Furnifold Simmons, the son of a slave-driver and the master of white supremacy in Jim Crow North Carolina, had a woman problem. His marriage was strong and no one, at least no racist, questioned his ethics, but thousands of his (white) female constituents had suddenly defied his demand that they know their subordinate place. You see, Simmons was fighting for his career. And he wanted to use the issue of Demon Rum to split apart North Carolina Democrats otherwise inclined to vote for his opponent, Josiah Bailey. The problem for Simmons was that most of the anti-liquor voters were women, and Simmons had opposed giving women the votes. They were not amused. As for Simmons, he lost his race and declined into rural oblivion.
This was an early instance of female rage. Throughout the century or so in which women have had the vote, women voters have utilized their political power to fight against the depredations of domineering men. This assertiveness was precisely what opponents of woman suffrage warned male voters–and some of their conservative female spouses–about when the suffragettes marched in white. The misogynists led by the Southern Rejection League prevailed in North Carolina with the strong backing of Furnifold Simmons, but as we have seen, Simmons’s desire for the last laugh was drowned out by a vigorous female guffaw.
Today, as a majority-male Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade and Republican politicians across the country are moving to end a woman’s right to procure an abortion, we are seeing women’s rage rear its formidable head once again. Before Samuel Alito (an obnoxious man) released his opinion mocking and ending the precedent that had empowered millions of American women over the course of half a century, Republicans were sailing toward a dominant midterm. Since that outrage came forth from SCOTUS, the political environment has been transformed. And it is due to the assertion of female power that has effected this revolution.
It started, of all places, in Kansas. In that red state, women voters came out in massive numbers to vote against a male-created referendum removing the right to abortion from that state’s constitution. The referendum failed badly. In the months since, millions of people have registered to vote for the first time, and a striking majority of them have been new women voters. The aura of women’s outrage is palpable on our political stage today, causing trepidation among the more intellectually honest Republicans who understand that their party’s strongly anti-woman brand has alienated the population that actually composes a majority of electoral turnout.
Whither North Carolina? In this state, the women’s vote may prove to be more influential than in any election we have ever seen. Democrats have nominated for U.S. Senate one of the most accomplished women in the history of the state, former Chief Justice Cheri Beasley. Beasley is boldly–and wisely–emphasizing her support for reproductive rights, an issue that has favored Democrats in the state for decades but which previous Democratic nominees had been too timid to make a signature issue. Beasley’s opponent, on the other hand, presents a stark contrast to the feminist empowerment that Beasley represents. He totes guns, flaunts the border wall, and talks like a regular at your typical sports bar. This may be the most female-dominated election ever. Or at least since North Carolina women send old Furnifold Simmons back to the farm.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.