Back to the basics

Allison Kasic

8/25/2006 12:04:13 AM - Allison Kasic

This weekend, a little-known feminist holiday honors some of the bravest women in American history: the suffragists. Women’s Equality Day reminds us how far women in America have advanced since gaining the right to vote in 1920. It also showcases how distorted the feminist movement has become since the days of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

In 1971, Congress designated August 26th as Women’s Equality Day to commemorate the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. The suffragists, (later deemed “first-wave” feminists) fought for over seventy years for basic women’s rights and were often met with hostility and even violence. The movement had its formal beginnings in 1848 at the legendary women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, but did not achieve victory until 1920. Many, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, did not live to see the enfranchisement they so passionately fought for.

Today, the feminist movement carries on. But with what priorities?

In the 1960s, a second wave of feminism sought to pick up where the suffragists left off: fighting for women’s equality. Led by such women as Gloria Steinem and the late Betty Friedan, second-wave feminists initially challenged society to accept a larger role for women outside of the home. They fought for women to have access to higher education and for equality in the workforce.

Their success deserves celebration. Unfortunately, modern feminists advance an agenda at odds with this legacy.

One needs to look no further than the feminist agenda to see how far they have veered off course. Modern second-wave feminists fight against school choice, Social Security reform, and a host of other programs that would, to use their favorite phrase, “empower” women. Reliance on men is horrible, but reliance on big government is encouraged!

Their priorities range from the misguided (using the well-intentioned Title IX to take away opportunities for men rather than create new opportunities for women) to trivial (NOW’s recent campaign to stop ABC from canceling the unpopular TV show “Commander in Chief”).

All the while, they shout “oppression!” at the hands of “the patriarchy.” If feminism had an official hobby it would undoubtedly be complaining about how bad things are for women in America. Would the suffragists support such a bitter and cranky women’s movement?

I like to imagine a conversation between radical feminist Gloria Steinem and suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Steinem relays tales of “oppression” to her feminist compatriot. Stanton says, “You wouldn’t know oppression if it smacked you in the face.” At least, that’s what she would be thinking; I imagine that statement may be a touch uncouth for a lady of the nineteenth century.

Radical feminists have forgotten the roots of feminism. They have distorted the term so much that many young women shy away from it, refusing to label themselves as feminists. They have reduced “women’s issues” to an incessant debate over reproductive rights, complaining about fictional forms of oppression ad nauseam in the process.

Worst of all, throughout all their complaining, the feminist movement ignores the plight of women around the world. Feminists from Hillary Clinton to Code Pink have even gone so far as to say that Iraqi women were better off under Saddam Hussein. Better off under an oppressive dictator? That hardly sounds like a voice of justice and equality for women.

From the liberated women in Afghanistan who for years lived in fear under the oppressive regime of the Taliban to the women of Kuwait who were, like the American women a century ago, recently enfranchised, it is clear that the real battle for women’s equality is abroad. And I think the suffragists would be up for that fight, congratulating the Kuwaiti women for their victory and moving on to enfranchise women in another country.

This weekend, pay tribute to the original feminists. And hope that the next generation of feminists (a budding third wave) will take a lesson out of their playbook and fight for women’s suffrage around the world, rather than harp on trivial matters at home.

Allison Kasic is director of campus programs at the Independent Women's Forum.