Thursday, October 22, 2009

Historical Revisionist Fun With "Marriage Defenders"- Women's Suffrage Edition

Previously, we've seen internet "marriage defender" On Lawn claim that same-sex marriage is just like racial segregation because both are, apparently, a "pollution of equality." Here and here, I demonstrated that, actually, same-sex marriage is nothing at all like racial segregation and, in fact, it is On Lawn's "defense of marriage" that is the perpetrator of inequality.

Instead of responding to my arguments or addressing the noted flaws in his own, On Lawn has chosen to extend the absurdity further by making even more unsupported conclusions that supposedly prove that sex/gender integration in marriage "brings equality." (Don't be confused, even though he titles his post "Marriage brings equality," within the article he changes his mind, saying "My premise is not that marriage itself brings equality.")

Now, On Lawn, being a Man Who Knows Things, does not always feel compelled to support his claims with evidence, research, or links. Perhaps he expects folks to just take his word on stuff, relying on the weight of his Authoritative Male Voice. True to form, he has created his own version of history and is now claiming that, in the case of women's suffrage, it was the magical integration of the man-woman marriage that acted as the main "conduit to gain" the power to vote.

In his own words:

"For woman's suffrage, it was a bloodless revolution. I do not know of another case in history where power was shared so voluntarily as the husbands shared voting power with women. If women had a better conduit to gain that power then [sic] their marriage, you tell me what that was.

My premise is not that marriage itself brings equality. Its not just a name or title or the fact there are two people heading a household. My premise is that integration brings equality, in this case the integration of two distinctly different types of people -- men and women. However superficial and deep the distinctions are between them, they are obvious." (emphasis added)

Seneca Falls, Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, the Men's League for Women's Suffrage, marches and parades that sometimes turned violent when angry male mobs "jeered, tripped, grabbed, and shoved" the marching women? All relatively meaningless. What women really needed to do to get the right to vote was marry men. (Oh, erm, let's just set aside the fact that many leaders of the women's suffrage movement were lesbians). It wasn't the tireless efforts of female and male suffragists that led to voting equality, it was marriage. Why? Because On Lawn says so, that's why.

Now, before addressing On Lawn's claim about the history of women's suffrage, let's notice that highlighted last sentence of his second paragraph where he claims that the distinctions between men and women are "obvious." While the anatomical and physiological differences between men and women are (often, but not always) "obvious," the psychological, temperamental, and spiritual distinctions are hardly so. In On Lawn's statement, we see a clear argumentum ad gastrum- an argument from the gut. Perhaps because the "superficial and deep" distinctions between men and women are "obvious" to On Lawn, he claims that these distinctions are "obvious" as though that is some sort of universal truth observable in reality.

However, like most gender complementarists, he doesn't actually describe these distinctions. And really, I wonder why he doesn't. If these distinctions are so very "obvious," one would have no trouble actually listing them out, would one? Therein, you see, lies the greatest failing of On Lawn's entire ideology. He, and other adherents of gender complementarity, take it as some sort of commonsensical self-evident truth that Men And Women Are Very Very Different From One Another. And thus these folks rarely, if ever, feel the need to actually iterate these differences.

Meanwhile, the rest of us sit here, unconvinced, shaking our heads as to why people believe shit that they can't even explain.

So, moving along to On Lawn's main contention, those having a familiarity with the history of women's suffrage will find it highly ironic that a gender complementarist is claiming that women won the vote because of marriage. See, back in the Good 'Ole Days when women couldn't vote, the "antis" used to say things about ladies that sound quite similar to what gender complementarists sometimes say about ladies. In fact, the overarching anti theme was that Men and Women Were Very Very Different From One Another and specifically, women- unlike men- just weren't cut out for haaaard things like voting.

Observe, the antis in action:

"[Women's] delicate emotional equilibrium could easily upset by a strain-like voting."

"Once a woman arrived [at the poll] she would have to mingle, among the crowds of men who gather around the polls...and to press her way through them to the ballot box. Assuming she reached the polling place, she might get caught in a brawl and given women's natural fragility, she would be the one to get hurt."

"Women in politics would mean corruption and irrationality."

"The question to be simply this: Is it desirable to have women become masculine, instead of retaining the characteristics of her own sex?"

In these arguments we see two familiar sentiments. One, granting equal rights to a certain group of people would utterly destroy society and two, women were inherently much different and less-than men. That the "marriage defense" movement, consequently, echoes both of these sentiments underscores the absurdity of On Lawn's historical revisionism.

It is notable that our internet "marriage defense" friend presents no evidence that it was the integration of the sexes within marriage that led to women's suffrage. It is further notable that he merely notes a phenomenon, that marriage existed, and then notes an "effect," that women's suffrage "then" occurred. If my delicate lady brain wanted to show off, and I find that it does, it would note that On Lawn has committed a classic post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy: Integration of the sexes existed in marriage, then women won the right to vote; therefore integration of the sexes in marriage caused women to win the right to vote.

