Life of Becky

The left’s current campaign against white women for not voting as a leftist block (for policies hostile to them as white people) looks like just another Current Year escalation, but feminism and black civil rights have been in real conflict the whole time.

The suffragettes of course were progressive “racists” whose reputations are already being taken down just as the centennial of the 19th Amendment approaches–their statues are slated for removal before going up. They argued from a white supremacist point of view: giving the vote to a black man before giving it to a white woman was an outrage.

With the inclusion of sex as a protected category in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the creation of the initially weak Equal Employment Opportunity Commission began the transformation of the women’s rights movement into one modeled entirely on black civil rights, treating sex as a class no different than race.

Including sex as a protected class was offered by Virginia Democrat and Rules Committee chairman Howard W. Smith as a sort of troll, thinking to sink it:

The Southerners’ plan was to delay a vote, in the hope that violent protests would lead to a white backlash. Smith promised to drag out hearings on the bill. But in January, 1964, he was threatened with a discharge petition—a measure, rarely used, to bring legislation out of committee against the wishes of the chairman—into releasing it for debate. It was during that debate that he introduced, on February 8, 1964, the sex amendment.

The amendment was a one-word addition, “sex,” to Title VII of the bill, which prohibited employers from discriminating on the basis of “race, color, religion, or national origin.” Opponents of Smith’s amendment, led by Emanuel Celler, of Brooklyn, the seventy-five-year-old chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the bill’s floor leader, regarded it as either a prank intended to expose the limits of liberal egalitarianism or a poison pill that would make the bill more difficult to pass in the House, which had twelve female members, and impossible to pass in the Senate, which had two.

Opponents of civil-rights legislation had offered the sex amendment before. In 1950, Congress debated the resurrection of the Fair Employment Practices Committee, which had been created by Roosevelt to ban discrimination by government contractors, but which, after the war, under the leadership of Smith and Richard Russell, of Georgia, Congress had shut down. A Florida congressman, Dwight Rogers, proposed adding “sex” to the list of categories to be protected from discrimination. The House adopted the amendment, and the bill died in the Senate. 

If Smith’s amendment was a prank, it backfired. The House accepted it by a “teller” vote (that is, a head count) of 168 to 133. Most of the yeas were reported to have been Republicans and Southern Democrats. Johnson and Robert Kennedy were firm about minimizing changes to the bill after it reached the Senate, and although there were some alterations, the ban on discrimination by gender stayed in. On July 2nd, it became law.

Historians don’t agree Smith was insincere in offering the amendment; he was a longtime confederate of radical suffragist Alice Paul and supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. Hugh Davis Graham in “The Civil Rights Era“:

The courtly Virginian, however, was also curiously sincere in his unlikely feminist egalitarianism. He had been a Congressional sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment since as far back as 1945–almost as far back as he had been a scourge of [] FEPC. Ever since then he had maintained loose political ties with the National Women’s Party…founded in 1913 in the suffragist campaign under the aggressive leadership of Alice Paul… 

..For forty years the NWP’s campaign for the ERA was opposed by vintage Democrats like Eleanor Roosevelt and Emanuel Celler, largely because it threatened their proud legacy of progressive legislation to protect women in the workplace…

The ERA would have negated laws designed to protect women from exploitation in the workplace which included limiting the hours they can work (as Title VII has anyway). The “courtly” Judge Smith was also a friend of business. Virginia’s textile mills employed a lot of women and were interested in anything that made it easier to employ them.

Granting women equal employment rights, as with the vote, had secondary effects on the racial dynamic, and Smith’s amendment was defended by firebrand women’s libber Martha Gritffiths in racial terms:

Martha W. Griffiths of Michigan, who was the first woman to join the House Ways and Means Committee, led the bipartisan and ideologically strange fight for the Smith Amendment. Griffiths was a warrior who took no prisoners; she declared that “a vote against this amendment today by a white man is a vote against his wife, or his widow, or his daughter, or his sister… 

…It would be incredible to me that white men would be willing to place white women at such a disadvantage,” Griffiths said. Under the bill as reported, “you are going to have white men in one bracket, you are going to try to take colored men and colored women and give them equal employment rights, and down at the bottom of the list is going to be a white woman with no rights at all.”

But the ancient, stubborn female rage we’re seeing expressed through, among other things, the #metoo movement, was showing itself as well:

Katherine St George, a genteel Republican from Tuxedo Park, New York, hurled defiance in the teeth of her male colleagues: “We outlast you. We oultive you. We nag you to death. So why should we want special privileges?” “We want this crumb of equality,” she said, “to correct something that goes back, frankly, to the dark ages.”

We haven’t even named the primordial rage we’ve unleashed with women’s liberation. But it’s real.

Her  Republican Colleague, Catherine May of Washington, was a less strident petitioner, yet quaintly echoed the sentiments of the NWP: “I hope we won’t overlook the native-born American woman of Christian religion.”

No. We’ll just name her Becky and set loose the hounds.

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