Controversial Topic: Women’s Rights
Women’s Rights refers to the ongoing movement in the U.S. to improve gender equity through legislation, activism, public service, political participation, and more. The United States was founded as a patriarchy, restricting women from owning property, voting, or enjoying the rights of citizenship. The women’s rights movement uses activism, policy advocacy, and non-profit organization to improve gender equality, whereas the opponents of this movement may argue that gender equality already exists, or that women are biologically unequal to men and therefore deserving of secondary status. This controversial topic continues to shape public life in America today, and remains a pertinent subject for persuasive essays.
- Women’s rights have been a long topic of debate since 1848. From then till today, gender inequality still exists.
- Women’s suffrage was the most significant turning point in improving the status of women. For 100 years, this movement fought to give American women the right to vote.
- Women’s rights movements progressively shifted to a multi-fronted endeavor to liberate women from the cultural structures of patriarchy after having the right to vote in 1920.
In the simplest terms, the women’s rights controversy pits advocates for greater social, economic, and legal gender equality against the individuals, institutions, and practices that either consciously or unconsciously support the continuation of American patriarchy. The United States Constitution was ratified in 1789 by a group known today as the Founding Fathers. Based on the name, it should come as little surprise that this group was composed entirely of men.
The Constitution, likewise, referred only to the rights of men. Most legal and economic conditions thereafter reflected this Constitutional patriarchy. Arguably, the “Founding Mothers” are those who first took part in efforts in the mid-19th Century to extend the protections of the Constitution to include women as well as men. These pioneers in the women’s rights movement—early forerunners to the modern feminist movement, and active participants in the abolitionist movement to end slavery—helped shape a controversy that is defined, on one side, by a push for gender equality and, on the other, by a protection of the status quo.
This frames the controversial topic today:
- On one side of the women’s rights controversy are those that support equity, freedom of choice, and Constitutional protections for women in areas such as housing, employment, wages, domestic violence, sexual assault, harassment, reproductive rights, and much more. This demographic might argue that many aspects of today’s society still reflect a male patriarchy, and that the fight for real equality is ongoing;
- On the other side are those who might argue that women have already achieved equality and that further demands of equality are unfounded, as well as those who argue that women are inherently unequal to men and therefore undeserving of social equality. Adherents to these views may believe that the extension of further rights to women will inherently result in the deprivation of rights for men.
The goal of this discussion is to examine the various perspectives shaping the public debate topic over women’s rights, and to provide you with a look at some of the figures past and present who have influenced this discussion. The figures selected may not always be household names, but are instead selected to provide a nuanced look at the public discourse on this controversial topic, and in some cases, even to provide you with a list of individuals to contact as part of your research.
A Brief History of The Issue
The history of women’s rights in the United States must begin with recognition that the United States was formed as a patriarchy—a nation and society where all cultural, political, and economic power was vested in men. During the Colonial period, American settlers carried the United Kingdom’s gender inequality across the Atlantic with them, and passed it on to the next several generations.
It was thus that, in 1769, the Colonies formally adopted the English property system which indicated that women are neither entitled to own property nor keep their earnings from work. By 1777, with the emergence of individual states, each began passing laws restricting the right of women to vote.
Women played an active support role in American victory during the Revolutionary War, and in doing so, helped to bring change to the social structure of marriage. Marital relations become somewhat more connected to love and companionship, and less directly driven by the concept of patriarchal ownership of one’s spouse. Still, women enjoyed little to no influence over social, political, and economic affairs. That would begin to change in the early part of the next century.
On the Way to Seneca Falls, NY
Women entered the 19th century with none of the rights enjoyed by their male counterparts in the fledgling United States. However, the mid-1800s saw the beginnings of a movement, particularly as groups of women began organizing around the fight for the abolition of slavery. As early as the 1830s, several decades ahead of the Civil War, a number of women took a prominent part in speaking out or writing in opposition to the continuity of slavery.
