Equality today among men and women is still a hot topic, as it was back in the 1920s. There was much debate in the 1920s over how to acquire the “same” rights as men for women. So, the movement began, but the real question is, how exactly does one define the “same” rights for men and women? Is there a different treatment involved to accomplish this? With these questions come debates, and it is important to recognize the arguments on each side and where they originated from.
One central strategic question for the women’s rights movement in the late nineteenth century has concerned alliances: should proponents of “the cause of woman” ally with advocates for the rights for freed slaves, with temperance workers, etc, or none of them? For a time, many different woman leaders could not agree on what they meant for the breadth of the woman’s movement and for the priority assigned to woman’s issues. Many woman leaders were either against such alliances, or for them (Cott, 503-504). This can be a difficult issue for women who seem to be fighting for the same thing, but on completely different terms and levels. If women could not seem to agree with each other, then how would their goals of having the same rights as men ever become accomplished?
The 1920s debate on equal rights seemed to have brought it into focus, leaving generations later to eventually resolve, asking the question whether “equal rights” – a concept adopted, after all, from the male political tradition – matched woman’s needs (Cott, 504). This is already viewed as a concept originated from males, so automatically, rights will have to be changed to fit the needs of women’s, requiring women to have “special treatment”. The nineteenth century at the time was facing never before seen controversies. Men and women were viewed as competing against each other. Nineteenth-century advocates claimed woman’s “right to labor,” meaning that they wanted to have their labor recognized by everyone, and become diversified (Cott, 504).
On the opposing side of the argument, some opponents believed that sex-based legislation was necessary because of women’s biological and social roles as mothers. They claimed that “The inherent differences are permanent. Women will always need many laws different from those needed by men.”. “Women as such, whether or not they are mothers present or prospective, will always need protective legislation”; “The working mother is handicapped by her own nature” (Cott, 509). Having said these remarks about women show that women are being oppressed by their maternal nature. Is it fair to tell a woman that she is handicapped from the workforce just because she can carry a child?
The history sinks deep within the fight for equal rights among everyone. Equal rights among men and women will never truly be what everyone envisions. The law can make equal rights among men and women technically the same, but with how people treat it and with what they do with it is in their own hands. Progress is on the rise for equality, it is just how one takes advantage of it now.
Cott, Nancy F. (c2016). Equal Rights and Economic Roles: The Conflict over the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1920s. New York, (N.Y.): Oxford University Press.