Which, of course, begs a very important question.

If it is a given that the oh-so-valuable integration of the sexes within marriage has existed throughout pretty much all of human history (as "marriage defenders" so often tell us), isn't the fact that it took thousands of years for women to achieve equal rights with men indeed an incredibly sorry testament to the institution's capacity to cause sex equality in the larger society?

Which then leads to more questions, like...

Given that integration of the sexes within marriage exists in, say, Saudia Arabia, why don't women there have the right to vote if marriage is the single greatest catalyst of women's equality? If the sex integration that is inherent in man-woman marriage indeed fosters so much "love and tolerance" between men and women, as On Lawn claims, why have women required multiple activist movements in order to convince men that they deserve equal rights? If sex integration in marriage led to equality, why did this magical property only affect some men and not the many other husbands who opposed (and still oppose) women's suffrage? Why did so many men historically use marriage, not to advance the status of women in society, but to keep them subordinated?

These are some more ginormous elephants shitting in marriage's room, aren't they?

Unfortunately, instead of acknowledging the crappy smell, On Lawn has conjured up a fantastical version of history in which the mere fact of men and women uniting together in a sacred marital bond magically convinced loving husbands to cede power and allow their ladies to vote.

One wonders why On Lawn doesn't more seriously question whether it was some other factor(s), rather than marriage, that was the real impetus for social change. My guess is that to contemplate other factors that led to women's suffrage would force him to re-think a host of other issues, and that could be very scary.

Interestingly, however, this article purports the exact opposite of On Lawn's claim that sex integration caused women's suffrage. As a brief overview, before the 19th Amendment, women won the right to vote in a state-by-state pattern (somewhat similar to how marriage equality is being won today). Before World War I, women's suffrage was mainly confined to Western states like Wyoming and Utah. Specifically, the economists who authored this article noted that "high sex ratio jurisdictions" where women were scarce compared to men, enfranchised women much earlier than in "jurisdictions in which the sex ratio was more balanced." That is, to use On Lawn-speak, women were more likely to have equal voting rights in jurisdictions that had less sex/gender integration than in jurisdictions where the ratio of men and women was more even.

The explanation for this? Acknowledging that it "was always men, that is male electorates and male state legislators, that granted women access to the ballot," the authors noted that any explanation as to why men did so must necessarily consider the incentives and risks to men in doing so. Whereas On Lawn claims (without providing evidence) that the integration of the sexes led to women's suffrage, the authors of the study concluded:

"[W]ith women being a scarcity, the net benefit of adopting woman suffrage carried lower potential costs to men in terms of risks and devaluation of their political influence; and for legislators in the West, woman suffrage had the added benefit of potentially attracting female settlers."

That is, in states where fewer women existed, men were less politically threatened by the prospect of female voters than in other states. Thus, men were more likely to support women's suffrage when fewer women were around.

Shorter me: Integration FAIL.

All this being said, I do think that marriage could have made some (or even many) men sympathetic to the cause of women's suffrage. If a husband wasn't an asswipe, he would accept the person he vowed to share his life with as his equal. Yet, in the same vein, the importance of other, non-marital, familial relationships between men and women cannot be denied. Men, in addition to sometimes having wives, also have sisters, mothers, daughters, friends, and other loved ones whom they have important relationships with. So, rather than it being some sort of speshul marriage-induced integration of the sexes which caused women's suffrage, we cannot discount the role that these other relationships played in making men sympathetic to the cause. In fact, the legislator who cast the deciding vote for the 19th Amendment was said to have done so at his mother's urging.

So, it is too bad that On Lawn chose not to provide evidence supporting his claim. In the absence of evidence, his argument that it was the marital relationship that was the single most important factor that led to women's suffrage is entirely unconvincing. Indeed, the antis often cited marriage as one of their many reasons as to why women did not require the vote, arguing that it was unnecessary because women would either duplicate or annul the votes of their (more politically important) husbands (PDF). In that way, marriage actually hindered equality.

To end here, addressing On Lawn's claim is of import only because he demonstrates a tendency "marriage defenders" have of creating these fictional narratives that present marriage as some sort of magical, fantastical entity that births nothing but rainbows, unicorns, and perfect happiness (oh yes, and children too). The undertone is always that marriage is something that same-sex couples absolutely cannot tamper with for some reason or another (the ripping apart the Fabric of Society is often mentioned). Yet, when faux-feminist "marriage defense" doods revise the history of a very important women's rights struggle to support an anti-gay agenda, they take their usual boring run-of-the-mill argumentation to an even more abhorrent level.

Interestingly, lurking in On Lawn's argument, I see a malignant, perhaps unintended, message he is making about men. Namely, that men are incapable of recognizing and supporting the equality of women unless they are married to one.

I wonder if that says more about one man than it does about all of them, as a class.

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