30 June 2020

Fall of the Empire, Thy Name is... Woman?

[This is our first new content in over a year... Thanks for your patience!]

This past March, as the coronavirus raged, 'International Women's Day' would be the last major public gathering for many months. The UN's Antonio Gutierrez remarked:
Men have used and abused power to control women and prevent them from achieving their potential for millennia. Deep-rooted patriarchy and misogyny have created a yawning gender power gap in our economies, our political systems, our corporations, our societies and our culture.
Women are still very frequently denied a voice; their opinions are ignored and their experience discounted. There is no justification for women’s continued exclusion. 

It's true that for most of human history, women and their way of seeing the world have been shut out from the halls of power. In the late 18th century, antiquarian Thomas Amyot summed up the spirit of the age by claiming that women were
‘formed for the lighter duties of Life,’ because of the ‘delicacy of their Frames, the Sensibility of their Dispositions, and, above all the Caprice of their Tempers.’ He proclaimed: ‘A virtuous wife and an affectionate Mother are perhaps the most amiable Characters in the Universe. To these Characters let every female aspire and let us hear no more of the Rights of Woman.’ 

In 1871 Madeleine Dahlgren, writer, poet, and founder of the Literary Society of Washington, led a petition before Congress asking them not to give women the vote:
The advocates of female suffrage claim that if women had the right to vote they would purify legislation of many abuses. But, on the other hand, we hold that the new status will prove to be the worst kind of communism. 
… The mothers, sisters, and daughters of our glorious past will exist no more and the female gender will vanish into the epicene. Involved in one common ruin from our present proud preeminence, we shall become a laughing-stock and a by-word to the nations of the world. 
The special advantage as a safe advisor to man that woman holds at present arises entirely from the neutral ground she occupies in the political world. … The fact is, women reason less and feel more deeply than men. … Take woman out of her proper sphere, and in place of man's precious and true guide and best coadjutor she becomes his worst antagonist and enemy. (1)

But the sufragettes fought hard. At the height of the debates in 1917, feminist Olive Schreiner laid out their plans:
'For the present we take all labor for our provinceFrom the judge's seat to the legislator's chair; from the stateman's closet to the merchant's desk; from the chemist's laboratory to the astronomer's tower, there is no post or form of toil for which it is not our intention to fit ourselves. There is no closed door we do not intend to force open, no fruit in the garden of knowledge it is not our determination to eat.' (2)
In the ensuing century, not only has all this come to pass, but the feminine spirit has seeped into every nook and cranny of Western society. Have the results been to our benefit?