Should women have the vote?

It would seem there is a consensus, that after one hundred years, the question in my title has been settled in the affirmative. Of course women should have the vote. But I’m a Thomist by disposition. When an article begins, “It would seem,” you can bet I am itching to confute the proposition. So yes, to be sure, Emmeline Pankhurst won; and after her, Virginia Woolf; and then Betty Friedan; and now, Rosie O’Donnell. But as the old saying goes, “Who’s afraid of Emmeline Pankhurst?” … &c.

Why don’t we ask the question afresh, now that we have a century of empirical data on this radical innovation. Should women have the vote?

Should anyone?

My own answer will be, it depends on the woman. Surely, in most cases, the answer must be no. In my opinion, the answer should also be no for most men, but that would be an evasion. We’re only discussing the women’s vote today, whether here or in any of the centenary celebrations. Let’s leave men out of this.

A socialist of my vague acquaintance once brought the house down — on his own head, as it turned out — by mordantly observing that, “The problem with stereotypes is, they’re all true.” They are especially true of women. Thousands of stereotypes apply to them, and while there are innumerable contradictions between one stereotype and another, I’m sure there is a context for each. (The same could be said of men, but again, we’re not discussing them today.)

I have met some very impressive women. But I have met some unimpressive ones, too, and found they are the majority. I won’t comment on men, but I’ve noticed that most women vote according to their “feelings.” They know nothing about the policies at issue, and make remarks on the candidates that focus entirely on their externals. They empathize with the oddest things, and cannot detach themselves from strange and unaccountable follies. Subtract the women’s vote from all the elections in the last century, and we are retroactively spared some of the most irritating (i.e. liberal) public figures. Subtract it, and the “pretty boys” don’t stand a chance. On the other hand, we’d still get Margaret Thatcher.

There are masculine and feminine qualities, within each human being. This does not mean we’re all hermaphrodites. Nor can it mean that the qualities are equally useful, regardless of the matter at hand. For instance, a certain masculine range is of value, when considering the more vexing questions.

Thus, the sort of women who should be compelled to vote are, to my mind, the very sort who wonder if women should be voting.

It was the wisdom of our ancestors to attach property qualifications to the vote. This was not the wisdom of all our ancestors, though; only the ones with property. But since those with little or no property couldn’t vote, the system was relatively stable. Yes, they had gin riots and the like, but these would fold when the gin ran out. People — in this case mostly drunken men — would remember their place, and go home. A good sprinkling of rotten boroughs kept Parliament from becoming too imaginative. I’m with the Duke of Wellington on that one.

For years, I thought simply restoring the property qualifications might fix the mess, rather than tampering with the sex balance. But then I realized that rich people are as foolish as poor ones. Indeed, the rich get crazier as they get richer: we would need a maximum as well as a minimum cut-off. But then we’d be prey to the middle class.

Now, I must mention John Stuart Mill, a rogue male. He was not the usual violent kind, but a notorious wuss. (There was a woman behind him, who pushed him about.) He demanded equal voting rights for both sexes as early as 1867 — in his squeaky, fey little way. His other eccentric proposal was to get rid of the secret ballot. Let each voter sign, to validate his ballot, and thus each take responsibility for a consequential act.

This might at first strike gentle reader as barmy, but perhaps there is some promise in it.

Let us leave both men and women with the vote. But then, when they vote wrongly, let us quietly remove them from the lists — without prejudice to race, creed, colour, sex, magnetic polarity, or planetary origin. In the course of a couple of election cycles, we could whittle down the franchise to a handful of reliable Tory voters. Since half of those would probably be women, there could be no grounds for complaint.

Yes, I think that’s the answer.