Modern day feminists push the narrative that first wave feminism was pushed because women wanted the right to vote for themselves, while some women may have felt that way, that wasn’t the main push behind women fighting for the right to vote. Suffrage started as a campaign to gain certain rights typically given only to males because they wanted to change government policies and in order to do so they had to be able to vote. Suffrage was a means to an end in the fight for the abolition of slavery in America.
Women, who were fighting for abolition, were creating pamphlets, handing out literature and giving speeches in an attempt to end slavery. As they fought for abolition they began to see parallels between the needs of the movement and the lack of women’s suffrage, determining that having the right to vote would increase their ability to impact and influence society about the need for abolition. This caused many prominent abolitionist women to begin to also fight for women’s rights in what we traditionally consider women’s suffrage or first wave feminism.
During this time, as women were fighting for abolition and consequently the right for women to vote, they faced additional challenges further propelling the movement forward. While fighting for suffrage, women began to consider the plight of black males who also did not have the right to vote at this time as part of the suffrage movement. The movement was divided on whether or not the case for black male suffrage should be tied in to women’s suffrage or treated as a separate cause. Slavery was officially outlawed in America in 1863 with the 13th amendment before black males or women gained the right to vote, so much of the pro-abolition base transitioned to the fight for black male and women’s suffrage. Ultimately, in 1870 the 15th amendment would be ratified giving black men the ability to vote legally although it would take some time for people to actually fully put this in to practice.
Women, who fought for suffrage and abolition, on the other hand were not given the right to vote until 1920 with the passage of the 19th amendment in America. This showed that while women’s suffrage had been successful, their initial efforts were most influential in gaining the right to vote for black males before women, though I would argue women’s right to vote went in to effect in practice earlier than that of black men. Interestingly, in only 2015 Saudi Arabia finally granted suffrage to its women to vote in elections, 95 years after women in America received suffrage.
It is vital to realize that suffrage rose from the abolishment movement and the desire of American women to fight to end slavery. The abolitionist movement sprung the movement for women’s suffrage, which would start a long line of social movements to take place in America throughout the 19th century. Third wave feminism needs to remember that they have roots in starting to free men from slavery and giving black men the right to vote. When feminism started there was a level of respect between both genders. Women weren’t looking to be exactly like men or to be held higher than men, they simply wanted to be able to legally effect change. How far feminism has strayed from here, a place where the aim was to benefit all of society not just to benefit women. Third wave feminism needs to have the best interests of the nation, both men and women in mind, pushing for real causes, real change and real equality not female supremacy, lest they start a movement for a new modern day version of “male suffrage.” The end goal for America is for all men and women to have equality under the law, and currently, we are, luckily, there.