Monday, April 23, 2007

Atheism and women's suffrage

(H/T Telic Thoughts)

Larry Moran, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Toronto, is comparing the New Atheists to the women's rights movement:
Do you realize that women used to march in the streets with placards demanding that they be allowed to vote? At the time the suffragettes were criticized for hurting the cause. Their radical stance was driving off the men who might have been sympathetic to women’s right to vote if only those women had stayed in their proper place.
Telic Thoughts point out that the Suffragettes were seeking to secure basic rights, whereas the agenda of the New Atheists is to deprive their opponents of rights.

There's another issue, which is that the argument is historically ignorant. What Moran seems to be saying is, "Look, the Suffragettes were aggressive and they got what they wanted." But actually, although it made headlines and drew attention to the cause, the Suffragette campaign failed to secure its objectives. Robert Lacey writes:
Whatever the intentions of Emily Davison [who threw herself in front of the King's horse], her death did not impress people at the time, only confirming popular prejudice against the wildness of the suffragettes. "She nearly killed a jockey as well as herself," complained The Times, "and she brought down a valuable horse ... Reckless fanaticism is not regarded by [the public] as a qualification for the franchise."

It took the terrible war of 1914-18 to transform attitudes, as women moved into offices, shops and factories to take over the jobs of men. Mrs Pankhurst suspended suffragette protests - it would be pointless, she argued, to fight for the vote without a country to vote in - and her conciliatory attitude prompted the politicians to climb down.

"Where is the man who would now deny to woman the civil rights she has earned by her hard work?" asked Edwin Montagu, the Minister of Munitions, in 1916. In Junbe 1918, five months before the war ended, the vote was given to women over the age of 30 who were ratepayers or married to ratepayers. Ten years later, suffrage was extended to all women, on the same terms as men.

Robert Lacey, "Great Tales from English History", vol.3 p.208-9