Against Women’s Suffrage

On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the thirty-sixth and final state to approve the Nineteenth Amendment. Having achieved a three-quarters majority of the 48 states (Alaska and Hawaii were still territories), the U.S. Constitution officially declared: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

One hundred years later to the day, any sober and dispassionate mind must conclude that giving ladies the right to vote was the single greatest catastrophe in the history of our storied republic.

Newspaper articles from the 1920s give the impression that women themselves were opposed to women’s suffrage. G. K. Chesterton wryly noted that “females may vote about everything except Female Suffrage.” And Chesterton was only one of many Catholic luminaries of the last century who found himself on the right (albeit the losing) side of history on this issue.

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Hilaire Belloc, for instance, wrote: “I call it immoral, because I think the bringing of one’s women, one’s mothers and sisters into the political arena, disturbs the relations between the sexes.” Belloc might’ve been a little indelicate, but his point is certainly valid. Granting women the right to vote suggests that their political interests could potentially be at odds with their husbands’.

As always, Belloc was prophetic. In 2017, Harpers Bazaar editor-at-large Jennifer Wright urged women: “If your partner is a Trump supporter and you are not, just divorce them.” Why? Because “supporting Trump at this point does not indicate a difference of opinions. It indicates a difference of values,” and “if you saddle yourself with someone who fundamentally does not share your values, you’re going to be unbelievably, achingly lonely.”

The intelligent reader might suggest that, if you didn’t explore one another’s “values” before getting hitched, your problems started long before the 2016 election.

But Ms. Wright isn’t really talking about values. Mr. Trump doesn’t, as she claims, “endorse police brutality.” (By the way, she’s referring to a speech President Trump gave to a group of New York police officers. Mr. Trump said that, when putting a suspect in their cruiser, they shouldn’t ease the perp’s head through the door. “You can take the hand away,” he joked.) Still, that’s not a value. Whether or not the police should take special care of suspects who don’t know how to sit down in a car isn’t a value. She’s talking about ideology.

Even most non-religious Americans use some form of the traditional Christian wedding vow: “For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in good times and in bad, in sickness and health, until death do us part.” Or if we don’t vote for the same presidential candidate, I suppose. Whichever comes first.

Belloc was right. If the home isn’t safe from ideology, then we have already achieved what Victor Davis Hanson once called “the politicization of everything.” We are no longer people, but political actors. Our final loyalty is to a party or a set of abstract socio-economic principles. Our highest purpose in life is to serve a faction and its secular dogmata.

Virtuous men—men with true values—are animated by love, piety, and honor. Homo politicus is merely a vessel for ideology. He is driven by resentment, ambition, and power. The politicized man is barely a man at all.

Of course, this trend didn’t begin with women’s suffrage. As with most social evils, it can be traced back to the French Revolution. The social critic George Steiner (no counter-revolutionary, he!) lamented that the Jacobins “abolished the millennial barrier between common life and the enormities of the historical. Past the hedge and gate of even the humblest garden march the bayonets of political ideology and historic conflict.” What the Nineteenth Amendment did was tear up the hedges, throw open the gate, and let ideology plant itself by the hearth.

As always, Chesterton himself put it more eloquently than I could. He understood that, rather than empowering women, the suffragettes would only succeed in empowering the government. As he wrote in Whats Wrong with the World,

Males, like females, in the course of that old fight between the public and private house, had indulged in over-statement and extravagance, feeling that they must keep up their end of the see-saw. We told our wives that Parliament had sat late on most essential business; but it never crossed our minds that our wives would believe it.

We said that everyone must have a vote in the country; similarly our wives said that no one must have a pipe in the drawing-room. In both cases the idea was the same. “It does not matter much, but if you let those things slide there is chaos.” We said that Lord Huggins or Mr. Buggins was absolutely necessary to the country. We knew quite well that nothing is necessary to the country except that the men should be men and the women women. We knew this; we thought the women knew it even more clearly; and we thought the women would say it.

Suddenly, without warning, the women have begun to say all the nonsense that we ourselves hardly believed when we said it. The solemnity of politics; the necessity of votes; the necessity of Huggins; the necessity of Buggins; all these flow in a pellucid stream from the lips of all the suffragette speakers. I suppose in every fight, however old, one has a vague aspiration to conquer; but we never wanted to conquer women so completely as this.

