Mutual support for all groups seeking their rights?

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.

Should disenfranchised groups hold each other back, or lift each other up? Interesting that the feminists were angry about black men getting the vote:

Dworkin theorized that some women embraced antifeminism, in one form or a combination, as a means of self-preservation in the face of male oppression. “Feminists, from a base of powerlessness, want to destroy that power,” she said. “Right-wing women, from a base of powerlessness, the same base, accommodate to that power because quite simply they see no way out from under.” Dworkin also argued that any disdain antifeminist women felt toward an “other” on the basis of race or another identity marker was really displaced rage they felt toward men. “They are easily controlled and manipulated haters,” she said of these women. “Having good reason to hate, but not the courage to rebel, women require symbols of danger that justify their fear.”

Dworkin’s interpretation was compelling, but it contained two monolithic assumptions: that the patriarchy is an absolute negative for all women, and that women act largely on the basis of their womanhood. In fact, the overlapping lines of race, class, and culture complicate both ideas. What about women who benefit—or want to benefit— from existing structures of dominance? We risk stripping them of responsibility when we suggest that the harm they do is merely a way of coping with their own oppression, whether real or presumed. As Adrienne Rich wrote in Of Woman Born, “Theories of female power and female ascendancy must reckon fully with the ambiguities of our being, with the continuum of our consciousness, the potentialities for both creative and destructive energy in each of us.”

Neither side in the battle over feminism has ever held pure intentions. Many prominent early feminists wanted equal rights for disenfranchised groups, so long as white women got them first. Susan B. Anthony opposed the Fifteenth Amendment, which granted Black men the right to vote in 1870, because it did nothing for women’s suffrage. According to Anthony’s biographer, a fellow suffragist named Ida Husted Harper, the amendment “recognized as the political superiors of all the noble women of the nation the negro men just emerged from slavery, and not only totally illiterate, but also densely ignorant of every public question.” Meanwhile, women who opposed suffrage tended to be married, wealthy, and white. In the north, these women were often located in cities and already engaged in civic or charitable activities; they viewed voting as unnecessary for their ambitions and well-being. In the south, female opponents tended to be upper-class women who, in the wake of the Civil War, were anxious about further disruption to the racial and social order that might diminish their position.

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