The Evolution (or not) of Gender Norms and Marriage

Slate.com reported today on a UC-Santa Cruz study that indicates gender norms and marriage proposals have not changed all that much – at least not in the ninety years since women won the right to vote. Below is an interesting editorial that ran in the August 18, 1923 edition of Equal Rights, the weekly publication of the historic National Woman’s Party, that focuses on marriage and gender norms.

Are You Happily Married? August 18, 1923

All of us remember the ancient anti-suffrage “argument” advanced so frequently before the victory by smug, self-satisfied women, “What do I need with the vote?  I have all the rights that I want, I am happily married!” This fatuous remark was made over and over again in pre-suffrage days, until one almost yearned to have wife-beating become the fashion.  What on earth being or not being happily married could have to do with the justice of woman suffrage was not apparent, but in the minds of these comfortable, over-fed women it exonerated them completely from all social responsibility.

Now, to our horror, we find that the suffrage victory has not by any means put an end to this “argument.”  Instead we are to experience a severe relapse of the same disorder in connection with our Equal Rights amendment.  Already non-thinking women are saying, “What do I want with Equal Rights? I have all of the rights that I want.  I am happily married!”  And the worst of it is that they are quite serious about it and cannot seem to comprehend the monstrous egotism and selfishness inherent in such a viewpoint.  Does it make no difference that little children are underfed, that babies die unnecessarily, that vice and venereal disease stretch like the arms of a cancer throughout the social organism, that the menace of war hangs like a sword over the rising generation, that justice is trodden under foot, just because some woman is “happily married?”   Is the whole significance of the feminist movement and the regenerating power of a liberated motherhood to be lost sight of simply because domestic bliss happens to prevail in some small corner of the universe?  How dare any woman say that she has “all of the rights she wants,” while little children suffer, while women are bought and sold, while poverty abounds, and while the world is ruled by greed and hatred!  What rights does a real human being want, anyhow?  For lotus eaters a full trough and a sty may be sufficient, but it is not enough for an upright human being.

The rights that every woman worthy of the name, wants, in the strict meaning of the word, are those rights that will enable her to do her full share toward making the whole round world the best possible place for little children to come into.  Not only for her own children, but for every other little child as well.  Any woman, who, in the present pass of the social order, says she has all of the rights she wants is either stupid to the point of utter blindness or is socially irresponsible.

Probably the best plan is now, as it was in the past, disregard these women.  They are not very numerous, anyhow, and are a source of extravagant irritation.  If they are “happily married,” let them alone; let them wallow in their contentment.  By the grace of God there are not many women who would use their own happiness to defeat the ends of justice.

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