In women’s freedom struggle, discussion of “right to vote” goes back to 19th century, the time when “right to vote” campaigns were at their peak. Although “universal right to vote” has been imposed as a political reality from the time it was put in effect along with the West type of “liberal democracies” existing in many parts of the world; it is a subject of an ongoing discussion for us, women, who have been witnessing that liberal democracies have not brought about any kind of “freedom” and who are sure that it will never do.
When “right to vote” is presented on the basis of equality of woman and man, it will trap woman into a big delusion. Like many other subjects that liberal democracy puts under the scope of rights and freedoms, it presents a fait accompli, avoiding in depth discussion of theoretical and practical aspects of the subject, and an evaluation of the implementations with regards to the individuals who will exercise these “rights and freedoms”. This feature of liberal democracy is related to its state structure which will not let questioning of the political, economic and social mechanisms and will impose these mechanisms on individuals. As for the ones who question this state structure and its mechanisms have been labeled as opposing “equality of woman and man”.
The discussions related to women’s “right to vote” exist both in the past, and also today. Observing the discussions made during 19th century in the North America geography where these campaigns were at their peak, enables us not only to see the relationship between the mere “right to vote” and woman struggle, but also to think about concepts like woman as a political subject and political equality, which are part of the woman struggle.
The Struggle of “Right To Vote”
The fact which is discussed about “right to vote” campaigns during 19th century in North America, is the ideas that promoted this political demand. “Right to vote” campaigns aimed primarily to empower women inside traditional institution of marriage. And contrary to what one might guess, this movement was mainly middle class and conservative.
During the period when the campaigns were at their peak, conservative movements like American Temperance Society, Purity League, who thought they would get rid of social exorbitance by giving woman the right to vote. In other words, the aim was to “better preserve the social values” and “social purity” by giving woman the right to vote. The “woman” that is promoted here for the right to vote, was promoted through maternity inside the traditional social structure.
On the other hand, the right to vote were also supported by people who thought woman must be free from the oppression of the church and home. However, what made the movement grow and gain widespread support was the fact that the right to vote supporters wanted to vote to make herself “a good Christian, housewife and citizen of state”.
In a political environment like this, the discussion of “right to vote” becomes even more important. According to Emma Goldman, the right to vote campaigns distracted from the real struggle. She said the basic struggle could only be put up by reorganizing the society as a whole, by women creating free and meaningful lives for themselves.
At a time when the women struggle focused on “the right to vote”, anarchist women not only questioned the state structure, but they went further and questioned patriarchal family structure and social gender. They argued that the oppression of women was basically related with sex and fertility. They asserted that sexual factors were also used beside economical factors, to keep women under pressure.
Their conclusion was related with how the woman will be a political subject. Not through the ballot box; They defended that to become a subject, they needed to be politically, economically, psychologically and sexually independent from men and male-dominated institutions.
Being A Political Subject
Today, the agenda of referendum must also be questioned with respect to woman as a political subject. The historical background of the right to vote as a “gained political right” must be taken into consideration while questioning. Because;
The guiding of woman struggle towards joining the elections with the claim that voting will politicize us women is a delusion. This approach can neither be defined as a struggle against patriarchy, nor it will allow woman to make her case as a political subject through elector-elected relationship in the existing system which perpetuates patriarchy.
The claim that the woman, who is not allowed outside a mere “sub-heading” in the election propaganda, is “equal political subject”, is a big lie. Expecting a positive and result oriented change from a political mechanism identified with patriarchal system, is not realistic.
Patriarchy is one the basic constitutive dynamics in the political-social-economical mechanisms that we live in, and it is shaping society to full extent. Opposing this form of power is only possible through a struggle in entirety. Moves like referendum or election in order to be decisive over the organization of economical and political structure and the state mechanism, cannot create lasting solutions. Freedom of woman will not be realized by temporary measures taken by joining politics with state.
If the woman struggle is targeting a definite relation of domination and power, how can we talk about a political subject when the structures constructed by this relation of power are used? If patriarchy is one of the constitutive dynamics of this system, then opposing this form of relation is only possible through a politics in entirety.
When doing its politics, woman struggle will not try to make politics “in behalf of” women. The aim is to politicize and organize woman. It is not to use mechanisms that women will relinquish their volition.
The idea that people need to have equal opportunity is based on liberal political philosophy. It is this idea that suggests the need to change legislation prohibiting equal access of women to education, jobs and parliament. This, in fact, is nothing but aiming to compete inside the existing system. Thinking that woman and man will ever become equal in this mechanism, is baseless.
This fact is especially proven by the Western liberal democracies. “Gains” in the field of law, voting and employment neither changed the fact that the women are oppressed, nor they caused any improvements in this regard. If the key issue is the institutionalized social gender, the issue is not resolved until these institutions are abolished, it will only be made invisible.
What Are The Women Expecting From Referendum?
Women organizations have already started campaigning for the referendum. As do the majority of social opposition… Then, what are the women expecting from the referendum?
They are expecting to put an end to the omission of woman, harassment, rape, violence, war, massacres, extortion of all rights gained by women workers who are working for minimum wage and putting up union struggle, loss of all rights gained by women, depending lives and future of women to one person, the presidential system. But none of these expectations will end with a yes or no. None of these issues are the type of issues that can be resolved in the time frame of a referendum. Likewise, it will not be possible to prevent deepening of the existing issues by saying yes or no. The reason is that, in fact, state requires authority, hierarchy, domination, injustice and inequality. This is exactly the delusion that will be possessed by women organizations that squeeze upcoming International Women’s Day and even March 8 which is symbolized by the struggle, solidarity and organizedness of women, into “no” discourse in the current agenda of referendum.
It’s evident that woman freedom struggle will not benefit from this delusion. On the contrary, woman who thinks that she came closer to control, that she has an effect, will move away from daily realities. The delusion that she is getting rid of injustice, incarceration, poverty and deprivation that she is living, will cause her to feel confidence in the existing system because it’s “democratic”. The loss of this confidence is inevitable, even when the state has its most liberal and democratic image, when it’s shaken in no time by the state authority, domination and patriarchal structure.
Our volition, desire for a just and free world without gender, cannot be provided by mechanisms like elections or referendums. Our freedom and independence can only be realized by ourselves, as comrade Emma Goldman emphasized. “First, by asserting herself as a personality, and not as a sex commodity. Second, by refusing the right to anyone over her body; by refusing to bear children, unless she wants them; by refusing to be a servant to God, the State, society, the husband, the family, etc., by making her life simpler, but deeper and richer. That is, by trying to learn the meaning and substance of life in all its complexities, by freeing herself from the fear of public opinion and public condemnation. Only that, and not the ballot, will set woman free.”