An early effort began, through the combined efforts of freed Black women who had been slaves and white, wealthy women with the means and time, to organize action against slavery. Black leaders like Maria W. Steward, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman provided example and inspiration for white activists including Abby Kelley Foster, Lucy Stone, and Susan B. Anthony, who became highly visible in the anti-slavery movement before earning their association with the women’s liberation movement.
In 1837 Mary Lyon founded the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary—the first college for women, and one of the future Seven Sisters schools. Wesleyan College was next, in 1939. That same year, the state of Mississippi became the first to allow women, with their husband’s permission, to hold property. Women were slowly gaining access to opportunities for advancement, but an event in 1840 highlighted how far women had yet to climb.
Two prominent activists—Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott—met at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London that year, and were denied seats due to their gender. This moment catalyzed a movement toward a convention specifically surrounding the movement for women’s liberation.
Seneca Falls, Abolition, and the Civil War
In 1848, the Seneca Falls, New York conference brought a group of 300, mostly women and some men, together to sign the Declaration of Sentiments calling for an end to gender discrimination. The Declaration was designed as a complement to the American Declaration of Independence, and called for greater economic equality, educational access, improved standing in religious communities, and the right to vote. The push for the last of these rights—known as women’s suffrage—would become a centerpiece of the women’s liberation movement.
Moreover, Seneca Falls would itself gain recognition as the landmark moment in the organization of women’s liberation, giving way to increased visibility for the cause and growing activism around the demands cited in the Declaration of Sentiments. Increasingly, the organized movement for female liberation became closely tied to the organized push for the abolition of slavery. Many early feminists were directly invested in the battle to end African slavery. And yet...
With the Civil War ended and American slaves emancipated, the 14th Amendment was passed in 1866. This Constitutional Amendment granted all “citizens” the right to vote. However, the Constitution had been written in language ambiguous enough that could be argued to apply only to men. This gave states the freedom to decide whether women should or should not be entitled to vote. Some states supported suffrage. Wyoming, for instance, in 1869, became the first state to pass a women’s suffrage law (though it wouldn’t be until 1890 that women in Wyoming could vote in all elections).
In 1872, Susan B. Anthony would become the first activist to test the ambiguous language of the 14th Amendment. She was arrested and charged with “unlawful voting” for casting a ballot for Ulysses S. Grant’s reelection. Numerous other female activists were turned away at the polls that year.
Though the women’s suffrage movement would become the centerpiece of a decades-long struggle, women did increasingly gain access to property rights and greater legal recognition during this time. For instance, in 1887, Susanna Medora Salter was elected the mayor of Argonia, Kansas. She is the first woman to be elected to the office of mayor in the U.S.
Further, by 1900, every state had passed legislation granting that married women could own property and keep their own wages. The next two decades marked a period of intense confrontation, with the women’s suffrage movement merging its effort with the “Temperance” movement. The latter of these was the push among religious women’s groups for the prohibition of alcohol. Women’s groups engaged in political organization and street protest, both of which were met at times with violent mobs who opposed both prohibition and women’s liberation.
Incidentally, the 18th Amendment banning the sale or consumption of alcohol only slightly predated the 19th Amendment granting women the universal right to vote. Both were passed into law in 1920. With the latter, women would permanently be granted the right to vote (whereas prohibition was only temporary), and destined for repeal in 1933 with the ratification of the 21st Amendment.
Modern Feminism and Reproductive Rights
Women earned the right to vote in 1920. Therefore, the period thereafter marked the beginning of the public push for rights in numerous other areas of public life. In particular, as the modern feminist movement gained momentum, women’s groups increasingly confronted the issue of reproductive rights. Abortion and contraception were both generally prohibited throughout the United States at this time. However, as the push for women’s liberation gathered steam, the view also gained traction that abortion was fundamentally a matter of personal choice and privacy, and that government laws banning abortion were an infringement on those rights.
