Pegler: Women in politics (12-13-43)

The Pittsburgh Press (December 13, 1943)


Pegler: Women in politics

By Westbrook Pegler

New York –
There is something about the British attitude toward women in politics which appeals to my own very practical sense of reality and my passion for equality under law and custom. When a woman enters politics in England, she becomes a politician and forfeits, in the field of political activity, that special consideration which ordinarily is shown to women.

Unlike us, the British, from the days when the suffragettes were chaining themselves to the iron fences around the House of Commons and hunger-striking for the right to vote and hold office, faced the fact that women and men, on the average, are about equal in honesty, fairness and sincerity and that their political activity would not result in any measurable purification of public life.

This certainly has been our own experience for, although we have had several women governors, one woman Cabinet officer, a number of women members of both houses of Congress and countless female bureaucrats, any improvement, which the most sensitive observer could discern, has been purely incidental and evolutionary, if not imaginary. One state had a governor elected in the place of her husband, who had been seriously discredited, whose administration was just about as bad as his had been.

Norton and Perkins cases

In the current House of Representatives, we have a chairman of the committee on labor, Mrs. Mary Norton of Jersey City, a faithful and typical member of the organization of Frank Hague whose machine elects her. Mrs. Frances Perkins, as Secretary of Labor, has been, in a few kind words, a pathetic and bewildered figure without the dignity to resign as any manly man would have done in like circumstance.

And, because among the communists, the female of the species is as nasty as the male and as diligent in conspiracy, we have accumulated a due proportion of Bolsheviks in skirts in various bureaus of the government and in satellite political organizations of the New Deal, whose total contribution has been no different from that of an equal number of buck Bolos similarly placed.

In short, women in politics have been just so many politicians, notwithstanding which we doggedly maintain the old frontier tradition of chivalry toward them, realizing all the time, that they have shown neither special competence nor statesmanship and in most cases, have been dreary, fumbling duds and imposters claiming to represent womankind which, in a vote on that issue, would repudiate them with violent scorn.

Lady Astor called down

I was reminded of the British attitude by a brief dispatch from London a few days ago relating the latest incident in the long and garrulous career of Viscountess Astor, a pioneer and veteran politician with a tongue as sharp as her profile who long ago learned in her chosen career she must expect to be treated as a politician, and neither man nor woman.

Viscountess Astor interrupted the debate several times and Emmanuel Shinwell, a Laborite, who may not be a gentleman, yelled:

Throw her out. Something ought to be done about her, you know.

The dispatch said:

Several members protested against her repeated interjections. Sir George Davis, Conservative, complained, “We’ve had to put up with it for 20 years.”

Again, when Lady Astor applauded a point, saying “Hear, hear” the English equivalent of “Attaboy” or “You said a mouthful,” another Laborite glared at her and cracked. “Some of us would like to try.” The House cheered.

Our parliamentary manners are much politer than those of the House of Commons, which at times resembles a crowded pub on bank holiday, but we have no such equality of men and women in debate. The result being that we have to endure some awful and sinister female frauds in politics who, but for their sex, would be common hacks and so regarded.

There is a tempting note in Mr. Shinwell’s angry “Throw her out.”

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