Awhile back I commented on a post by a guy (conservative anti-gay type) who, in order to defend "traditional" marriage as between a man and a woman only, created the idea that women's equality came about because of their marriages – that "marriage brings equality," or, the interactions women had with their husbands were what led to women's suffrage, not the marching and the protesting and the blood of courageous women spilled on the ground in protest, along with the cultural change these brave pioneers instigated. (Well, what the heck, as the article in yesterday's post reveals, sometimes "marriage defenders" get desperate.) I wish I had found this website while I was taking issue with his fantasy.
OnLawn works hard to make his case, but the No Longer Quivering bloggers, along with their counterparts such as Our Quiverfull, offer real-time examples of how fully patriarchal marriage – traditional marriage, if you will, from the days before women's suffrage and the feminist movement – works. It's true that women often influence their husbands, even under the most oppressive legal circumstance. John Stuart Mill is an example – way back in the mid-1800's, his relations with his wife led to his essay On the Subjection of Women, where he proposed that women should be wholly equal with men. So I have no doubt that OnLawn's argument about marital interactions and relations is correct – for some men. But reading the accounts of the NLQ bloggers shows the flip side; for many – I would argue most – men, the subjection and submission of women in their households leads to varying levels of abuse, from outright physical and emotional abuse to subtle abuse that amounts to no more than fond contempt, such as one might have for a child or pet – the assumption that women are less competent, less able, less intelligent than men.
Where have you encountered that attitude before?
Even when intended with love and nurturance, that attitude damages women and society by preventing the development of the full potential of both men and women.
I have no doubt that many women were in happy, near-equalitarian relationships with their husbands, back when they were legal chattel. But that is a testament to the quality of their husbands, not to the legal disparity between them, or their powers of persuasion. As Lord Acton said, "Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely." The moral character of men put in a position of absolute power over their wives must have degraded, damaging them as well as their wives. The NLQ bloggers' experience shows that it still degrades. The indoctrination of women from birth in their inferiority and natural submissiveness, along with the promise of reward in the afterlife for that submissiveness and fear of punishment for being uppity (emphasized in the past by executions of women purported to be "witches"), serves only to gain their acquiescence. It, and their marital relations, do nothing to bring equality. I know of no one who, having power, has given it up without a strong demand – often a violent demand – being made to do so.
The husbands of 100 years ago are no different. Equality – or at least, women's suffrage – was brought by the persistent demand of women, led by courageous women such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mary Baker Eddy, and others.