In 1921, nurse, educator, and activist Margaret Sanger formed The American Birth Control League, which advocated for the opening of birth control clinics, and helped raise consciousness about the need for women to control their own fertility and reproductive decisions. In 1942, the league was renamed the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a nonprofit organization that now includes more than 600 clinics throughout the United States focused on reproductive healthcare.
The mid-20th century saw growing support for women’s reproductive rights among various cross-sections of the American public. As greater mainstream support emerged for decriminalization of abortion, an array of landmark court decisions and state-level legislative changes began to alter the legal landscape.
Most notably, in 1973, the decision in Roe v. Wade found that “This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or... in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”
Employment and Equal Pay
The 1960s and 1970s were a period of dramatic change in American public life, with progressive ideologies and protests revealing a growing generation gap. Members of the younger cohort took an increasingly vocal and unified stance on the need for greater gender equality. A number of landmark legislative acts accelerated the push toward gender equality, including:
- The Equal Pay Act of 1963, calling for more equitable wage practices;
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, expanding on the push for equal wages;
- The Civil Rights Act of 1968, mandating fair housing practices;
- Title IX, in 1972, requiring educational equality; and
- The 1974 decision, by Congress, adding “sex” as a Constitutionally protected demographic.
These legislative changes have all been to the direction of extending economic opportunity, access, and Constitutional protections to women at the same levels enjoyed by men. Today, however, modern feminists would argue that wage equity remains elusive. According to Payscale, “In 2020, women make only $0.81 for every dollar a man makes.”
Top Ten Historical Influencers in the Women’s Rights Controversy
Using our own backstage Ranking Analytics tools, we’ve compiled a list of the most influential figures in defining the women’s rights controversy in the U.S. between 1900 and 2020. Notably, without controlling for gender, the list of those who have exacted the greatest influence is nonetheless composed entirely of women. Moreover, the women who top this list are predominantly those who have been active, visible, and noteworthy for their role in the women’s suffrage and liberation movements, as well as a few women who have had a notable impact from roles of public leadership:
|Susan B. Anthony
|Simone de Beauvoir
Top Ten Most Influential Books About Women’s Rights
Using our own backstage Ranking Analytics tools, we’ve compiled a list of the most influential books on the topic of women’s rights in the U.S. between 1900 and 2020. Literature has played an important part in impacting the public discourse and shaping our thinking on women’s rights, with landmark texts radically challenging existing orthodoxies about gender roles and gendered relationships. In most cases, these texts have achieved influence by illuminating and opposing long-standing patriarchal social constructs:
|The Feminine Mystique
|The Concise History of Woman Suffrage
|The Woman’s Bible
|The Second Sex
|A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
|The Subjection of Women
|In Defense of Women
|Woman in the Nineteenth Century
|The Good Women of China
|The Female Eunuch
The Current Controversy
Today, the women’s rights movement is engaged on multiple fronts. To an extent, the movement is dedicated to defending and expanding upon the legislative gains of the 20th Century, especially as they concern the constant push and pull over reproductive rights.
To learn more, jump to our look at The Abortion Controversy.
Whereas the movement of the 20th Century centered around adapting the Constitution to apply in equal terms to women and men, the movement of the 21st Century might better be described as a push to illuminate and dismantle cultural and institutional inequalities. This is evidenced in areas such as the push to expose and address violence, sexual assault, and sexual harassment against women in various spaces, including at home, in the healthcare system, at the workplace, and more.
The #MeToo movement, in particular, has cast a glaring spotlight on the abuses against women in seemingly public spaces, often by powerful men including music producers, Hollywood actors, media personalities, corporate executives, and politicians. At the heart of the movement are women who have come forward with their stories of abuse, and the increased willingness of the collective society to hold men accountable for their alleged actions.
In many ways, this movement provides a useful framing for the broader debate over women’s liberation in the U.S. today. Even as the #MeToo movement has created a new level of accountability for abusers, it has sparked a backlash against what its critics call “cancel culture.” While some of the accused have been “cancelled” for their alleged abuses through the loss of jobs, prestige, and income, few have been formally charged with any crimes. Those who are critical of “cancel culture” would argue that the absence of such charges should render the accused innocent until proven guilty, and that the propensity of #MeToo advocates to punish individuals without such due process is evidence of a movement which has gone too far.
