The Fragility of Rights: When Women Lost Their Votes

Carissa Tudor, Brown University

Recent scholarship has drawn attention to women in democratization studies by probing the reasons for women’s enfranchisement and the impacts of it (Morgan-Collins 2021). Yet, little work has questioned or investigated why women were excluded from modern politics in the first place. Building on other work in which I demonstrate the widespread participation of women in the pre-democratic early modern Europe, this paper probes women’s political exclusions through a comparative study of the democratization processes in France and the United Kingdom, using a most different systems design. I investigate why, despite radically different democratic reform processes in France (1789 and 1848) and the United Kingdom (1830s), both countries universally excluded women as part of the process. I argue that even within very different political contexts, a similar process of institutional rationalization decoupled political rights from the complex reality of economic activities, fundamentally altering how rights were structured and who had access to them. Where an old system of embedded suffrage allowed some women to participate in politics, the process of rationalization facilitated the universal exclusion of women. Importantly the distinction between embedded and rational suffrage systems goes well beyond the issue of property-based voting. Some non-elite women were able to participate in embedded systems and women’s lost rights were not simply the result of the elimination of property requirements for voting. This work speaks to the growing literature focused on democratic decline and the complications and contradictions of the early democratization processes in Europe.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 127. European Politics