Sunday, September 28, 2008

What School Failed to Teach Me

My friend, Rox, forwarded an email yesterday that horrified me:

"WHY WOMEN SHOULD VOTE. This is the story of our Grandmothers and Great-grandmothers; they lived only 90 years ago. Remember, it was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote. The women were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed nonetheless for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking for the vote. And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden's blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of 'obstructing sidewalk traffic.'

They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air.

They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack.

Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women. Thus unfolded the 'Night of Terror' on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson's White House for the right to vote. For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Their food--all of it colorless slop--was infested with worms.

When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press...

So, refresh my memory. Some women won't vote this year because -- why, exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work? Our vote doesn't matter? It's raining?"

Snopes rates the email's status as "True" and gives further details.

Do you see why I'm horrified? The only thing I learned in school about the suffragists is that they marched and picketed for women to have the right to vote, an undertaking that's seemingly mild enough. At no time was the huge battle for reform turning ugly even suggested although we learned about wars and riots and civil rights demonstrations and assassinations. It's okay for us to learn that men are violent toward other men, but it's not okay for us to learn that men are also violent toward women who are typically physically weaker. What a rude awakening it is when we discover the truth!

I had to spend a little more time at Wikipedia looking into it.

"Clift recounts that the force feeding of Lucy Burns required 'five people to hold her down, and when she refused to open her mouth, they shoved the feeding tube up her nostril.'"

"In protest of the conditions in Occoquan, [Alice] Paul commenced a hunger strike. This led to her being moved to the prison's psychiatric ward and force-fed raw eggs through a plastic tube. Other women joined the strike, which combined with the continuing demonstrations and attendant press coverage, kept the pressure on the Wilson administration."

Djuna Barnes, a journalist, voluntarily submitted to force-feeding to be able to write about what the suffragists were experiencing. From her article, "How It Feels To Be Forcibly Fed," that was first published in "The World Magazine" on September 6, 1914:

"If I, playacting, felt my being burning with revolt at this brutal usurpation of my own functions, how they who actually suffered the ordeal in its acutest horror must have flamed at the violation of the sanctuaries of their spirits."

Force-feeding is described as feeling like being raped and while hospitals use small tubes, prisons use large tubes that are painful for the prisoner and are more difficult to swallow or push down. In the UK, suffragist Sylvia Pankhurst was held down so a steel gag could be used to force her mouth open which made her gums bleed. Eventually, in 1975, the World Medical Association prohibited the procedure being performed on prisoners "capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment."

Indeed, the third definition of "rape" at Merriam Webster says it's "an outrageous violation."

What an abuse of power the warden displayed by ordering the guards to "teach a lesson to the suffragists." How could the guards so viciously attack defenseless women for doing nothing worse than carrying signs?

What a slimeball President Woodrow Wilson was, evidently operating under the principle of "If you can't beat them, join them."

This is really disturbing, that American men would do these things to their own countrywomen. That they did it only a little over 90 years ago and that it isn't taught as part of American history shows how chauvinistic men in this country have been and still are, serving to prove that all women need to have and exercise the power of the vote.

What's even more disturbing is that so many American women today take the right to vote too lightly to exercise their right once every two years or, for Presidential elections, once every four years. That isn't so often that the time it takes to cast a ballot can possibly be an intolerable burden and two years is surely enough lead time to plan to go to the polls.

Please don't let the beatings and other abuse that our foremothers endured be in vain. Select your candidates and on Election Day, GO VOTE!

1 comment:

Gail Rhea said...

Comment moderation has been enabled to prevent additional spam from appearing.