In many ways, this highlights the perspective among critics, that the feminist movement is a radical attack on existing institutions. Critics of women’s liberation, as well as critics of the #MeToo movement, might be inclined to argue that the current Constitutional standards grant gender equality, and that the push for further cultural and institutional equality is unfounded, and potentially even punitive of men.
It is noteworthy, however, that even in the present day, we have witnessed women marking first-of-their-kind achievements, including:
- In 1997, Madeleine Albright becoming the first female Secretary of State
- In 2007, Nancy Pelosi becoming the first female Speaker of the House
- In 2016, Hillary Clinton becoming the first female presidential candidate for a major party
- In 2021, Kamala Harris becoming the first female Vice President of the United States
Today, advocates for women’s rights would argue that the quest for real equity continues on numerous social, political, sexual, and economic fronts, whereas opponents would argue that women are either undeserving of this equality based on the biological differences between the sexes, or that women have already achieved sufficient equality, and that any further push for women’s rights would be at the expense of male rights.
A Quick Overview of Our Methodology
Our goal in presenting subjects that generate controversy is to provide you with a sense of some of the figures both past and present who have driven debate, produced widely-recognized works of research, literature or art, proliferated their ideas widely, or who are identified directly and publicly with some aspect of this debate. By identifying the researchers, activists, journalists, educators, academics, and other individuals connected with this debate—and by taking a closer look at their work and contributions—we can get a clear but nuanced look at the subject matter. Rather than framing the issue as one side versus the other, we bring various dimensions of the issue into discussion with one another. This will likely include dimensions of the debate that resonate with you, some dimensions that you find repulsive, and some dimensions that might simply reveal a perspective you hadn’t previously considered.
On the subject of women’s rights, this requires us to include central terminology in our search including “women’s rights,” “feminism,” and “suffragette.” The natural points of opposition for each of these terms, at least from a historical perspective, are the contrarian “anti-suffragist” and “anti-feminist” positions. Also of consequence to this controversy are a number of organizations which have had an impact either on the advancement of, or resistance to, women’s rights, including the “League of Women Voters” and the “Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League.”
Our InfluenceRanking engine gives us the power to scan the academic and public landscape surrounding women’s rights, using key terminology to identify consequential influencers. As with any topic that generates public debate and disagreement, this is a subject of great depth and breadth. We do not claim to probe either to the bottom of this depth or the borders of this breadth. Instead, we offer you one way to enter into this debate, to identify key players, and through their contributions to the debate, to develop a fuller understanding of the issue and perhaps even a better sense of where you stand.
For a closer look at how our InfluenceRankings work, check out our methodology.
- Women’s Rights
- American Suffragette
- American Feminist
- League of Women Voters
- Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League
The primary key term in our discussion, “women’s rights” refers to the global push for gender equality. Women’s rights is a phrase coined in the context of institutional patriarchy, where social, political, and economic conditions favor a male-dominated hierarchy. From within this context, “women’s rights” generally refers to the goal of expanding rights toward a state of gender equality. Influencers included in the search results here include activists, political office-holders, and civil rights attorneys.
- Saudatu Mahdi is a Women’s Right Advocate. She is the Secretary General of Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative. She has published over 20 books focusing on violence against women, women’s rights, Shari’a and women and women in education. Mahdi led the team that fought and won the acquittal for a Nigerian woman who was sentenced to death by hanging because she had a child out of wedlock.