Curiously, Emma Goldman agreed with him. The feminist icon and anarchist writer was a staunch opponent of the early women’s suffrage movement. As she explained,

Since woman’s greatest misfortune has been that she was looked upon as either angel or devil, her true salvation lies in being placed on earth; namely, in being considered human, and therefore subject to all human follies and mistakes. Are we, then, to believe that two errors will make a right? Are we to assume that the poison already inherent in politics will be decreased, if women were to enter the political arena? The most ardent suffragists would hardly maintain such a folly.

Perhaps because she was an anarchist, Goldman feared man’s (and woman’s) transformation into Homo politicus. Merely cutting the pie into more and smaller pieces wouldn’t change the fact that the pie itself is rancid.

Now, it shouldn’t really matter who has the right to vote. Politics is about establishing wise policy and just laws; the sex of the voters who vote for those policies, or of the legislators who pass those laws, oughtn’t to make a difference. (Belloc and Chesterton were adamant on this point. They weren’t concerned what women would do to the vote: they were concerned about what the vote would do to women.)

Modern feminists—who are really misandrists—do not agree. The “girl power” movement insists that female politicians are inherently superior to their male counterparts. Gwen K. Young, president of the Global Women’s Leadership Institute, wrote in a 2016 op-ed for CNN,

The evidence shows that female leaders typically have more compassion and empathy, and a more open and inclusive negotiation style. This is not, of course, necessarily true of all women—there are many different leadership styles. That said, modern ideas of transformative leadership are more in line with qualities women generally share: empathy, inclusiveness and an open negotiation style.

Notice how feminists talk about femininity—that is, the virtues inherent in biological females—only when it suits them. There’s no fuss about “gender roles” or “performative gender” being a “social construct.”

Notice, too, that Ms. Young only qualifies those terms so as not to offend women who opt for a less “typically feminine” “leadership style.” So, we need more women in office, whether they’re empathetic, inclusive, and open or (what?) cold, distant, and pig-headed. Something tells me she’s just looking for an excuse to vote against men.

Regardless, we’ve clearly lost sight of the whole point of politics. Government isn’t about feelings. Democracy isn’t about choosing the nicest or even the most virtuous candidate. It’s about selecting lawmakers who will introduce sensible, useful legislation.

Does anyone—conservative or progressive—believe that our laws have become more sound, and our government more useful, over the last one hundred years? If not, we should do one really sound and sensible thing: take away women’s right to vote.

The fallout from the Nineteenth Amendment was not limited to government, either. Having “liberated” women politically in 1920, feminists quickly set about “liberating” women economically and socially as well. The result has been no less disastrous.

The 1930s marked a real advent in the movement for women to free themselves from their male relatives by putting off marriage, moving to the city, and entering the labor pool. This would earn her more respect in the eyes of her father and her future husband. Who knows? She might keep working after marriage, giving the household more disposable income and asserting a more equitable relationship with her spouse.

The result was the total disruption of the American social and economic order.

Writing in Free America back in 1937, Mrs. Ralph Borsodi pleaded with her sex to ignore the noisome feminist propaganda about “independence” and consider the more fundamental question:

What concerns me most is the question of what is a good way for the average woman to live. I do not believe that spending the best part of her life in a cannery, a textile mill, a garment factory, a power laundry, nor even behind the counters of a department store or sitting behind a typewriter, is as good a way to live as most of the defenders of industrialism and socialism seem to believe. For the average woman, it seems to me that running a home, taking care of and training her children, and doing creative work—as crafts like sewing and weaving as well as cooking and washing—is a better way of living…

I don’t want the millions of women who have chosen homemaking as a career to think they are producing less than the women who earn a little cash each week. And above all, I don’t want those who are choosing their life-work to feel that they must abandon the country for the city, postpone marriage until they are too old to adjust to it, and give up the idea of establishing a family, because “progress” requires that they live in city flats, take city jobs, and spend their time in city shopping.

Here we already see how the feminist wedge drove husbands and wives apart, resulting in the wholesale destruction of the American family and the near-abolition of rural America.

Women’s suffrage was the major (and probably fatal) shift from the traditional, Christian order to a new, atomized modernity. We came to regard the individual—not the family—as the fundamental unit of society. It was a return to the dark, Hobbesian view of society as the bellum omnium contra omnes: an endless, all-consuming struggle between men and women for privilege and power. The sanctuary of the hearth was abolished entirely. And, in time, husbands and wives became business rivals as well as political opponents.

