women, recruiting Ruza Wenclawska.  Wenclawska, a Polish immigrant who changed her name to Rose Winslow, began working as a mill girl at age eleven.  She would be voting for Obama.

Ruza Wenclawska, aka Rose Winslow

Ultimately, I think these women would encourage anyone on the fence about voting for either candidate to vote, no matter what.  But they would probably be voting for Barack Obama.

Advertisements

Ann Romney, Eliza Pinckney, and Republican Motherhood

In case you’re not following U.S. politics, right now is a special tetra-annual occasion.  It’s election season!  And with this current election, our two major political parties are doing everything that they can to convince you (the voting populous) that your vote belongs with them.

Talk of the town at the RNC last month was Ann Romney’s passionate speech about love.  Deeply embedded within this speech is Ann’s concept of motherhood and nation.  She says, “It’s the moms of this nation — single, married, widowed — who really hold this country together. We’re the mothers, we’re the wives, we’re the grandmothers, we’re the big sisters, we’re the little sisters, we’re the daughters.”  Ann acknowledges the work that women do to keep this nation running, especially mothers.

I saw someone wearing a red dress the other day, and in my head I called it “Ann Romney Red”

“As a mom of five boys, do we want to raise our children to be afraid of success?” She asks the audience.  “Do we send our children out in the world with the advice, ‘Try to do… okay?'”  The obvious answer is no.  Ann is reminding American women of a legacy of motherhood that instills entrepreneurial spirit and high morality into children.  Ann is hearkening back to Republican Motherhood.

The phrase “Republican Motherhood” started cropping up around the time of the American Revolution.  As the political and economic structures of the colonies shifted and became an independent nation, the expected roles of women changed with them.  And one of the newest ideas was that women, not men, are be responsible for the moral upbringing of their children, so therefore they should be educated in virtue.

Abigail Adams famously begged her husband to “remember the ladies” and reminded him that “all men would be tyrants if they could.”  Abigail’s outspoken desire for women’s rights led to the creation of schools and academies for women.  Education for women (maybe even some autonomy?), within the budding nation, could only lead to stronger and better-developed citizens as generations progressed.

One chief example of a Republican Mother is Eliza Pinckney.  Born Eliza Lucas, she was educated in England until her father George Lucas (yes) moved the family to Carolina.  However, George was a traveling man and a major in the British army who spent much of his time in the West Indies.  Eliza, at age seventeen, took control of the family plantation in Carolina and began coaching her brothers through school in England via letters.

I’m only 90% sure that this is really a picture of Eliza Pinckney

Eliza believed in rationality and logic.  She hated frivolity in anything, and thought men were easily carried away by violence.  She was an avid letter writer, and kept copies of everything that she sent out.  Logic and temperance, in everything, were essential to her being.  She applied these traits to herself, and she applied herself to her work on the plantations.  And her work changed Carolina’s entire economy.  Within a decade of her first experiments growing indigo, for example, indigo became one of the main crops to be produced in Carolina.

And when she and her husband Charles started having children, she worked to ensure that her sons and daughter followed into this mold.  Her sons Charles Cotesworth and Thomas became great Revolutionary War heros, embodying the spirit of the new republic.  But Eliza’s work to raise her children within her ideals was not forgotten.  President Washington took a tour of the South and spent a considerable amount of time with the Pinckney family at Hampton, the home of Eliza’s only daughter Harriott Horry.  When Eliza Pinckney died, President Washington was one of the pallbearers at her funeral.

A Republican Mother was not just a housewife; she was an educated woman whose duty it was to instill national values and patriotism into her children.  She taught them morality, temperance, and work ethic.  Though she did not have political rights directly, a Republican Mother was able to influence the political world of men greatly by the sheer force of her character.

So when Ann Romney appeals to the women of the United States as mothers who make America what it is, she is adding into the tradition of Republican Motherhood.

Watch Ann Romney’s speech at CBS News

Read the transcript of Ann Romney’s speech at NPR