- Sussan Tahmasebi is a leading women’s rights advocate and expert from Iran. Her work has focused on promoting women’s rights and peace in the Middle East and North Africa and Asia. Tahmasebi is the co-founder and Executive Director of FEMENA, an organization which supports women human rights defenders, their organizations and feminist movements in the Middle East and North Africa and regions of Asia. Tahmasebi is a leading expert on the situation of women in Iran and the Middle East. She is a founding member of the One Million Signatures Campaign, a grassroots effort working to end gender-biased laws in Iran. While in Iran Tahmasebi also worked to support the development of Iran’s emerging civil society. To this end she co-founded the Iran CSO Training and Research Center and served as its board member. In the US she continued her work to promote women’s rights and strengthen civil society with an expanded focus on the MENA/Asia region. She served as the Director of MENA/Asia region at the International Civil Society Action Network, an organization focused on promoting peace and women’s rights, which she co-founded.
- Antoinette Dakin Leach was an American lawyer and a women’s rights pioneer who was an active organizer on behalf of women’s suffrage in Indiana. When the Greene-Sullivan Circuit Court denied Leach’s petition for admission to the bar in 1893, her successful appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court, In re Petition of Leach, broke the gender barrier for admission to the bar in Indiana, securing the right for women to practice law in the state. The landmark decision, a progressive one for the time, also set a precedent that was used in 1897 as a test case to give Indiana women the right to vote, although the voting rights challenge in Gougar v Timberlake was unsuccessful. Leach was also an active politician and a supporter of women’s suffrage who favored a constitutional amendment to secure women’s right to vote.
“American suffragette” refers to those who advocated for and demonstrated with the aim of gaining women the right to vote in the United States. From the time that Wyoming became the first state ratifying the right of women to vote in 1869, until the passage of the 19th Amendment granting women nationwide the right to vote in 1920, women’s suffrage gained tremendous momentum and sometimes faced violent pushback. The influencers occupying this keyword search were notable figures in the movement that gave rise to modern feminism, and their efforts were largely concentrated within the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.
- Clara Louise Thompson was an American educator, Latinist, activist, feminist, and suffragette. She is the only woman to be awarded the American Fellowship at the American School of Classical Studies in Rome. She was a member of the Maryland House of Delegates and Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, leader of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and Maryland League of Women Voters, and held positions within the Social Security Administration.
- Margretta Dietrich was an American suffragette and activist. She served as resident of the Nebraska Woman’s Suffrage Association in 1919 and Chairman of the Nebraska State League of Women Voters in 1920. Following the ratification of the 19th amendment, she went on to advocate for the rights of Indigenous Americans in New Mexico.
- Ella Mundhenke Russell was an American suffragette, businessperson, and politician. She was president of the Everett Suffrage Club. Russell “famously defended women’s right to vote before a crowd of 6,500 during a Billy Sunday crusade”, and advanced the women’s suffrage cause in the city of Everett and the state of Washington. In 1924, she won the nomination as the Republican candidate for the state senate in her district, but was defeated at the election by a Republican “sticker” candidate.
As women gained the right to vote, the focus of the women’s liberation movement gradually evolved into a multi-front effort to free women from the cultural constructs of patriarchy. This was the initiation of a more concerted effort to define the modern feminine identity separate from the constructs of marriage, motherhood, and male ownership. The modern feminist movement would be spearheaded by female academics, economists, and sociologists who presented an increasingly expansive and independent identity of the modern woman.
- Letty Mandeville Russell was a feminist theologian and professor. She was a member of the first class of women admitted to Harvard Divinity School, and one of the first women ordained in the United Presbyterian Church. After earning a doctorate in theology at Union Theological Seminary, she joined the faculty at Yale Divinity School, where she taught for 28 years. Russell was a pioneer in the field of feminist theology. She authored, co-authored or edited over 17 books, including: Feminist Interpretation of the Bible, Inheriting our Mothers’ Garden: Feminist Theology in Third World Perspective, Church in the Round: Feminist Interpretation of the Church, and Dictionary of Feminist Theologies. She has been described as a “prominent matriarch of contemporary feminist Bible criticism.” She was also active in the ecumenical movement, and worked closely with the National Council of Churches, the World Council of Churches, and the YWCA.
