Suffering for Suffrage: Racism in the Women’s Suff Essay

This essay has a total of 1229 words and 7 pages.

Suffering for Suffrage: Racism in the Women’s Suffrage Movement


Historically, women have been excluded from the many liberties men have arranged for
themselves. From the disregarding of women from being considered ‘Elect’ during the
Puritan era, to the modern instances of women lacking equal compensation. According to
Charlotte Gilman, even religion, the woman’s help, was ‘tainted’ and injured by coming
through the minds of men alone (Gilman, p. 370). Men have molded American society to
exclusively adhere to their personal desires.



In spite of the many disenfranchisements, some women however, refused to passively submit
to such conditions. They knew that the only way to influence change was suffrage. The
first women's rights meeting in the United States held at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848,
itself followed several decades of a quietly-emerging egalitarian spirit among women. This
was the birth of women’s suffrage.



Throughout the long road of suffrage there was somewhat confusion about what political
focus will be granted the most attention. White women wanted equal rights and slavery
abolished, but, they didn’t want to be equal to Blacks, even after the Civil War. If they
were granted their citizenship rights would this mean that Black women were to be granted
those rights as well? When it appeared that white men might grant black men the right to
vote while leaving white women disenfranchised, white women suffragists did not respond as
a group by demanding that all women and men deserved the right to vote (Hooks, Bell p.
127). In order to maintain their political autonomy and protect their personal missions of
gaining equality amongst themselves, many of the white women suffragist used what appeared
at the time as racial discrimination to keep Black women at a distance to get white men to
address their agendas. According to Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique and
ardent feminist, the women’s movement was supposed to remain distant and excluded from the
blacks’ struggle for civil rights. She goes further to explain that feminists could not
assume the ideologies in black power would work for them. “Our tactics and strategy, above
all, our ideology must be firmly based in the historical, biological, economic, and
psychological reality of our two-sexed world, which is not the same as the black reality,
(Freidan, pg. 467).” This doesn’t quite disprove or prove that there was racism within the
women’s movement; however, it does give another view of the white women’s decision to
exclude black women from their agenda and focus on liberating themselves.



Attempting to understand Freidman’s position of women’s rights movements being exclusively
focused on white women, there is conflict in her argument when she wanted to have sex
discrimination laws added to the Civil Rights Act. If she didn’t feel that the blacks’
struggle for civil rights was a good method for women to use in earning their rights, how
is the Civil Rights legislation different? Maybe wanting sex added to the Civil Rights Act
Freidan’s way of saying that her view of why women suffrage should be separate from the
black movements wasn’t influenced by racism but based solely on the speed of progress.



Ardent white women’s rights advocates like Elizabeth Cady Stanton who had never before
argued for women’s rights on a racially imperialistic platform expressed outrage that
inferior Blacks should be granted the vote while “superior” white women remained
disenfranchised (Hooks, Bell p.127) Stanton argued:



“If Saxon men have legislated thus for their own mothers, wives and daughters, what can we
hope for at the hands of Chinese, Indians, and Africans? ... I protest against the
enfranchisement of another man of any race or clime until the daughters of Jefferson,
Hancock, and Adams are crowned with their rights (Hooks, Bell p. 127).”



To black women the issue is not whether white women are more or less racist than white
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