Monday, July 17, 2017

Remember the Ladies by Angela P. Dodson

I requested this from NetGalley because I thought it sounded interesting - it's a history of the suffragette movement in America. I don't know if this is the right but from the book the American version seems to be a movement largely born and bred in America, with only a little bit of inspiration of Britain.

Considering that this is a movement that started in 1848 (the book starts by going back and forth in history so I'm not entirely sure) and involves many many people, the author did an admirable job of condensing it into one book. The chapters are also pretty short and simple, which makes it a good introduction for beginners like me. (Though I think people looking for a more in-depth exploration of the subject may not be satisfied)

Apart from the history, there are also "columns" that give brief biographies of key figures. I think this would work very well as a history textbook, but since I read it in three or four sittings, those biographies and mini-essays felt a bit disruptive to the flow of the book.

I did learn a few things though! One was why there was an overlap between the Temperance movement and the suffragist movement! The book puts it this way:

"Wives of drunkards were generally unable to provide for themselves or protect themselves and their children in their homes. Hence sobriety became a primary women's rights issue."

Another thing I've noticed is that identity politics is not new. The movement for voting rights for women and African Americans (although focused more on the men) occurred roughly at the same time and when African American men began making progress, one of the leading women of the suffrage movement "began using language in speeches and written commentaries that denigrated both black men and poor immigrants who had begun pouring into the country."

I found that to be very sad and self-defeating (especially when the African Americans 'fought back' by essentially saying that women's rights were not important because they weren't in danger). Not a historian but it feels like this quarreling only serves to help people who were against these movements because it's basically dividing and self-defeating.

And this, by the way, is the reason why I'm not a fan of identity politics and the recent trend in emphasising how one is somehow part of the most oppressed good - this may be soothing to your ego but I really don't feel it's effecting in getting you the allies you need to effect real change. We should be building everyone up, not just one particular community.

The ending too was a bit odd. It sort of jumps from when women get the vote to Hilary Clinton's presidential run (about which books can and probably are being written). There are intriguing facts mentioned - like how significant numbers of white women voted for Trump, but no exploration into the reason why. Personally, I would have preferred the book to stop at the vote, especially since the beginning did talk about current affairs.

Overall, I think this book is a good introduction to the history of women's voting rights in America. I'm not a fan of the awkward ending but that's just me - others may like that fact that she brought it back to the present day.

(And I'm very torn between 3 and 4 stars but I think I'll give 4 because of the subject matter)

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publishers via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

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