Why We Should Stop Romanticizing The Women’s Suffrage Movement

Women Suffrage Movement BeLatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of wvxu.org

The mighty are falling in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement’s current rise, and thanks to the conscious alertness of new generations. Finally, so-called iconic figures and events are being dragged on the floor, and we all get to watch. 

Yesterday was Women’s Equality Day. Imagine that — a day pinpointed to honor women’s progress in the United States and commemorate the passage of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. On paper, it sounds great. But once we rip the blood-stained veil covering America, the reality is that this type of equality was reserved for white women, especially those coming from middle-class to well-off families. So much for equality.

My favorite type of exercise (and the only type I’m willing to do at the moment if we’re honest here) is exercising my right to vote. There’s no denying that. I’m aware that the Women’s Suffrage Movement was the foundation upon which women were granted the right to vote in the US. Even though I am grateful for all the things I am able to do in this time of age, I, like you, shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the complicated history behind women’s fight for progress in this nation. 

Let’s stop beating around the bush. The early stages of the Suffrage Movement were racist and Susan B. Anthony was at the forefront. I know many of us are taught to idolize this movement, but we need to stop romanticizing it. This wasn’t a walk in the park for many. Black women and Latinas continued to struggle with their own sense of equality and acceptance within the nation (and still do) after the 19th Amendment was ratified into the US Constitution in 1920. 

Recently, Trump decided to make a ruckus in a White House ceremony questioning why Susan B. Anthony has yet to be pardoned. Is this what a “woke” Trump sounds like? Sure, it’s a terrible thing that she was arrested in 1872 for voting before it was legal for women to do so, but let’s not forget how she pivoted the idea of women casting their ballots: by turning on Black men’s right to vote. 

Anthony famously said, “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the N***o and not the woman.” According to her, exposing her racism was the appropriate tactic to fight for women. 

This all came about during 1869 when the 15th Amendment was proposed. The  legislative move would make it so no one (meaning men, since women were barely considered human beings during this time) could be denied the right to vote based on their “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” 

So, many Suffrage Movement warriors decided to shift their focus from their pro-abolitionist rhetoric to one where they adopted racism as retaliation against an Amendment that wasn’t gender inclusive. However, the few Black women that took part in the Suffragists’ circle were not on board with this new strategy. 

Black suffragists like Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells-Barnett, who started their activism by fighting against the lynching of the Black community, were puzzled by this new narrative. 

Ida B. Wells-Barnett BeLatina Latinx
Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Photo courtesy of The Guardian.

In Wells-Barnett’s autobiography, Crusade for Justice, she speaks about her experience with the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Although she describes Susan B. Anthony as a “dear friend,” it was evident that she often perceived Anthony as troublesome. 

There’s a passage in the book where she writes about a time when Anthony confided in her about Frederick Douglass’, a social reformer and former slave, participation in the suffrage movement. As per the book, Anthony told Wells she had asked Douglass not to attend an event in Atlanta her suffrage organization had been invited to because she didn’t want to “subject him to humiliation.” 

Anthony also said that she did not want anything to get in the way of bringing the Southern white women into her suffrage association, especially since they started showing some interest. That is to say that Susan B. Anthony did not want to upset the oh-so-sensitive Southern women by having them interact with someone like Douglass, hence further exposing her racism. 

Another prominent suffragist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, also turned a blind eye for the sake of women’s equality. 

If you ask me, that reasoning is as hollow as the morning prayers in a Catholic high school. Stanton believed white women should be granted the vote to provide balance for the newly enfranchised Black men and the increase of immigrants entering the US.  She tried to support her argument by writing the following: “The best interests of the nation demand that we outweigh this incoming pauperism, ignorance, and degradation with the wealth, education, and refinement of the women of the republic.” 

For someone who wanted to fight for what was right, there was a lot of wrong in that statement. 

Even though the Women’s Suffrage Movement was a significant step towards a world where women’s voice matters, it didn’t start as pure as we hoped. It seems as though the equality early suffragists were aiming was one that benefited white women, all while oppressing other women who didn’t possess eurocentric features. 

Unfortunately, true equality for all women continues to be a challenge to this day. The inequalities women experience manifests itself every day. It shows up in the disparity of job opportunities, the wage gap, and the lack of safety many women of underserved communities feel. We have a long way to go, but there’s no denying that we are closer than before. 

As for now, we can commend Women’s Equality Day for putting women on the map, but that’s about it. 

The best thing we can do to rectify women’s history complications is to start preparing for another movement where all women can thrive. One where we will uplift and support each other. A movement where we will fight for the rights of women that come from different walks of life. It’s time we start a revolution that puts women at the frontline. Will you join me?