Thursday, January 21, 2010

Are Women People?

Are Women People? A Book of Rhymes for Suffrage Times, by Alice Duer Miller

Many Men to Any Woman

If you have beauty, charm, refinement, tact,
If you can prove that should I set you free,
You would not contemplate the smallest act
That might annoy or interfere with me.
If you can show that women will abide
By the best standards of their womanhood—
(And I must be the person to decide
What in a woman is the highest good);
If you display efficiency supreme
In philanthropic work devoid of pay;
If you can show a clearly thought-out scheme
For bringing the millennium in a day:
Why, then, dear lady, at some time remote,
I might consider giving you the vote.

The year is 1915, and the country is hotly arguing the question of whether or not women should be given the vote. Then as now, there is no shortage of stupid people saying stupidly bigoted things in favor of the status quo. But is Alice Duer Miller discouraged?

She is, a bit, but she isn't giving up the fight. In the pages of the New York Tribune she publishes a series of pro-suffrage poems. The poems are bitterly, bitingly funny, even now, when the matter is long settled and even people like Sarah Palin support women's right to vote.

This book collects the poems previously published in the Tribune. Some of them are in response to specific people and statements, which she helpfully quotes for the sake of context. Some of them are more general. A few pieces of humorous prose are included at the end, but the book is mainly poetry. It is short; I finished it while waiting for my turn for a haircut. Admittedly, I waited longer than I would have liked. But I look great now. Check out my sporty new short haircut! I'm guessing that the man quoted by Alice Duer Miller who said "I hate a woman who is not a mystery to herself, as well as to me," would probably not approve of my sporty new haircut.

As I read this collection, I took a great deal of comfort in it. Some days I feel that the fight for gay equality is eternal, and there's just too much stupid in the world to overcome simply with reason, patience, good humor, and firm determination. But Miller and her sisters won their votes at last, so thoroughly that no one would question them now, and yet, reading this collection of poems, it's not a settled issue but a living debate with passionate opponents.

I hadn't heard Miller's name before I downloaded this gem. Now I'm infatuated with her writing, and will save it on my Reader to enjoy these poems again.