Liberal, Conservative, and Socialist Ideals vs. Feminism before the 20th Century

Liberal, Conservative, and Socialist Ideals vs. Feminism before the 20th Century

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Liberal, Conservative, and Socialist Ideals vs. Feminism before the 20th Century

Tales from the beyond, story one: a parent binds his baby girl's feet in China, so it will not grow more than five to six inches because small feet in women are a sign of elegance; story two: a wife is burned alive in India, so she can accompany her husband in death. Are these stories? No, things like this really happened in the past. They are part of the reason that contributed to the birth of the Women's Movement in the 19th century. This movement was also known as the Feminist movement because its foundation came from feminism, an ideology that developed in the 19th century, and whose main goal was to gain equality for women. The goals of the Women's Movement in the 19th century where: to get the vote, to archive equality in property rights, access to education, access to jobs and fair pay, divorce, and children's custody. These ideals had been around for a while, but the 19th century was the perfect time for them to develop. During the 19th century, nations were going through radical changes; countries were adopting new ways of life based mainly of one of three ideologies: liberalism, conservatism, and socialism. The development of one of these ideologies, and the success of feminism in a country went hand in hand, and it is by analyzing the similarities, and differences between feminism, and each of these ideologies that we can see why feminism was most successful in liberal countries.

Moral, political, and social are the three cores of liberalism, and the ideas in each core have a very similar resemblance to the ideas the feminist movement was trying to promote in the 19th century. Liberals believe that individuals had the right to personal liberties, which included the freedom to think, talk, and worship. Feminist believe women had the right to think, to have an opinion different from that of their husband, or fathers. The faith in total freedom, and equality for the individual that liberals, and feminist shared came from their faith in education. Their theory was that if individuals were educated, then they could be trusted to make the right decisions, decisions which would then in return helped make a better society. Adam Smith, writer of "The Wealth of Nations" considered the bible of liberal economics, believed in that theory, he expressed that "each person,.

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., is the best judge of his or her actions and interest, an so did. If people are allowed a free hand to pursue these interests they will, and by so doing will improve the wealth of the society and the nation as a whole."(Macridis, 29) John Stuart Mill, an English philosopher and one of the most faithful promoters of feminism, also believed in that theory; he expresses that "Education would transform an essentially hedonistic society into a body of civic-minded individuals."(Macridis, 35)

One very important arena, where liberal, and feminist ideologies concurred, was the political arena. Liberals where anti state, they placed the individual, and his or hers initiative above the state. It was John Stuart Mill, who best described this philosophy in his essay "On Liberty." According to Mill, the role of the state is to protect the individual, not to impose restrains that would decrease individual freedoms. These ideals are represented in the liberals' goals to outlaw slavery, grant freedom of press, speech, and association, and to extend the vote to everyone. Goals that the feminist movement shared, and fought for very hard. The United States was one of the liberal countries that accomplished all three of these goals, and where feminist did very well in the 19th century. Freedom of speech, press, and association was accomplished when the Constitution was written, the end of slavery was accomplished by the Civil War, and the vote took some time, but finally it was extended last to women in the beginnings of the 20th century.

One of the best examples of how well feminism developed in liberal countries is England. The English Women's Right movement was one of the strongest in the world and it provided an example for the rest of Europe. Thanks to the technological advances made in England, and the wealth that they brought, a new middle class started to emerge in this country, and it was the women from this class that became the driving force of the women's movement during the 19th century. It was clear to them the need for this movement since they were experiencing face to face the deprivation of the rights men of their class had won. So they started working as part of the movement. The Women's movement first demanded the vote in 1832, when the "Great Reform Act" broader suffrage qualification. Their request was denied, but they continued working.

The English movement created great feminist leaders such as Harriet Hardly Taylor Mill, a great advocate for the right of women, specially the right to education. She believed that "high mental powers in women will be but an exceptional accident, until every career is open to them, and until they, as well as men, are educated for themselves and for the world-not one sex for the other."(Packet, 359) Millicent Garrett Fawcett and Emmiline Goulden Pankhurst, where two other great feminist leaders that England produced. Fawcett was the leader of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Society(NUWSS), and Pankhurst was the leader of the Women's Social and Political Union(WSPU).

Feminism, was as unsuccessful in conservative countries as it was successful in liberal countries. Conservatives, from the feminist point of view were the enemy. Conservatives liked to preserve the existing order, they had great respect for the traditions, and inheritance that was left behind by their ancestors. They valued the stability of the political, and social structure, and therefore believed that changes that could affect it should be gradual, and very well thought. For the feminist, this made them the enemy since they were trying to preserve the very structure that had placed women, in the traditional role, the feminist movement was trying to change. Feminist wanted radical change, changes to match the progress that was going on in the world, and that was creating new roles for women. Conservatives opposed progress; they said that if something was not broken, and it had work fine until now, it should not be change, it should be respected, and preserve.

