OK, so we know it might seem like a controversial idea to talk about men on International Women’s Day, but hear us out.
When we thought about what we could write to celebrate this day—and all of Women’s History Month, for that matter—a number of tried-and-true ideas came to mind: the top inventions created by women, the best ways to celebrate International Women’s Day/Women’s History Month…you get the picture. The thing is, though, we don’t want to celebrate just any one thing; rather, we think it’s important to celebrate the women’s rights movement as a whole. And, while women have themselves been tantamount in the pursuit of issues affecting them, perhaps less obvious are a few forward-thinking men who’ve played a part in certain policies, ideas, and norms that have contributed to the momentum the women’s rights movement is currently experiencing. Here are four in particular.
Most people know Frederick Douglas as the OG abolitionist, master orator, and all-around genius reformist, but he’s also considered one of the first high-profile men to be open and vocal about his push for women’s rights. In fact, he was one of only a handful of men who attended America’s first women’s rights conference in Seneca Falls (which made sense given the general alignment between his push for black voting privileges around the same time that women’s suffrage was also picking up steam). That said, he was still somewhat of a contentious figure in certain women’s suffrage circles, as he was first and foremost pushing for the black man’s vote before the woman’s. Still, women’s rights remained an important part of his overall platform, and he delivered a pretty powerful speech in 1888 reiterating as much:
“I believe no man, however gifted with thought and speech, can voice the wrongs and present the demands of women with the skill and effect, with the power and authority of woman herself. The man struck is the man to cry out. Woman…is her own representative.”
Everyone is likely familiar with the most famous female rabble-rouser in the women’s suffrage movement, Susan B. Anthony. However, few realize that Susan’s thirst for social justice was very much a family affair, with her father, Daniel Anthony, setting a strong example early on in young Susan’s life. When Susan was a kid, her school refused to teach the girls in her class math (which apparently was pretty common at the time). Daniel Anthony found this ridiculous, so he decided to open a school of his own where boys and girls would be treated equally. He was also a pretty fierce prohibitionist, which on the surface seems like hogwash (we live in Colorado, after all), but his rationale was that, in making alcohol illegal, society would ultimately experience fewer domestic abuse issues. We certainly don’t subscribe to prohibitionist ideas over here, but we’ve got to say: Daniel Anthony did have pretty good reasoning (especially for the time).
John Stuart Mill
While Frederick Douglas was subtly knocking down the patriarchy here in America, philosopher John Stuart Mill was pushing the feminist agenda across the Atlantic in our pseudo foe, Great Britain. He was actually the first member of Parliament to propose a bill giving women the right to vote. However, being a philosopher at his core, he made a particular impact on the women’s rights movement through a political essay he penned with his wife (who, unfortunately, died prior to it being finished in 1861). Titled The Subjection of Women, the essay argued that making genders unequal was ultimately holding back society’s improvement as a whole—both intellectually and economically (well, duh). One of the natural conclusions of his argument was women’s suffrage, but, what was especially unique about John Stuart Mill’s essay, was that it approached the concept of equality from the perspective of economics and broader philosophy—languages that the close-minded dudes of the time could wrap their heads around. This passage in particular hit at the overall theme of Mill’s point of view:
“I deny that any one knows or can know, the nature of the two sexes, as long as they have only been seen in their present relation to one another. Until conditions of equality exist, no one can possibly assess the natural differences between women and men, distorted as they have been. What is natural to the two sexes can only be found out by allowing both to develop and use their faculties freely.”
Guðni Th. Jóhannesson
Women’s suffrage was a big deal for both litigious and symbolic reasons, as it was evidence that women were seen as equal contributors to the decision-making process on a national scale. Perhaps a modern-day example of an issue of this magnitude is the wage gap; it’s still a thing for whatever reason, and statistics suggest that it’s universal. But this wasn’t acceptable to Iceland’s president, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, who decided in January of this year to make gender-based pay inequality illegal. Why it’s not illegal across the world is beyond us, but sometimes it only takes one person, and one extremely tiny country, to set the example for more progressive efforts across the globe.