- J. Ann Tickner is a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the School of International Service, American University and Professor Emerita at the University of Southern California. She earned a B.A. from the University of London, an M.A. from Yale University, and a Ph.D from Brandeis University. Her areas of teaching and scholarship have included peace and security studies, feminist approaches to international politics and global theory. Tickner’s feminist approach to political science has challenged conventional notions of gender politics.
- Patricia McFadden is a radical African feminist, sociologist, writer, educator, and publisher from eSwatini. She is also an activist and scholar who worked in the anti-apartheid movement for more than 20 years. McFadden has worked in the African and global women’s movements as well. As a writer, she has been the target of political persecution. She has worked as editor of the Southern African Feminist Review and African Feminist Perspectives. She currently teaches, and advocates internationally for women’s issues. McFadden has served as a professor at Cornell University, Spelman College, Syracuse University, and Smith College in the United States. She also works as a “feminist consultant”, supporting women in creating institutionally sustainable feminist spaces within Southern Africa.
- Julie Nelson is a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. She earned her B.A. from St. Olaf College, and an M.A. and Ph.D in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Nelson is one of the most highly regarded feminist economists and one of the founders of the field. Her most compelling work, Beyond Economic Man: Feminist Theory and Economics, is regarded as the seminal work in feminist economics.
Like the term above, “American Feminist,” feminism refers to the groundbreaking work of female academics and thought-leaders dedicated to advancing the rights of women on multiple cultural fronts. This describes both the initiation of the movement during the protest era of the 1960s and 1970s, and the movement as it continues to evolve today around emergent challenges.
- Chela Sandoval, associate professor of Chicana Studies at University of California, Santa Barbara, is a noted theorist of postcolonial feminism and third world feminism. Beginning with her 1991 pioneering essay ‘U.S. Third World Feminism: The Theory and Method of Oppositional Consciousness in the Postmodern World’ Sandoval emerged as a significant voice for women of color and decolonial feminism.
- Jennifer Saul is currently Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield and the University of Waterloo in the UK, specializing in the philosophy of language and the philosophy of feminism. Saul received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rochester and her master’s degree and Ph.D. from Princeton University. Jennifer Saul has had a large influence in two areas of philosophy, not immediately or obviously connected: analytic philosophy (especially of language), and the philosophy of feminism.
- Catherine D’Ignazio is an American professor, artist, and software developer who focuses on feminism and data literacy. She is the director of the Data + Feminism lab at MIT. D’Ignazio is best known for her hackathons, such as “Make the Breast Pump Not Suck” and her book, Data Feminism.
- Donna J. Haraway is an American Professor Emerita in the History of Consciousness Department and Feminist Studies Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, United States. She is a prominent scholar in the field of science and technology studies, described in the early 1990s as a “feminist, rather loosely a postmodernist”. Haraway is the author of numerous foundational books and essays that bring together questions of science and feminism, such as “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” and “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective” . Additionally, for her contributions to the intersection of information technology and feminist theory, Haraway is widely cited in works related to Human Computer Interaction. Her Situated Knowledges and Cyborg Manifesto publications in particular, have sparked discussion within the HCI community regarding framing the positionality from which research and systems are designed. She is also a leading scholar in contemporary ecofeminism, associated with post-humanism and new materialism movements. Her work criticizes anthropocentrism, emphasizes the self-organizing powers of nonhuman processes, and explores dissonant relations between those processes and cultural practices, rethinking sources of ethics.
League of Women Voters
An organization formed in 1920 to help defend and expand the newly gained right of women to vote, the League of Women Voters would grow to become an important advocate of voter registration and an array of progressive policy positions in American politics.
- Doris Crump Bradshaw worked as a librarian and part-time cataloger at the Columbia Public Library from 1942-1946. Most of her time, however, was spent working in the community and in organizations throughout the state of Missouri. Of the numerous organizations that she was involved in, she was most active in the American Association of University Women. In 1945-1949, she was the State Legislative Chairman for Missouri. She was also the State Social Studies Chairman for one year, from 1950 to 1951. Bradshaw was also active in the League of Women Voters, other women’s associations, including the Daughters of the American Colonists and the University of Missouri Fortnightly Club, and library organizations such as the Columbia Public Library board and the Missouri Library Association.
