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Alice Duer Miller, a writer and poet, wrote a column in the early 20th century for the New York Tribune called "Are Women People?" In this column, she satirized the ideas of the anti-suffrage movement, as a way of promoting women's suffrage. These were published in 1915 in a book by the same name.
In this column, she sums up reasons given by the anti-suffrage forces arguing against the women's vote. Miller's dry humor comes through as she pairs reasons that contradict each other. Through this simple pairing of mutually contradictory arguments of the anti-suffrage movement, she hopes to show that that their positions are self-defeating. Below these excerpts, you'll find additional information about the arguments made.
Our Own Twelve Anti-Suffragist Reasons
- Because no woman will leave her domestic duties to vote.
- Because no woman who may vote will attend to her domestic duties.
- Because it will make dissension between husband and wife.
- Because every woman will vote as her husband tells her to.
- Because bad women will corrupt politics.
- Because bad politics will corrupt women.
- Because women have no power of organization.
- Because women will form a solid party and outvote men.
- Because men and women are so different that they must stick to different duties.
- Because men and women are so much alike that men, with one vote each, can represent their own views and ours too.
- Because women cannot use force.
- Because the militants did use force.
Reasons #1 and #2
Arguments #1 and #2 are both based on the assumption that a woman has domestic duties, and is based on the separate spheres ideology that women belong in the domestic sphere, taking care of the home and the children, while men belong in the public sphere. In this ideology, women ruled the domestic sphere and men the public sphere-women had domestic duties and men had public duties. In this division, voting is part of public duties, and thus not a woman's proper place. Both arguments assume that women have domestic duties, and both assume that domestic duties and public duties cannot both be attended to by women. In argument #1, it's assumed that all women (all being an obvious exaggeration) will chose to stick with their domestic duties, and thus won't vote even if they win the vote. In argument #2, it's assumed that if women are permitted to vote, that they will all then abandon completely their domestic duties. Cartoons of the time often emphasized the latter point, showing men forced into "domestic duties."
Reasons #3 and #4
In arguments #3 and #4, the common topic is the effect of a woman's vote on marriage, and both assume that husband and wife will discuss their votes. The first of these arguments assumes that if the husband and wife differ on how they'll vote, the fact that she is able to actually cast a vote will make for dissension in the marriage-assuming either that he won't care about her disagreement with his vote if he is the only one to cast a vote, or that she won't mention her disagreement unless she's permitted to vote. In the second, it's assumed that all husbands have the power to tell their wives how to vote, and that the wives will obey. A third related argument, not documented in Miller's list, was that women already had undue influence on voting because they could influence their husbands and then vote themselves, assuming apparently that women had more influence than men than vice versa. The arguments assume different outcomes when a husband and wife disagree about their vote: that the dissension will be a problem only if the woman can vote, that the woman will obey her husband, and in the third argument which Miller doesn't include, that the woman is more likely to shape her husband's vote than vice versa. Not all can be true of all couples who disagree, nor is it a given that husbands will know what their wives votes will be. Or, for that matter, that all women who will vote are married.
Reasons #5 and #6
In this time period, machine politics and their corrupting influence was a common theme already. A few argued for the "educated vote," assuming that many who were uneducated voted merely as the political machine wanted them to. In the words of one speaker in 1909, documented in the New York Times, "The great majority of the Republicans and Democrats follow their leader to the polls as the children followed the Pied Piper."
The domestic sphere ideology that assigns women to the home and men to public life (business, politics) is also assumed here. Part of this ideology assumes that women are more pure than men, less corrupt, in part because they are not in the public realm. Women who are not properly "in their place" are bad women, and thus #5 argues that they will corrupt politics (as if it's not corrupt already). Argument #6 assumes that women, protected by not having the vote from the corrupting influence of politics, will become corrupted by participating actively. This ignores that if politics is corrupt, the influence on women is already a negative influence.
One key argument of the pro-suffrage activists is that in corrupt politics, the pure motives of women entering the political realm will clean it up. This argument may be criticized as similarly exaggerated and based on assumptions about women's proper place.
Reasons #7 and #8
Pro-suffrage arguments included that women's vote would be good for the country because it would lead to needed reforms. Because there was no national experience with what would happen if women could vote, two contradictory predictions were possible by those who opposed women's vote. In reason #7, the assumption was that women were not organized politically, ignoring their organization to win the vote, work for temperance laws, work for social reforms. If women weren't organized politically, then their votes wouldn't be very different from those of men, and there would be no effect of women voting. In reason #8, the pro-suffrage argument about the influence of women in voting was seen as something to fear, that what was already in place, supported by the men who voted, could be overturned if women voted. So these two arguments were mutually incompatible: either women would have an effect on the outcome of voting, or they would not.
Reasons #9 and #10
In #9, the anti-suffrage argument is back to the separate spheres ideology, that men's sphere and women's spheres are justified because men and women are so different, and thus women are necessarily excluded by their nature from the political realm including voting. In #10, an opposite argument is mustered, that wives will vote the same as their husband anyway, to justify that women voting is unnecessary because men can vote what was sometimes called at the time "a family vote."
Reason #10 is also in tension with arguments #3 and #4 which assume that wife and husband will often have disagreement about how to vote.
Part of the separate spheres argument was that women were by nature more peaceful, less aggressive, and thus unsuited to the public sphere. Or, in contrast, the argument was that women were by nature more emotional, potentially more aggressive and violent, and that women were to be relegated to the private sphere so that their emotions would be held in check.
Reasons #11 and #12
Reason #11 assumes that voting sometimes is related to the use of force-voting for candidates who might be pro-war or pro-policing, for instance. Or that politics itself is about force. And then assuming that women are by nature unable to be aggressive or support aggression.
Argument #12 justifies being against women voting, pointing to the force used by British and later American suffrage movements. The argument calls up images of Emmeline Pankhurst, women smashing windows in London, and plays into the idea that women are to be controlled by keeping them in the private, domestic sphere.
Reductio ad absurdum
Alice Duer Miller's popular columns on the anti-suffrage arguments often played on similar reductio ad absurdum logical argument, attempting to show that if one followed all the anti-suffrage arguments, an absurd and untenable result followed, as the arguments contradicted each other. The assumptions behind some arguments, or the conclusions predicted, were impossible to both be true.
Were some of these strawman arguments-that is, a refutation of an argument that wasn't really being made, an inaccurate view of the other side's argument? When Miller characterizes the opposing arguments as implying that all women or all couples would do one thing, she may move into strawman territory.
While sometimes exaggerating, and perhaps weakening her argument if she were in a merely logical discussion, her purpose was satire-to highlight through her dry humor the contradictions inherent in the arguments against women getting the vote.