Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Goddess Who Would Be Isis - Part II (first part of it really)

First Wave Feminism is rooted in the struggle for the vote, equal access to education, and reform of laws, particularly associated with marriage. Its theory was that god granted natural rights, and that women being the equal of men in these natural rights, deserved political rights as well. While FWF is often presented as a construction of industrialization, it is more complex than this, as can be seen from the pattern of adoption of FWF into law. While the writing leadership and permanent organization was based in large urban and industrial centers, the adoption of FWF occurred in peripheral areas of industrial systems: Australia and New Zealand were the first countries to establish women's suffrage, and the adoption in the United States was led by states to the West of the Mississippi.

What is startling, as I mentioned in the last post, is the way the struggle is presented in the texts of the time. In the time period the anti-suffrage forces, unknowingly, cast the debate in the same terms as the Hathor myth: that is, that a woman without agency is a loving domestic goddess, revered for her love of the arts and bliss; but when granted agency through the vote, she becomes an unlovable creature who is not capable of using the tools of equality. Or the Hathor/Sekhmet duality. Let me take this section from a speech against suffrage from Elihu Root:

Elihu Root in 1894:

I am opposed to the granting of suffrage to women, because I believe it would be a lose to women, to all women and to every woman and because I believe it would be an injury to the State, and to every man and every woman in the State. It would be useless to argue this if the right of suffrage were a natural right. If it were a natural right, then women should have it though the heavens fall...

Into my judgement, sir,there enters no element of the inferiority of woman. There could not, sir, for I rejoice in the tradition and in the memory and the possession of a home where woman reigns with the acknowledged superiority in all the nobler, and the higher attributes that by common, by universal, consent, determine rank among the highest of the children of God.

Woman rules to-day by the sweet and noble influences of her character. Put women into the arena of conflict and she abandons these great weapons which control the world, and she takes into her hands, feeble and nerveless for strife, weapons with which she is unfamiliar and which she is unable to wield. Woman in strife becomes hard, harsh, unlovable, repulsive; as far removed from that gentle creature to whom we all owe allegiance and to whom we confess submission, as the heaven is removed from the earth. Government, Mr. President, is protection.

So Elihu Root's argument touches directly on the archetype of Hathor/Sekhment, and attempts to address the Eeset myth: the legitimacy of the state rests on the power of war, and women are not, by their nature, capable in war.

This assertion, that democratic legitimacy is rooted in war, is also in the hand of a woman anti-suffrage writer, Heln Kendrick Johnson, in her short book polemic, Women and the Republic:

As I read political history, the facts go to show that the fundamental principles of our Government are more opposed to the exercise of suffrage by women than are those of monarchies. To me it seems that both despotism and anarchy are more friendly to woman's political aspirations than is any form of constitutional government, and that manhood suffrage, and not womanhood, suffrage, is the final result of the evolution of democracy.

She sets political equality against the protection of sphere explicitly in her last chapter:

Mrs. Seabury avers that where woman is, homes will naturally exist. Homes have not existed "naturally." There was a long, long time in human history when not a dream of a home existed. From lawless individualism to tribal life, from tribe to clan, from the clan, at last through might struggles, the family was evolved-the final grouping of the race-the social unit. That point was not reached until man the savage, man the rover, had consented to be bound, and bound for life, to one woman. It has been one object of Christian civilization to hold man to this saving compact. First to hold his spirit by affection for wife and child, and next to hold his material interests for the sake of society. The work has so well progressed that to-day the man's family is dearer to him than his own life. He will live for them, and fight for them; and the women who proclaim that man is woman's enemy, are the assassins of their own peace and of the growing peace of home...

This section is the Hathor myth in reverse: the domestic loveliness of woman binds savagery which befalls everything if women are not the upholders of the home. That is the deal offered by the Hathor myth.

To transform this archetype into an Eeset myth, it is necessary to assert that the legitimacy of the state itself, and this has to be rooted in a power of unification and resurrection. How does the FWF movement do this? By asserting two essential facts, which touch on the crucial elements of the Hathor and Eeset myth: the protection of the home and society from the chaos of alcohol, and the protection of the society from the dissolution of war. Women are presented as the defenders, not attackers, of the life of the family, by protecting middle class life from drink, and the protectors, and indeed healers of the nation, by being a vote against war.

The first can be shown by the relationship between Prohibitionist or Temperance societies and women's suffrage. The two are never far from each other, and the relationship was explicit. Susan B. Anthony set reform of divorce laws, allowing for divorce on account of drunkenness, as one of the first changes that enfranchised women would make.

The other centers on the topic of war. One of the organizing forces of the Women's Suffrage movement in the United States, was abolitionism, and many women thought that after the war, the same sweep that would enfranchise "the African race" would be used to give women the right to vote. But it would be another war that would finally be the motivation to a Federal Amendment, or more specifically, the ending of that war. After the War in Europe was truly won, Woodrow Wilson used the work that women had done in factories to argue that they deserved partnership. In short, the bringing together of "the Union," the first reason for the cause, was completed only when women helped win a second war.

These facts deserve a closer interpretation, because while it might seem that FWF is an industrial phenomenon, the reality is more complex. Instead it was peripheral areas which became the seat of FWF. This parallels the Eeset cult, which was the only major deity not to have a center in a city. The reality is that the creation of a feminine principle as an instrument of state legitimacy is not the prerogative of urban centers, or of distant agrarian regions, but of agrarian regions connected closely to cities. It is in this place, isolated from pure agrarianism and it's particular relationship between the genders, and the metropolitan centers, that there is an need and inducement to FWF.

1 comment:

  1. Lillie: As I know I've told you, I'm very appreciative of your work on these pieces. You've helped me to integrate my own experience and clarified some of the complexity that often makes these issues difficult to truly grok.