"Some of us have heard it all before" image courtesy of Unsplash.com

Well founded views? Tired old rhetoric? or Abuse based on fear and hatred?

We have consciously included anti-suffrage propaganda on this website.

This is done to show that there were many strongly put arguments against recognising the right of women to vote.

No doubt some of these arguments were put by people acting in "good-faith".

It is also true that many anti-suffragists were simply ignorant.

It is also true that many were motivated by fear and hatred.

Those acting in "good faith" and those acting in ignorance were caught up in the rhetoric of those acting out of fear and hatred.

The result was to spawn negative arguments that played on:

  1. denigration of women and their supporters - particular targets are sexuality, moral looseness, dress, appearance, effectiveness, sincerity, callousness or underhanded motivation
  2. diversion to other 'more serious' topics
  3. imagining of unspecified harms
  4. imposing an identity created by the dominant culture
  5. casting the other as deserving of emotional, physical or sexual violence, or
  6. over-complicating the situation

As an example, take the words of Queen Victoria herself "in a private letter to Sir Theodore Martin in 1870, having heard that Viscountess Amberley had become president of the Bristol and West of England Women's Suffrage Society and had addressed a public public meeting on the subject":

I am most anxious to enlist everyone who can speak or write to join in checking this mad, wicked folly of "Women's Rights", with all its attendant horrors, on which her poor feeble sex is bent, forgetting every sense of womanly feeling and propriety. Lady Amberley ought to get a good whipping. Were woman to unsex themselves by claiming equality with men, they would become the most hatefulheathen and disgusting of beings and would surely perish without male protection.

In this very short piece, Queen Victoria scores quite highly in terms of her use of a good number of the arguments of fear and hatred.

In 1888, David Buchanan, a former member of the New South Wales parliament wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald to voice trenchant opposition to the plans of Sir Henry Parkes to enact female suffrage in that colony. Parkes is accused of 'strange delusions, and somewhat grotesque notions and ideas in his old age.' Chief of these was to provide suffrage to women which would 'degrade them into noisy, brawling politicians.' According to David, the peace and quiet of domestic life 'adorned by the graceful presence of numerous numerous interesting and attractive women' would be lost in the depravity of politics. David does advocate a smaller parliament (cutting 50 seats) to 'give us a better class of men, more capable and less useless and obstructive' and thinks it a good idea for women to 'serve in all shops instead of men' and enter the professions. Perhaps David's most important theme - which is a critical barrier to the acceptance of 5050 balance is that women 'are well represented by their fathers, husbands and brothers.' That is the crux of current thinking 128 years later, that suggests we do not need equal gender representation, or that it must not upset male perceptions of 'merit' in a male dominated system.

We can now see that all of the anti-suffrage arguments were simply rubbish put up against the clear and irrefutable argument that each person has human rights that must be recognised, cherished and protected. It is unlikely that today you could find someone in a western liberal democracy who (at least publicly) would say that women should not vote - although of course that is not guaranteed.  

(We also reckon that if we looked, we could also find a long list of reasons against the abolition of state-sanctioned slavery from the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries by otherwise reasonable sounding people.)

Perhaps the most disturbing trend to emerge more recently is the argument that women in Australia ought consider themselves grateful for what they have. This is expressed sometimes as "get real, first world problem, you are lucky you don't live ... and are not being raped by ...". 

Of course, this is no more than a verbal extension of the most vile and destructive forms of sexualised violence that is all too commonplace.

Naysayer bingo - can you help us fill in the gaps?

THE FOLLOWING LIST RECORDS THE ARGUMENTS AGAINST RECOGNISING THAT WOMEN HAVE THE RIGHT TO VOTE:

The following list was compiled by the creator of British Women's Emancipation since the Renaissance.

It records arguments put in the House of Commons by members of the all-male parliament against the Women's Disabilities (Removal) Bill (to give women the vote) between 1870 and 1904. The Bill had a checkered history and kept re-surfacing across those 34 years - (1870 (twice), 71, 72, 73, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 83, 84 (twice), 86, 92, 97, 1904).

Balanced against these negative views there is a good story in that the sponsors of the Bill persisted and kept bringing it back for debate time and time again.

Of interest here is whether people today repeat the arguments of more than 100 years ago to argue against women having an equal share of parliamentary representation.

 

Women are by nature and also according to God and the Bible meant to be subordinated to men

A news report suggests that Archbishop Glenn Davies may have claimed this spot in February 2016. Of course it may be out of context but a news report says: 

In explaining his view that the Bible says men and women have different roles in society and that God intended men to be the "heads" of women, many present believed he was saying women should not aspire to the same career heights as men.

Interestingly, on the consecration of senior female clerics see who attended the consecration of Australia's first female diocesan bishop in 2014.

Politics was none of women's business; they knew nothing, and indeed should know nothing, about it

 

Women knew nothing of trade, commerce, finance, the military or the law, and therefore had nothing to contribute to politics

There is a hint of this in the reporting of the Australia's first female Minister for Defence in September 2015. Early in this piece we learn that the new Minister has a boyfriend and later it is said...  
Though much of the celebration around Senator Payne’s appointment has centred around the fact that she is a woman, her supporters are keen to point out the merits of the Prime Minister’s decision to hand her the coveted portfolio.

Women are - or should be - far too busy with their home and community duties to take part in politics

 

Women were too dainty and delicate for the rough and tumble of politics

 

The majority of women did not want the vote, that it would be placing an unwanted burden on them

 

Men are made for public life; women for private

 

Allowing women any say in parliament would make it weak ('petticoat government')

 

Elevating women's status was contrary to the Bible and contrary to God's intended plan for women

 

It was a Trojan Horse: if you let them vote then soon they'd demand to become MPs, which, it was self-evident, would be absurd

 

Anyone can get up a petition and get ignorant women to sign it

 

If women took part in politics they would be 'timid in time of panic and violent in time of outbreak'

 

If women were on the electoral register they would have to serve on juries, and would hear things women should not hear (i.e sex crimes)

 

Only people who could fight in a war ought to have the vote, and women clearly could not

 

Only people who could be police officers, JPs, jurymen and bishops ought to have the vote, and women clearly could not

 

Women of all classes are already represented in parliament via the votes cast by the men in their family

 

Women already had a huge amount of influence over men, and therefore over parliament; giving them the vote gave them too much power

 

Only men should legislate for women because only men know what is good for women

 

Women have no grievances, or if they have, these can be put right by men

 

Women's interests in parliament are already protected by men

 

Men have lately passed several laws in women's benefit

 

Because it 'one of the most preposterous and, at the same time, one of the most revolutionary suggestions that could possibly be agitated'

 

Women would be hardened and sullied by politics, would become manly and unfeminine

 

Women would be over-excited by politics and would have nervous breakdowns

 

Women are too easily influenced by clergymen and their male relatives, giving the man who influences her, in effect, two votes

 

Men would cease to be courteous or chivalrous to women if they had the vote

 

(Said by Liberals) Women are Conservative by nature, and the Liberals would lose the next election

 

(Said by Conservatives) Votes for women will lead inevitably to socialism

 

(Said by Labour party)Votes for women would merely enfranchise even more of the propertied classes

 

Men are logical, stable, thoughtful and strongminded; women are ornamental, quick-tempered, illogical, fickle and emotional

 

If women cease to be under men's protection they would be in competition with men and, being weaker, they would be oppressed and eventually go under

 

If women had votes they would be relentlessly harassed and pestered by politicians on polling days

 

If women had votes they would outnumber male voters, parliament would become feminised and Britain the laughing stock of the world