This post is a day late, I guess. A friend on Facebook posted the headline above, bringing the episode back to me.
Jeanette Rankin (1880-1973) is a feminist icon, and with good reason. She was the first woman to be elected to Congress (From Montana), even before women were able to vote under the Constitution. [She also played a pivotal role in the passing of the 19th Amendment, finally granting all women in the U.S. the right they should have had from the beginning. (Montana was one of the states that allowed full voting rights to woman before the 19th Amendment was passed.)
But Rankin voted against declaring war on Japan after its deadly sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, the only member of Congress to do so. In her case, the fact that the only woman in Congress also was the sole opposition to war was no coincidence.
As a trailblazing feminist,Rankin believed that feminism was a natural ally of pacificism. She believed that having women in power instead of men would mean fewer wars, and less violence. By today’s standards, I would call her a bigot, and that particular brand of bigotry still lurks under the surface of the modern feminist argument that more women should be elected to positions of power just because of the inherent virtue attached to having only x-chromosomes.
If anything, Rankin’s vote bolstered prejudices against female leaders. Hers was an irresponsible vote that put pure ideology over the best interests of the United States. Analyzed by Kantian standards, her reasoning led to an act that if followed by all as the ethical ideal, would have likely led to a Nazi-orchestrated calamity for the human race.
Linking such a truly ignorant and willfully obtuse decision to womanhood made doubts about women’s fitness to lead nations seem not only reasonable, but mandatory. If Rankin’s conceit that women were naturally averse to war and violence even when war and violence were unavoidable were accepted, why would anyone vote a woman into Congress, much less the White House?
Rankin had a better argument when she voted against entering World War I. That vote still led to her being defeated for re-election, and becoming the sole dissenting vote after Pearl Harbor effectively ended her political career. Thus she not only cast a stupid vote, it was also a pointless and destructive one. She robbed Congress and the nation’s women of their sole female representation to grandstand in favor of an ideal that was especially ill-suited to reality at the moment in history, and she did so knowing that it would change nothing.
You can’t deny Rankin’s integrity, though. She didn’t run for election again when her term ended two years later, never apologized for her vote, and continued campaigning for peace. In fact, Rankin led a protest against the Vietnam War in 1968, when she was 87 years old.