I started a little controversy over on Greg Laden's blog when I responded to the umteenth claim that militant approaches to a debate never achieve anything [Larry Moran]. I said,
Everyone keeps repeating this mantra as though it were the gospel truth. The historical evidence says otherwise. There are dozens of examples of things that used to be “militant” approaches that have become accepted standards today.PZ liked the suffragette idea and expanded on it [We Aim to Misbehave] and [Rude Ladies].
Here’s just one example. Do you realize that women used to march in the streets with placards demanding that they be allowed to vote? At the time the suffragettes were criticized for hurting the cause. Their radical stance was driving off the men who might have been sympathetic to women’s right to vote if only those women had stayed in their proper place.
Now I’m not saying that all militant approaches are going to win in the end. Far form it. Most of them are destined for the dustheap of history. What I am saying is that trying to shut down the “militants” on the grounds that they are counter-productive is not logical. It’s a way of “framing” the discussion to make it sound like your opposition to the militants has a scientific basis.
Now Amanda Marcotte has picked it up at Pandagon [They didn’t realize that you got it the third time you asked with a pretty please]. Read her blog to find out just how "gentile" those women were one hundred years ago.
I see the Feminists For Life and their horrible project of trying to rewrite history so that suffrage-era feminists come across as pleasantly enamored of servitude is going well. It’s hard to generalize at all about suffragists, since, you know, the struggle went on for decades and incorporated thousands of women. One thing you can say with certainty is they were rude and offensive by definition, since for a woman to be proper, she had to accept second class citizenship uncomplainingly. But seriously, atheists aren’t even waving placards, much less holding hunger strikes, firebombing, or whipping some jujitsu on some cops.Please don't lose sight of the main point about the comparison between the women's suffrage movement and atheists like Dawkins, PZ, and me. We're not trying to justify our position by comparing it to that of the suffragettes (suffragists). All we're trying to do is destroy this silly myth that all social change came about by speaking softly and being nice to everyone. There are lots of examples where "militant" behavior triggered social change. It doesn't always justify "militant' behavior but if you're going to fight Dawkins then at least use sensible arguments.
More to the point, suffragists didn’t actually get very far until they did in fact start openly insulting men. Mere equality between men and women wasn’t considered reason enough to extend the franchise to women, but when the purity movement latched onto suffrage and started pushing the message that women were better than men, then things changed. Men were considered drunken, violent assholes who needed women’s civilizing hand to get them in shape. It was a sorry thing that it had to get to that point in order for women to get the vote, and hopefully the lesson has been learned for future reference.* Now, as PZ notes, the way different levels of oppression certainly demanded different reactions, so there’s no reason to fault the suffragists for any radical action they had to take in order to obtain justice. But it’s silly to think of them as sweet little old ladies who’d never hurt a fly. They put up with a lot of shit, from having vegetables pelted at them in public to having police arrest them in ways that maximized the violence and humiliation.