How the Protestant Reformation Gave Rise to Women’s Liberation

The Protestant Revolution: Part 2 The Godly Family

BBC (2005)

Film Review

In Part 2 of the Protestant Revolution, historian Richard Jones-Nerzic explores the steady transformation of women’s lives following the Protestant reformation.

Whereas men and women were assigned segregated seating in the medieval Catholic church, they began sitting together in Protestant churches. Likewise sex ceased to be a sin, and clergy began to marry. Luther himself set the example when he married a former nun.

Luther’s idealized family life changed radically when the industrial revolution forced men out of the home into factories. During the Victorian era, well-to-do educated wives assumed an evangelical role as they led charitable crusades among the urban poor – building Sunday schools, orphanages and hospitals. They quickly became frustrated that this charitable work produced little real reform and began campaigning for real political power through anti-slavery and women’s suffrage campaigns.

However, according to Jones-Nerzic, their work in the war industry during the two world wars was definitely the most liberating factor in the lives of 20th century women.

The last third of the film explores the vehement backlash against equality and control over their own reproductive lives with the rise of fundamentalist Christianity.

Has Democracy Failed Women?


Has Democracy Failed Women?

by Drude Dahlerup (2018)

Book Review

This book challenges conventional wisdom that Greece was the birthplace of democracy, as it totally excluded women from participation in the political process.

Has Democracy Failed Women? starts with a brief review of women’s long difficult battle for the right to vote. New Zealand was the first to grant women a vote in national elections in 1893. Other English-speaking countries, including Britain, enacted women’s suffrage following World War I. Catholic countries, including France, Italy, Chile and Argentina waited till World War II ended. It was 1971 before women could vote in national elections in Switzerland.

It’s well established that democratic assemblies with inadequate female representation, are incapable of addressing the continuing oppression women experience under capitalism.* Yet more the 100 years after first receiving the right to vote, women (who comprise 52% of the population) are still denied full representation in the institutions of power. In the West, only two parliaments have granted women full parity (40-60% representation). In the global South, only Rwanda and Bolivia have as many women as men in their assemblies.

Dallerup blames the “secret garden of politics,” the failure of most political parties to select candidates in a transparent or democratic process, for women’s failure to receive fair representation in government. In most places, party officials limit their candidate pools to well-established old boy networks.

In general, only countries with Proportional Representation (see The Case for Proportional Representation) are likely to achieve more than 25% female representation in their national governing bodies. Countries (like the US, UK and Canada) employing a Plurality/Majority (winner- takes-all) voting system based on geographic districts have the most difficulty achieving adequate female representation. In these countries, a woman usually has to defeat a male incumbent to win a seat.

I was very surprised to learn that 57% percent of countries have achieved better female representation by imposing gender quotas. Pakistan was the first in 1956 (though they have subsequently rescinded the quota), Bangladesh in 1972 and Egypt in 1979. Scandinavian countries took a big step towards gender parity via voluntary party quotas

As of 2015, only three countries had no women at all in government: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Hungary, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Trump has only two female cabinet members, the lowest since the 1970s.

In an era in which the power of elected assemblies is being systematically eroded by multinational corporations, Dallerup feels it’s also really important to ensure strong female representation on corporate boards and the regional and international bodies they control. Spain, Iceland, Belgium, France, Germany, India and Norway all have laws requiring a minimum of 40% representation on corporate boards (a move consistently linked with higher profits.

*Interventions Dallerup views as essential to ending women’s inequality and oppression include

  • redistribution of money and resources, eg to single mothers for maternity care and maternity leave
  • actions against the feminization of poverty
  • public services: care for children, the elderly and disabled
  • housing and public transportation
  • an independent judiciary without with gender biases; intervention against domestic violence; anti-discrimination regulations, ie on equal pay and equal treatment; and affirmation action (ie gender quotas)
  • support for men’s role as caregivers, eg paternity leave
  • protection from sexual violence and harassment in peace and war and the inclusion of women in peace negotiations and post-conflict reconciliation

Also published in Dissident Voice

Alcohol and the American Dream


The Cocktail: the Influence of Spirits on the American Psyche

by Joseph Lanza (1995)

Book Review

The term “cocktail,” which first appeared during the Revolutionary War, refers to the adulteration of whiskey, rum, gin, vodka or other hard liquor with wine or non-alcoholic beverages to disguise the bitter taste. The cocktail is as fundamental to the American dream as the white picket fence. Joseph Lanza’s short book traces the history of this distinctly American style of inebriation, emphasizing the importance of Prohibition and Hollywood in establishing the cocktail as the ultimate status symbol of the American middle class.

