Saturday, April 14, 2018

Misconceptions about male vs. female suffrage

Many people, especially (and of course) feminists, have this notion that historically men have had the right to vote for a long, long time, and that women getting the right to vote is, relative to that, a very recent development, and the result of a hard-fought battle.

If you ever encounter a person thinking like that, ask that person when exactly men got the right to vote. I'm somewhat certain that he will get stumped.

Voting is a democratic process, and democracies in general are quite a new thing. The funny thing is that this pretty common knowledge, ie. that for the vast majority of history governments were oligarchic and based on inherited royalty and nobility, not based on democracy. For the longest time nobody had the right to vote, especially not the peasants nor the working class, because there was no democratic voting process. Government was owned by nobility, not elected. The funny thing about this is that people seem to forget that they know this quite well.

Even when there was some kind of voting process, for the longest time it was restricted to the upper classes only. The working class couldn't vote. And even then, especially in some countries, when this started phasing out, voting was still restricted to the richer part of the population.

The right for every citizen to vote regardless of social status (even if it was restricted to men) is called "universal suffrage", and it has not existed since forever. It is, in fact, a rather new thing. Just like women's suffrage.

In fact, if you look at the history of universal suffrage in many countries, the timespan between all men (regardless of social status) to vote, and this right being extended to women, can be surprisingly short. In some countries (eg. Finland, since its independence) this right was given immediately. In other countries this right was extended in just a couple of decades (eg. 14 years in the case of New Zealand.). About 40 to 50 years seems to be the average.

Sure, that's in itself a relatively long time, but not even nearly as much as people seem to think it was. People don't really cite any numbers, but when you hear them talk about it, they seem to think that this took something like hundreds and hundreds of years. Even though they know that universal suffrage in the fist place is a recent development, even for men. They just forget about that.

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