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Women's politics before women got the vote

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 4:08 pm    Post subject: Women's politics before women got the vote Reply with quote


In France and America democratic revolution opened up the possibility of change in social and political structures and hence raised questions about women's status. In Britain, by contrast, political stability and reaction muffled the discussion of women's rights launched by Mary Wollstonecraft, and new women's political mobilization did not begin until after 1815. The prospects of radical political change for the masses, men and women, were break. Plebeian women left formal institutional politics to men. Women were absent from formal political activities, participating neither in election riots nor in the meetings, societies, and petitions that accompanied both radical agitation and loyalist opposition to it. Conventional politicians did not perceive women as potential voters, and so women were not likely to participate in the local political parties and factions that generated election riots. The conservatives who orchestrated Loyalist riots were hardly likely to emancipate women by mobilizing them in “Church and King” mobs, nor in the organizations and Volunteer corps that sometimes underlay them. Since the radical feminist critiques of Wollstonecraft and others did not generate mass associations, women of this era participated in politics primarily via the informal community politics of riot.

Riots were the plebeian branch of the constitution for they could be and often were successful. Never merely functional dialogue between the governed and their rulers, riots aimed at tangible goals, shattered local social calm, and forced the authorities to respond. Yet riots were so common as to be commonplace: more than a thousand riots took place in the period 1790-1810. Rioters typically defended their communities against “external” threats to their welfare. They pursued local and concrete objectives. They took over the food markets to stop profiteering or local export of grain in times of famine; they hounded press gangs and soldiers out of their communities; they broke machines to back up wage demands. Rioters also punished constables, witches, pickpockets, and homosexuals, as well as radicals and other political enemies. Like more conventional politics riots rested at bottom on a basis of physical coercion. But also like other politics, riots were shaped by competing interests and by public opinion and ideologies that E. P. Thompson has called “legitimizing notions.” Rioters were also empowered, and sometimes constrained, by the local social networks that connected common people with each other and with the authorities in the webs of community politics. A spectrum of community polities interacted with household economies and with gender to shape women's roles in riot.
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