- Annie Land O’Berry was an activist, relief worker, and philanthropist from North Carolina. O’Berry was a native to North Carolina, growing up in Edgecombe County on a farm with her family. She was involved in women’s clubs and an open member of the Democratic party. More specifically, O’Berry’s endeavors in the North Carolina Emergency Relief Association, North Carolina Democratic Party, League of Women Voters, and the Women’s Missionary Society at her local Presbyterian Church demonstrated her dedication to serving her community. As an academic, O’Berry was named the first honor graduate from Peace University.
- Esther Lape was a well-known American journalist, researcher, and publicist. She was associated with the Women’s Trade Union League and was one of the founders of the League of Women Voters.
As women pushed for the right to vote in the late 19th and early 20th Century, they were met with aggressive institutional resistance. This resistance was formed by both men and women who shared the view that political participation diverged from the proper role of women in society. The anti-suffragist movement produced literature and staged protests decrying the push to grant women voting rights, often taking the position that this change would undermine the moral fabric of the American patriarchy.
- Minnie Bronson was an American anti-suffragist activist who was general secretary of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage.
- Charles Stebbins Fairchild was a New York businessman and politician who served as United States Secretary of the Treasury from 1887 to 1889 and Attorney General of New York from 1876 to 1877. He was a notable anti-suffragist, challenging the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920 and serving as president of the American Constitutional League.
- Charlotte Elizabeth McKay was an American editor, Union Army nurse, and an anti-suffragist. She worked as a field nurse during the American Civil War, receiving a Kearny Cross from the 17th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, whom she had cared for after the Battle of Chancellorsville. She was the first woman who protested against the suffrage movement, and she was the editor of the first American anti-suffrage periodical, The True Woman.
Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League
An extension of the terminology above, the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League was formed by women who believed women should not be given the right to vote. This position, as the influencers included here demonstrate, was held by members of the aristocratic class who perceived the gender hierarchy as an appropriate extension of historical monarchies.
- Violet Hermione Graham, Duchess of Montrose was a British philanthropist and anti-suffragist. Graham served as president of the Scottish branch of the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League. Her husband was Douglas Graham, 5th Duke of Montrose.
- Mary Augusta Ward was a British novelist who wrote under her married name as Mrs. Humphry Ward. She worked to improve education for the poor and she became the founding President of the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League.
The phrase “anti-feminist” is not connected to any specific movement, but refers more generally to a perspective held by those throughout both history and in the present day who take a contrasting position to the movement for women’s rights. Influencers in this area include activists and media personalities, often aligned with conservative or right-leaning ideologies, who argue either that women are not entitled to equality, or that they have achieved equality and are therefore not entitled to any further advances in the feminist political agenda.
- Suzanne Venker, is an American non-fiction author and radio host at KXFN. She has authored several anti-feminist books. She was disinvited from a speaking engagement at Williams College in 2015.
- Paul Joseph Watson is an alt-right, English YouTuber, radio host, writer, anti-feminist, conspiracy theorist, and political extremist. Up until July 2016, Watson concurred with his alt-right label, but has since dropped the label and now self-identifies as being part of the new right. Despite the change, he is still understood to be a far-right individual by multiple sources. In May 2019, Facebook and Instagram permanently banned Watson for violation of hate speech policies. Watson’s blatant islamophobia has resulted in Youtube sanctioning him to the point that he considered quitting, but ultimately decided against.
- Sung Jae-gi was a South Korean men’s rights activist and anti-feminist. Sung founded and was the first chairman of Man of Korea, a men’s rights group advocating the abolition of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family—whose Korean name translates as “Ministry of Women”—and demanded compensation for the South Korean military-service requirement. He also argued for free love and sexual and male liberation.
