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Core Issues Driving Feminism After Suffrage

The core issue driving feminism after the attainment of suffrage was what the role of the woman was. Women were considered weaker when compared to men, so now that they had this right to vote that originally was exclusive to men, many struggled over what place the woman now held. When more women started to work in the 1920s, there were restrictions on how many hours the woman could work and what acts of physical labor they could perform. Many criticized the idea of full equality between men and women. However, women had gained more liberty in what they could do. For instance, the rise of the flapper aesthetic. The flappers’ look was a new style that women could embrace to represent freedom and modernism. They were practically new women, and had new opportunities in several regards including education and work. Because of the new role women could take outside of their home, in the 1920s one in four women held a career outside of their home.[1] Despite these new accomplishments for women, many questioned the physical capacity of a woman to work, how she was perceived, and the impact of motherhood. These three issues drove feminism after the attainment of suffrage because it impacted what role a woman could take in society.

The core issue of whether women were healthy to work drove feminism because it challenged the capabilities of women. It was argued by some that in order for a woman to successfully compete with a man in the workplace, the woman required good health. [2] Adequate health was considered the prerequisite for accomplishment. A clear brain was considered essential for success, and training for the position was needless without good health. It was also insisted that women take care of their health because it could make them more beautiful and popular. A woman had the right to do as she pleased, but people still appreciated that women possess adequate health. Women were discouraged from having sex before marriage because they could fall ill with a disease, which could also impact the health of a baby if the woman eventually gets pregnant.[3] The overall message of this argument was that it was essential for women to possess sufficient health to be brilliant and qualified employees. This would imply women need to know their status of health to know their role in the workplace.

The issue of how to perceive women was a core issue that drove feminism because many people were inept to process the societal evolution of the woman. Despite being able to vote, women still faced intolerance. Choices women made were analyzed and judged because of their alleged inferiority. Even if a woman achieved a major life goal, she would still be perceived as inferior to a man who accomplished the same task. It was not uncommon for women to struggle to gain teaching positions at universities.[4] One woman, who had earned her doctorate but was subjected to cooking and cleaning stated, “can it be in the divine order of things that one Ph.D. should wash dishes a whole lifetime for another Ph.D. just because one is a woman and the other is a man?”[5] Because she was perceived as inferior, the best she could do was tasks anyone could perform despite her having a doctorate degree. Psychologist John Watson was so confused on how to perceive the new status of women that he accused women of trying to be like men. “Is it to wear trousers? … to work at men’s trades- to take men’s jobs away from them- to get men’s salaries? Does their demand for this mystical thing called freedom imply a resentment against childbearing…? I rarely arrive at a reasonable answer…”[6] Watson concluded that suffragist women had an unadjusted sex life. Despite their new rights, women were still considered inferior and, when they attempted to rise up, were accused of being like men. This cause was a core issue of feminism because they fundamentally questioned what the new role of women was.

Motherhood was a core issue of feminism because there was a new question on how the home would function from now on with women’s new rights. Many women were expected to find a healthy and tough man without bad traits because it was disparaged to “go against nature in heredity.”[7] Several believed to only marry a man who desired to be a father and could provide a home. There was also an expectation for women not to have sex before marriage because it was dreadful to be “his prostitute.” Marriage was intended to be for love and having children. It was conventional for women to be mothers because “the young mother with her first born is a picture of joy.”[8] While being mothers, women were expected to do housework to please their husband. Motherhood and marriage were core issues of feminism because there was a set of expectations for married women that conflicted with their desire to build a career.

The overall core issue pushing feminism forward after achieving suffrage was what new roles the woman could take. The new roles could be judged in situations such as health for work, their public image, and motherhood. Women had gained new rights and privileges and the public was still adjusting to this major change. The women’s place was not exclusive to the home anymore, and people needed time to understand where the new place was.


Wheeler, William Bruce, and Lorri Glover. Discovering the American Past: A Look at the Evidence. 8th ed. Vol. 2. Australia: Cengage Learning, 2017.

[1] Wheeler and Glover, “Discovering the American Past: A Look at the Evidence,” 127 & 130. [2]United States Public Health Service on Healthy Living and Sexual Restraint, in Wheeler and Glover, 144. [3] Wheeler and Glover, 145-147. [4]Married Women and Academia, 1928, in Wheeler and Glover, 153. [5] Ibid, 154. [6]John Watson on the Sex Adjustment of Modern Women, in Wheeler and Glover, 147. [7] S. Dana Hubbard on Choosing a Spouse, in Wheeler and Glover, 150. [8] Ibid, 149.


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