On the Moral Superiority of Women explains how suffragists turned traditional conservatives’ chivalrous arguments against them. Chivalry/courtly love teaches that women are the source of manners and morality, and that men are made moral by becoming enslaved by romantic love for their moral betters. Traditional conservatives thought in the past just as they do now, that they can fight feminism with chivalry. But chivalry is the foundation of feminism, so the move reliably backfires:
Traditionally suffragists based their case for the right to vote principally on equal rights and attempted to embarrass men into giving them the vote by pointing out how shameful it was for a purported democracy to deprive half of its citizens of the right to vote. In response, opponents of women’s suffrage often argued, among other things, that women were morally superior, finer beings, who would be debased and degraded by participating in the tough hurly-burly would of politics. In the progressive era, women now readily agreed. Women were indeed morally superior. Men had control of society for too long and had made a mess of it. America’s politicians were scoundrels and corruption was the order of the day. An infusion of moral superiority was just what was needed and it was women voters who would supply it.
The suffragettes’ argument was logically bulletproof. If you assume women are more moral than men, then giving them the vote will clearly increase the nation’s virtue. Better yet, if you care about virtue you should take the vote away from men and give it to their betters.
But despite the fact that fighting feminism with chivalry is a reliable way to empower feminism, traditional conservatives aren’t about to change tactics. Thus we have complementarians who are convinced that women won’t rebel against headship and submission, if only men are chivalrous enough.
No amount of facts and logic will persuade the traditional conservative that chivalry (once deployed correctly) won’t defeat feminism. Facts and logic don’t matter, because the love for chivalry doesn’t come from a logical place. It comes from the beating heart of the mammas boy, way down inside. If these men were to unchivalrously not enable feminism, their mothers might scold them!
As History.com explains, this is how the 19th Amendment came to be ratified. A legislator who had previously voted against the amendment received a note from his mother, imploring him to be a good boy and vote for it (emphasis mine):
The speaker called the measure to a ratification vote. To the dismay of the many suffragists who had packed into the capitol with their yellow roses, sashes and signs, it seemed certain that the final roll call would maintain the deadlock. But that morning, Harry Burn—who until that time had fallen squarely in the anti-suffrage camp—received a note from his mother, Phoebe Ensminger Burn, known to her family and friends as Miss Febb. In it, she had written, “Hurrah, and vote for suffrage! Don’t keep them in doubt. I notice some of the speeches against. They were bitter. I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet.” She ended the missive with a rousing endorsement of the great suffragist leader Carrie Chapman Catt, imploring her son to “be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the ‘rat’ in ratification.”
Still sporting his red boutonniere but clutching his mother’s letter, Burn said “aye” so quickly that it took his fellow legislators a few moments to register his unexpected response. With that single syllable he extended the vote to the women of America and ended half a century of tireless campaigning by generations of suffragists…