- Michael Cernovich is an American social media personality, anti-feminist, men’s rights activist, political commentator, conspiracy theorist and political extremist. While he is generally understood to be part of the alt-right he describes himself as part of the “new right” and some have claimed he is part of the “alt-lite”. Cernovich has been a regular host of The Alex Jones Show on InfoWars.
Influential Organizations Involved in the Women’s Rights Controversy
If you would like to study this topic in more depth, check out these key organizations...
Women’s Rights Advocates
Women’s Rights Opponents
- National Association Opposed to Women’s Suffrage (NAOWS)
- Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League
- The Eagle Forum
A further examination of the Women’s Empowerment Movement
The concept of women’s empowerment is crucial for social justice in the sphere of development. Women empowerment refers to promoting women’s self-worth, capacity to make their own decisions, and right to impact societal change for themselves and others. Women who feel empowered have greater self-confidence, which increases their chances of success in their particular industries.
In recent years, a significant global movement has grown in support of and advancement of women’s rights and gender equality. The popularity of holidays like International Women’s Empowerment Day is also rising.
But despite significant advancements by women’s rights activists, prejudice and violence against women and girls, such as female genital mutilation, child marriage, forced labor, lack of equal access and health services, persist everywhere.
Women’s Empowerment Principles
The Women’s Empowerment Principles were created by a partnership between the UN Entity for Gender Equality & the Empowerment of Women. A worldwide multi-stakeholder consultation process was used to produce the Women Empowerment Principles, culminating in their release on International Women’s Day in 2010.
The Principles, whose slogan is “Equality Means Business,” emphasize the economic justification for corporate action to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment, including promoting their sexual and reproductive rights. They are based on actual business practices and global input.
The Women’s Empowerment Principles elaborate on the gender aspect of corporate responsibility, the UN Global Compact, and business’ role in sustainable development to guide the way to optimal practice. The women empowerment principles, crafted by leading promoters of women’s equality, are as follows:
- Establish high-level business leadership for equal participation and gender equality as the first corporate policy.
- Treat everyone at work, including middle class women, equally; uphold and respect nondiscrimination and human rights.
- Ensure all male and female employees’ safety, health, and welfare.
- Promote women’s professional, educational, and personal growth following principles.
- Implement supply chain, marketing, and enterprise development strategies that support the emancipation of women.
- Promote equality, including equal educational opportunities, through neighborhood programs and activism.
- Measure and publicly report on the progress made toward achieving gender equality.
Importance of Women Empowerment
So long as women don’t have the same privilege as men, including in their sexual and reproductive health, we cannot have a free and equal society. This inequity will affect everyone until there are the same women’s human rights as men.
Gender equality and empowering women and girls are both a goal and a key to sustainable development, economic prosperity, and peace and security. Although grassroots movements have contributed significantly to change, we can be far more powerful when we work together to support women’s rights.
Movements like Amnesty International can constitute a powerful vanguard in the struggle for women’s rights by collaborating with local activists and campaigners on the ground and launching our focused campaigns.
Examples of Ongoing Gender Inequality
- Many women put in more time at work than men, particularly at home
- Women make less money doing the same kind of job outside the home, while being exposed to issues on fair and equal wage, gender based violence, and gender based discrimination.
- Despite legislation to the contrary, women experience ownership disparity in practice.
- Women and girls experience education inequality on a global scale.
- Women experience discrimination around the world regarding the right to free speech.
Interested in building toward a career on the front lines of the women’s rights debate? As you can see, there are many different avenues into this far-reaching issue. Use our Custom College Ranking to find:
- The Most Influential Law Degrees
- The Most Influential Sociology Degrees
- The Most Influential History Degrees
Interested in diving into another one of our controversial topics? Check out The 30 Most Controversial Topics Today!
Find additional study resources with a look at our study guides for students at every stage of the educational journey.
Or get valuable study tips, advice on adjusting to campus life, and much more at our student resource homepage.