With the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, the issue of women’s suffrage was discussed in a public setting of significance, thus indicating that women’s suffrage was closer than it ever had been historically in the United States to becoming a reality.
From yet another perspective, however, as Dr. Kuhlman argues, there was no significant pattern to the eventual institution of women’s suffrage into law. Above all this is because, according to Kuhlman, women’s suffrage appeared at different historical time periods and at different geographical areas. This suggests that instead of representing a greater movement, the possibility of women’s suffrage was ultimately shaped by local conditions. In a broader historical sense, Protestant countries did first grant women’s suffrage, as opposed to, for example, Catholic countries. But Kuhlman sees this phenomena as not indicative of a broader trend, to the extent that all Protestant countries did not grant women’s suffrage simultaneously. The political issue utlimately took on a local character in Kuhlman’s reading.
Nationhood, as such, was not a determining factor, to the extent that we consider nationhood in a greater sense. Rather, women’s suffrage was the product of isolated struggles in distinct geographic locations. The map of the granting of women’s suffrage, for example, indicates a fragmented and inconsistent pattern of where women’s suffrage was granted. Political geography, in other words, underscores the thesis that women’s suffrage was not some type of universal movement, as though society as a whole suddenly became enlightened to women’s causes and thereby instituted suffrage.
Women’s suffrage, however, was clearly not a cure for all of the issues faced by women. It was a particular gain in an area that was important, clearly, namely, the right to determine political future. Namely, patriarchal society still existed in force, despite suffrage. For example, employment issues and gender roles were clearly not radiaclly changed by suffrage itself. From one point of view, the granting of suffrage could be viewed as a particular concession that was made to the female population. But it did not radically alter the patriarchal basis of society, as Kuhlman makes clear. Voting rights, in other words, could not deeply change the social and political aspects of patriarchy, which still remained in place. It was a significant social gain, since it did not exist historically, but it did not radically alter the condition of women. In much the same manner, Kuhlman emphasizes the global nature of a lack of women’s rights, thus suggesting that no international events contributed to suffrage, to the extent that the dominant social structure on a global level was patriarchy.
Dr. Woodworth Ney’s central argument re-iterates the major claim of Kuhlman, although with more of a pronounced focus on the United States. For Woodworth Ney, the political geography of the United States with regards to suffrage and, more specifically, the Western United States, does not show the existence of a sea change in opinion. Rather, suffrage was a key strategic issue. For Woodworth-Ney, the granting of suffrage was a certain strategic decision. By granting women rights to vote, some argued that this would maintain the status quo, as the entire issue of women’s rights was reduced to the voting issue. In other words, as Woodworth-Ney points out, by granting women’s rights, other issues concerning women could be ignored with the argument that insofar as women have voting rights, they can participate in the political system and therefore change the system. However, the way the voting system is structured, and the dominance of patriarchy, meant that only radical change could alter the system itself. Marginalized voices received some power with suffrage, but not a radical system changing power, which would be necessary to alter the status quo.
Whereas women clearly gained something they did not have previously with suffrage, the radical systematic changes could not be initiated by a mere vote. Furthermore, it could be argued that on the basis of the presentation, suffrage hurt the more radical aspects of the women’s rights movement. By becoming a single issue movement, women’s rights, once acquiring suffrage, could not address the other multiple effects of patriarchy, so as to improve in a systematic fashion the lives of women.