Religion was another aspect that created great difficulties for feminist in conservative countries. Conservatives were very religious. They believe that man where sinful creatures, so whatever they did could only cause harm, people that proposed any kind of big change, even if it was for the better of the people it was the representation of the devil himself. The tradition of the church has always placed women in the role of caretaker. Women were meant to be at home, and their main purpose is to have children, and take care of them, so their fear of feminist was inevitable, and there for any conservative country would make it very difficult for the women's movement to develop.

An example of the conflicting points of view between feminism, and the conservatism is The French Revolution. Edmund Burke, one of the leaders of the conservative movement in Britain, expressed the conservatives' opposition to this process in his masterpiece "Reflection on the Revolution in France(1790)," where he argued in favor of tradition, and the value of the established law, and authority. To the feminist the French Revolution had great importance. It was during the French Revolution that the equality between men and women was first proposed in front of government, and it was the French Marquis de Concordorcet who did it when he proposed the Admission of Women to the Right of the City, on July 1790. Concordorcet said: "... he who votes against the right of another, whatever the religion, color, or sex of that other, has hence forth abjured his own.'(Bell and Offen, P. 99)"(Spodek, 547) The proposal was rejected, but it helped to open up the discussion about women's rights.

Socialism is the middle ground for the success of feminism. In socialist countries, such as Russia, feminism was more successful than in conservative countries, but less successful than in liberal countries. Socialist were more tolerant with respect to the Women's Movement. Socialist wanted a true social transformation, through violence if necessary. The Feminist movement also wanted radical change, and it was prepared to use violence if necessary. Violence was the method used by Emmiline Goulden Pankhurst, leader of the WSPU, to promote the change feminism wanted. She believed that if the vote was to be gain, then action had to be taken, so she actively spoke to gain the vote whenever a Liberal politician spoke, she participated in local and national suffrage demonstrations, at personal risk. She follows this tactics, the WSPU disrupted meeting, and organized demonstrations such as open-air rallies. The need for radical change, and the use of violence to get it were two of the major goals that socialist, and a part of the feminist movement shared.

Equality was the battle cry for both feminist, and socialist, however they were fighting different wars. The socialist's was a battle against the differences between the classes; the feminist's was a battle against the differences between sexes. According to Karl Max, one of the leaders of the socialism, history was a series of class struggles, the haves against the haves not. So their solution was to create a society where everyone would have total equality, social, political, and economical. To them property should belong to the government, everyone should earn the same, and live in the same kind of house, and eat the same kind of food, individualism was not contemplated in their dictionary. Feminist however, believe in individualism. They wanted for women the same rights men had, the right to vote, the right to own property, the right to equal pay; they wanted the chance to progress along with the men of their class.

One of the major disagreements between socialists, and feminists was their point of view on the industrial revolution in Britain, an event that triggered both the feminist and the socialist movement. The opportunities that the industrial revolution brought created a great social gap between owners, and workers. Those opportunities were creating a great social difference, since the owners of the factories where looking to make as much money as possible, so they paid the workers as little as possible. This money the workers had to use to buy food, and pay housing since many of them had come form the country, while the owners were getting richer, and richer. In time a new social class was born, a middle social class that got its wealth from land, trading, and factories. The creation of a new social class was exactly what the socialists were afraid industrialization would bring. Socialist were fighting for total social equality, so for them industrialization was a source creating the very same type of problem they were fighting to eliminate.

For the feminist on the other hand, the industrial revolution brought nothing, but benefits. The creation of a new middle class in Britain, was one of the factors that triggered the feminist movement in the 19th century. The women part of this middle class, found themselves with nothing to do after their children where grown up, so they began to search for something useful to do. They engaged in charity work, and what was called suitable work for women like teaching, and nursing. Working for people in need, made them realize how mush women needed help. These women were educated, and it was obvious to them the rights they were missing, because they saw how the men of their class had acquired these rights with the new found wealth. Since these women had the time, and the education necessary, they started to advocate for the equality of women, giving the Women's Movement a great lift.

Liberal, Conservative, or Socialist, whatever the ideology of the country, all feminist women were working toward the same end, equally for women. The fight was long and hard, but at the end women saw results. During WWII, women had the chance to prove themselves to the world. They had to take upon the job men had left behind to go to work. They had on their hand the survival of their respective countries. After their efforts to help their countries, and their undeniable success in doing it, even at the war front as nurses, and ambulance drivers, the world could not longer deny the indisputable truth, and finally for the first time women where rewarded for their efforts when in 1910 Norway granted women the right to vote. Every country in the world followed to do the same, and eventually women gain more and more rights, but up to this day, countries with the most successful women movement, such as US are liberal countries.

Word Cited:

Howard Spodek, "The World's History," vol 2. 1998

Roy Macridis and Mark Hulliung, "Contemporary Political Ideologies," 1996
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