What’s more, with women deserting the home for offices and factories, families ceased to be self-sustaining units. Once upon a time, mothers and fathers were providers and pedagogues as well as progenitors. Now, once the carnal act is complete, both parties become totally irrelevant. Jill can happily frolic with Jack out by the well, knowing that if she should fall pregnant there exists a massive welfare apparatus to support her. Or she can simply abort the child. Whichever is more convenient. Today, the government will even pay to kill the child for her! What a brave, new world we live in.

(It works out pretty well for Jack, too. He can have his dalliance without fear of having to provide for Jill and their child. If she does decide to terminate the pregnancy, she’ll carry the psychological burden for the rest of her life. But not Jack! He can trot back down the hill without a worldly care to vex his poor crown. Even if he does the decent thing and marries her, he can file for divorce as soon as he gets bored, no questions asked.)

Incidentally, it was Britain’s Conservative Party that enfranchised women in 1928. The Tories believed that women, as rulers of the domestic sphere, would be natural traditionalists. And, for a time, they were. In the United States, for instance, most women voted for Herbert Hoover (a Republican) in 1928 because he supported Prohibition. But they switched to Franklin Delano Roosevelt (a Democrat) in 1932 precisely because of his promise to erect a vast nanny state. Go figure.

Even in two-income households, the outlook is grim. With Mr. and Mrs. Smith both working nine to five, who’s going to mind the children? Once upon a time, they could have used some of Mrs. Smith’s new disposable income to hire a nanny. But, naturally, corporations got wise. As the average household income rose by 50 to 100 percent, merchants realized they could charge between 50 to 100 percent more for their goods. Now we have the public school system: a vast, grossly inefficient, taxpayer-funded babysitting service.

Hence, the average home cost about twice the average worker’s annual salary in 1930, but four times his (or her) salary in 1980. Two-income families became the norm, and the market responded by driving up the cost of living. Today, most women couldn’t dream of being a homemaker even if they wanted to—and many do. This is the “two-income trap” bemoaned by reactionary senator Elizabeth Warren in her 2004 book of the same name.

Corporations and government have both grown fat picking at the carcass of the American family. Is this “independence,” Ms. Anthony? Do you feel “liberated,” Mrs. Stanton?

There are a variety of social programs that might be pursued in order to reverse the decline of American family and restore the family to its rightful place at the center of our society. For starters, an aggressive protectionist regime would help return manufacturing from overseas. Fathers could earn a “family wage,” allowing their wives to stay home and raise their children.

Tax incentives for small businesses would encourage working-class citizens to move out of the cities and begin repopulating the heartland. A levy on unproductive land, meanwhile, would make property ownership more widely available and incentivize local agriculture. Tighter border restrictions would end the influx of cheap, foreign workers, which drives down wages in manual labor. A shift away from the college-preparatory model of education towards vocational schools and apprenticeships would fill massive gaps in the trades.

Having thus made it easier and more affordable to support a family on a single wage, we could begin slashing the bloated welfare state that rewards sloth and stunts real economic production.

And we might end no-fault divorce, too, which reduces marriage to a clause in an insurance policy. When a man and a woman make a lifelong commitment to one other in the eyes of God and the state, let it mean something.

Of course, all of this would require a fundamental shift in the way we think about human happiness. Both men and women must learn (or remember) that happiness comes not from “independence” but from dependence. That is what a family is: a tiny kingdom, whose members are bound together by bonds of duty and necessity in equal parts.

More than that, a family is love. And love isn’t jealous or arrogant or resentful. It doesn’t insist on its own way. It’s a wife being subject to her husband, as the Church is subject to Christ. It’s a husband giving himself up for his wife, as Christ gave Himself up for the Church.

But this is not a theological argument. The Christian vision of marriage and family ought to resonate with anyone possessed of a little humility and common sense. There’s no alternative, save for the “war of all against all.”

As in the family, so too in government. Laws do not only exist to secure public order; they exist to guard the social order as well. Our laws should reflect our customs and norms—not some noxious ideology, but our values. Over the last century, we’ve strayed far from the values that made this country strong. But there is one simple way to put us back on the right track: repeal the Nineteenth Amendment.


  • Michael Warren Davis

    Michael Warren Davis is a contributing editor of The American Conservative and the author of The Reactionary Mind (Regnery, 2021). He previously served as editor of Crisis Magazine and U.S. editor of the Catholic Herald of London. His next book, After Christendom, will be published by Sophia Institute Press. Follow his Substack newsletter, The Common Man.

tagged as: Feminism Politics

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