One of the most esteemed parts of the United States Constitution is the Nineteenth Amendment, which reads:
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
This will sound like a good idea to the vast majority of people at the time of this writing. Most people would agree that laws which prohibit women from voting are unfairly discriminatory and that a constitutional amendment was necessary and proper to prevent such practices. But the matter is not that simple. Let us examine why extending voting rights to women was a mistake and consider a better alternative.
In the words of Frédéric Bastiat, “The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended.” There have been many arguments made against women’s suffrage which can now be clearly seen to constitute an inept defense of restrictions on voting at best and baseless misogyny at worst. The following list of such arguments is not exhaustive, but includes the most common arguments which were made.
- The argument that women and men have ‘separate spheres’ was generally true in ages past, but is much less true today. (Whether societal changes in gender roles over the past 150 years are positive, neutral, or negative developments is outside the scope of this article. We shall concern ourselves only with the nature and effects of these changes here.)
- The argument that women should not vote because they do not serve in police or military forces and would thus be making decisions to which they would not be directly subject is no longer valid because women do serve in police and military forces today.
- The argument that most women have no desire for the vote is empirically false; in United States presidential elections, female voters have outnumbered male voters in every election since 1964 and voter turnout percentage has been higher for females in every election since 1980.
- The argument that introducing a female element into an imperial electorate would weaken the central power in the eyes of people living in the colonies is invalid on two counts; the age of colonialism has ended and women’s suffrage was achieved earlier in most colonies than in the colonizing empires.
- The argument that women are inherently inferior to men is impossible to measure objectively and therefore impossible to prove.
- The argument that women are already represented by their husbands fails for any woman who is not married to a man.
- The argument that women’s interests are safe when men wield political power and women do not is too absurd to take seriously.
- The argument that women have a vast indirect influence on politics through their influence on the men in their lives is true, but this indirect influence is no match for direct wielding of political power.
- The argument that women are emotional creatures incapable of making sound political decisions is an unwarranted generalization. Many men also make unsound political decisions.
- The argument that women are naturally conservative and would cost left-wing parties victories in elections is empirically false; since 1980, more women than men have voted for Democrats in United States elections.
- The argument that the role of women is in local affairs is countered by several of the above observations.
With the weak arguments disposed of, let us turn to arguments which fail to make a solid case but cannot be dismissed without explanation. The first is that involving women in politics leads to a decline in marriages and birthrates, thus leading to a demographic catastrophe. Marriages and birthrates have certainly declined in Western democracies and a demographic catastrophe will occur if nothing is done soon to prevent it, but to consider this a direct result of women’s suffrage would be a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. The link here is more roundabout in nature, owing to progressive policies which create perverse incentives that lead to female voters choosing to expand state power. This growth of state power, progressive policies, and perverse incentives weighs against marriage and childbirth. Progressive policies were already being enacted years before women’s suffrage was established, and it is entirely possible that men could have passed the remainder of progressive policies without female votes.
The second is that women’s suffrage is based on equality of the sexes. While it is impossible to show that people of one gender are inherently inferior to people of the other, this does not mean that gender equality is true. A lack of inequality being synonymous with equality is only true for that which is quantifiable, as that which is unquantifiable cannot be less than or greater than something else. This fact alone does not make a case against women’s suffrage, but a case for women’s suffrage must find some other basis.
The third is that when women’s suffrage was first being debated, few women owned property. If they were given permission to vote, then men who did not own property would also have to be given permission to vote. This is a valid concern; people who do not own property but vote on matters that affect property owners have a perverse incentive to use state power to steal from the haves under color of law and give to the have-nots. But the answer here is not to deny suffrage to women; it is to deny suffrage to people who do not own property.
Now, let us look at the valid arguments against women’s suffrage. The first is that politics are a corrupting influence on women. Power corrupts and is magnetic to the corruptible, and the voting booth gives women as a group a large amount of power. It is fair to point out that the same could be said of men and that the best options are to abolish political power entirely or to abolish democracy, but practically doubling the number of voters and thus the number of people corrupted by political power is still not a good idea.
The second is that women’s suffrage turns women against men. As mentioned before, progressive policies create perverse incentives that allow politicians to buy votes with stolen resources. This turns women against men by giving women a way to make poor choices without having to suffer the consequences for them. In more traditional societies, women had to either be successful on their own or choose a mate of good quality. Failing to do so would leave her (and any children she might have with an inferior man) in a precarious position. As such, there were social pressures on women to do the aforementioned and avoid promiscuous behaviors. With political power, however, these women could join with other women (and beta males) to use the state to steal from successful men and give to women who had made poor choices, thus incentivizing more poor choices in the future. It is also noteworthy that bans on drugs, alcohol, and gambling were also coming into effect around the same time as women’s suffrage in the United States. These were the result of women using political influence to get the state to force men to be better mates for them. Like all other attempts to legislate morality, these efforts failed to eliminate the targeted behaviors and created revenue sources for organized crime. Finally, the ability to rely on the state rather than on men or family led to the creation of pensions, unemployment insurance, government retirement benefits, and other such distortions of the market which are not sustainable over the long term. (To be fair, this is not entirely the fault of women because the World Wars resulted in many dead men, which incentivized women to turn to the state in the absence of suitable mates.)
Third, and best from a libertarian perspective, is that voting is an act of aggression and should therefore be opposed wherever possible. To vote is to impose violent rulers upon peaceful people and create the appearance of legitimacy for a system which deserves none. Misguided libertarians notwithstanding, voting does not qualify as self-defense because innocent third parties who are not human shields are aggressed against in the process. As such, the answer to the problem of men committing acts of aggression is not to allow women to do so as well, but to stop men from doing so. Giving women the vote may seem like a pragmatic position, but pragmatic efforts in the quest to end the state have a long history of backfiring.
To conclude, a repeal of the Nineteenth Amendment is a sufficiently remote possibility to be dismissed as a serious avenue of attack against state power, but it would be a positive development if it were to somehow occur. While the abolition of political power is the ultimate requirement for a free society, democracy is fundamentally incompatible with liberty and any measure that pushes back against democracy should be welcomed.