Owing to my family background, this book had special personal importance. Both my parents, caught up in a drinking culture that considered it pathological not to have daily cocktails, were full-fledged alcoholics by the time I was twelve.

Prohibition: a “Progressive” Cause

The rise of the cocktail culture was directly linked to urbanization, while the early prohibition movement, viewed as a progressive cause, was closely linked to the women’s suffrage. Most of the suffragettes who campaign for women’s voting rights simultaneously campaigned for the government to ban alcohol.* Anti-alcohol sentiment was strongly bolstered by the protestant work ethic that characterized early American society, and anti-immigrant sentiments against Italian and Irish newcomers who were slow to adapt to it. By the end of the nineteenth century, numerous individual states had already enacted prohibition legislation.

The Volstead Act and 18th Amendment (which undercut a Constitutional challenge), officially took effect on January 17, 1920. The Act provided that “no person shall manufacture, sell, barter, transport, import, export, deliver, or furnish any intoxicating liquor except as authorized by this act.” Because it was only loosely enforced, supplying bootleg liquor was instrumental in the rise of organized criminal gangs and the career of the Kennedy family patriarch Joseph Kennedy. By the evening of January 18th, the first speakeasy had opened in New York. Prior to 1920, women had been barred from public drinking establishments. With Prohibition, this changed and they became an established fixture in speakeasy jazz clubs.

The Celebrity Drinking Culture

Prohibition also gave rise to the celebrity drinking culture, typified by the early twentieth century writers and composers who openly frequented speakeasies. The most prominent celebrities included George Gershwin, Moss Hart, F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Walter Winchel and the Algonquin Roundtable writers (Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber, Alexander Woolcott, Robert Sherwood, Robert Benchley).

Following the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, speakeasies became cocktail cafes. With the advent of talking movies, Hollywood stars replaced writers and composers as role models in the cocktail cafes (later known as cocktail lounges) where wealthy socialites mingled with Hollywood celebrities.

In the late thirties and early forties, cocktails singers emerged to entertain them. The first cocktail entertainers were male crooners,* like Rudy Valle, Dean Martin, Cliff Edwards (Jiminy Crickett’s voice in Pinochio), Vic Damon, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. They typically drank heavily while performing. Female cocktail singers, such as Peggy Lee, Abbe Lane and Julie London, wouldn’t become popular until after World War II.

The cocktail culture took off big time in the 1940s as movies, especially detective films, glamorized heavy drinking.

Advertising and Media Manipulation

The fifties and sixties saw the coming to age of the advertising industry and media manipulation in redefining the human personality. This period ushered in urban leisure drinking, when alcohol consumption became so prevalent among the American middle class that it was considered pathological not to have a cocktail. A common angle used in alcohol advertising was that drinking was an important coping mechanism in dealing with urbanization and the pressures of the sterile corporate work environment.

In the literary world, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner and Eugene O’Neill were all held up as visionaries who relied on liquor to liberate ideas the sobriety suppressed. During the Kennedy administration, this drinking culture would permanently bind American politics to the entertainment industry, Frank Sinatra’s “rat pack.”

Baby Boomers Reject Alcohol

The sixties and seventies would see a significant decline in the cocktail culture. Baby boomers disliked the taste of alcohol and preferred the pain-free high of cannabis.

*Thaddeus Russell explores this link at length in A Renegade History of the United States.
* *Crooning is a method of using the voice to slide up and down the scale. It was facilitated by the advent of microphone technology that allowed performers to sing in a near whisper and still be heard.
**Rat pack member Peter Lawford married JFK’s sister Pat and Sinatra campaigned heavily for Kennedy in 1960. Follow his election, rat pack members (Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Junior, Sid Loft, Judy Garland, Joey Bishop, Shirley MacLaine and Dean Martin) were frequent White House guests.