I’m taking a class right now on the English Civil War, a twenty-year long period in England in the middle of the 1600′s that pitted supporters of the king against supporters of Parliament (and many, many other groups) for control of the country. It’s a fascinating period, but one of the things I was most surprised to learn is that many women felt more important or empowered when the king ruled than during the brief life of the anti-royalist English Republic. Supporters of the republic advocated for greater liberty, but, paradoxically, this masculine, militant discourse usually went hand-in-hand with an exclusion of women from public life even more comprehensive than they had known before.
This isn’t just a historical anomaly, either. As Melanie Butler reports at Alternet, media reports of Occupy Wall Street portray the occupiers disproportionately as men, while both men and women (of various genders and sexualities, I should add) are involved. That’s not to say that the occupation itself is sexist or patriarchal but simply to note historical continuities in seeing protest, dissent, and revolutionary as masculine.
It’s a dangerous trend. Agitating for social progress should benefit as many people as possible, and it worrying to see how progressive movements can systematically (though not inevitably) marginalize or disenfranchise women. What is it about discourses and practices of revolution that produces this effect? I’m not sure, but if you have feedback, dear readers, let me know in the comments.