What Would Susan B. Anthony Do?

IMG_2538

Election day is just around the corner, which means a lot of scrambling to get votes. Phrases like “the fight for women’s votes” are being bandied about as though women are some monolithic block of voters who all think and vote with one brain. In reality, women fall all over the political spectrum. We come in all shapes, sizes, colors, religions, ethnicities, sexualities, races, abilities and more. To represent all women as having one mind when it comes to voting is highly flawed and ignores all the different ways women are women.

I have been reading Around the World in Seventy-Two Days and Other Writings by Nellie Bly. Bly’s interview with suffragist Susan B. Anthony is a highlight of the book. If I had a time machine that would turn me into a fly on the wall, I would go back to the day in 1896 when these two great women sat down to talk. With all the chatter about the woman’s vote, it’s hard not to think of Anthony and her fight for the 19th amendment. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the other suffragists spoke of votes for women. Yes, that’s women plural.

IMG_2540

Bly asked Anthony, “What do you think the new woman will be?” Anthony responded, “She’ll be free…Then she’ll be whatever her best judgment wants to be” (137). Anthony was hesitant to define the new woman as a single type of person. She did not assign her specific values or viewpoints. Instead she trusted the new woman to determine those things for herself. If Anthony got it back in 1896, why are politicians in 2014 stuck representing women in one way?

There have been republican commercials that try to court the female vote (pun intended!). For some clips of the commercials and humorous commentary by Kristen Schaal and John Stewart, check out this segment from The Daily Show. Why is the one type of woman represented one who seems solely obsessed with marriage? Are women that daft that they will only take an interest in politics if they are framed in terms of wedding decisions?

The way these commercials try to appeal to women makes me think that they were designed by men who have had little to no interaction with women. This seems impossible when you consider that most men have a mother, wife, sister and/or female friend, and most men also work in and go to places where women are present. It is as though a bunch of old men sat around a table on Man Island and tried to figure out what this mysterious creature called “woman” likes:

Hey, women like to get married, right? Maybe we can do something with that.

I’m not married, I’m not obsessed with marriage and I don’t watch The Bachelor. Aside from being a woman like the actors in these commercials, my values and viewpoints are not represented. I do not condemn the women who watch shows like The Bachelor or who love marriage. One of the beautiful things about what feminists have fought for is that women can be who they want to be. Even women who are interested in marriages have interests beyond that. My issue is with the fact that commercials like these are part of a larger pattern of telling a single story of women’s lives.

The issues mentioned in the commercials are couched in things like picking the right wedding dress or lamenting a bad relationship. It’s as though women lack the ability to process information about candidates and political issues, so it must be spoon-fed to us with wedding dresses and reality shows about marriage because those must be the only things we care about.

If we as women are truly going to be “whatever [our] best judgment wants to be,” then we must express ourselves through our votes and our stories. Bly closes out her interview by saying, “Susan B. Anthony is all that is best and noblest in woman. She is ideal and if we will have in women who vote what we have in her, let us all help to promote the cause of woman suffrage” (137). Anthony spoke her mind and championed the cause of women getting the right to vote because she believed that women were intelligent and informed enough to make decisions about the political destiny of their country. It is time that politicians recognized this and stopped distilling us down to a group of people whose sole interest is weddings and dating. We are intelligent and informed, and we are fully capable of participating in this country’s political process.

Work Cited:

Bly, Nellie. Around the World in Seventy-Two Days and Other Writings. New York: Penguin Books, 2014. Print.

Where I Read

Powells Tweet

On Twitter, Powell’s Books recently asked readers where their favorite place to read is. Of course, my first response was, “Anywhere there’s a book!” I mean, how can I pick just one favorite? If it’s a really good book, it doesn’t matter where I am reading it. I could be lounging in my favorite reading chair at home, sitting with a nice cup of coffee at a cafe, reclining on a beach or even standing in line at the grocery store.

IMG_1481

I rarely leave home without a book. When other people pull out their smart phones to pass the time while waiting in line, I pull out a book. Even if I only manage a paragraph or two before it’s my turn, the time spent in the book world is worthwhile. It is a little escape from the noise and chaos around me.

Reading motivates me to go to the gym more than the idea that it will help me get in better shape. A trip to the gym means time on the stationary bike, which is a great place to read. A way to exercise while reading? Sign me up! When I am at the gym, I usually have to tune out the loud music, sports on TV screens and guys who shout across the gym to each other, “Hey, bro! You lifting weights today, bro?” A good book can take me out of all that noise and activity.

IMG_2485

I was recently reading Around the World in Seventy-Two Days and Other Writings by Nellie Bly while on the stationary bike. I had just finished reading Bly’s interview with Susan B. Anthony when I looked up after I heard a cheer from a group of men standing directly behind me. Perhaps I underestimated the gym bros. Maybe they could take a break from staring at their muscles in the mirror to show enthusiasm for these two great feminist thinkers of the 19th century. Not so. I looked at the mirror in front of me and realized they were all looking above me at the TV. A baseball playoff game was drawing to a close. Sigh. As you were, bros.

There are a couple other readers who regularly use the bikes as a place to enjoy a good book or magazine. When I recently passed a fellow gym reader recently on my way to the bike, she eyed the book in my hand and gave me a knowing smile as though we were part of a secret gym book club. My favorite reader at the gym is the man who finds a way to drape newspapers and magazines over the handles on the recumbent bike as though the equipment was an exhibit on the modern reader in a museum of contemporary art. There is usually a stack of books and magazines on the floor next to him. I get it. Sometimes it can be hard to decide what to read, so why not bring options?

As the world gets louder and more and more advertising shouts for our attention, there seem to be fewer moments in our days where we get a moment of quiet escape. Books can still do that. Within a few sentences we can be transported to the English countryside during the Regency Era or to a place completely of the author’s imagination. It is for this reason that anywhere there is a book is my favorite place to read.

If I have to pick an actual place, it is this one: my big, red chair. I could spend hours there (and I have). Just put a cup of coffee by my side and good book in my hands.

Where do you like to read? Leave your response in the comments.

IMG_2487