“Some [women] have tried to be semi-men by putting on the Bloomer dress. Let me tell you in a word why it can never be done. It is this: woman, robed and folded in her long dress, is beautiful. She walks gracefully...If she attempts to run, the charm is gone...Take off the robes, and put on pants and show the limbs, and grace and mystery are all gone.”
Hmmm...harumph...I still hear these sorts of statements from some older men (and even some women), as though I, as a female, exist to embody that which is beauty for them. And if I do not fit their idea of a woman’s natural essence and the efforts she must put in to accentuate them, then I am failing. Or, if I do, then I am succeeding and "I am beautiful enough to do whatever I want." Grrr... This is why it angers me when I hear about female leaders and politicians and the wives of male politicians being discussed for their appearance. Being judged for their character by their “beauty practices” - their fashion, their weight, their hair, their smile, their lack of smile, their skin color, the tone in their arms, their “feminine” or “masculine” factor. Where we put our focus is where things grow and in the other places, they wither. And we wonder why our social infrastructure is withering. What you say is a powerful and informative thing. How you look, certainly it has a weight. But what you do - that is how I will judge you.
Women were coming together to fight slavery and the state of the prisons. They were working to improve the human condition. To end the injustices. And then they realized that they were not considered equal. That the Declaration of Independence did not speak to their independence. That women were being prevented from “occupying such a station in society as [their] conscience [dictated].”
Angelina Grimke, who was the first woman to address a committee of the Massachusetts state legislature on antislavery petitions, responded to a woman in the crowd who proposed that their movement to abolish slavery would be hurt by the efforts to gain equality for women.
Angelina said: “We cannot push Abolitionism forward with all our might until we take up the stumbling block out of the road...If we surrender the right to speak in public this year, we must surrender the right to petition next year, and the right to write the year after, and so on. What then can woman do for the slave, when she herself is under the feet of man and shamed into silence?”
At a meeting to discuss the “rights of woman” on July 19th and 20th in 1840 -- attended by 300 women and some men -- there was a Declaration of Principles that was signed at the end of the meeting by sixty eight women and thirty two men. Some of the things it said:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; dial among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.. ..
The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.. . .”
Zinn continues with the list of grievances that their document included; the proof of the unequal treatment women were receiving:
“... no right to vote, no right to her wages or to property, no rights in divorce cases, no equal opportunity in employment, no entrance to colleges, ending with: "He had endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life...."
And then a series of resolutions, including: "That all laws which prevent woman from occupying such a station in society as her conscience shall dictate, or which place her in a position inferior to that of man, are contrary to the great precept of nature, and therefore of no force or authority."
And maybe you’ve heard of Sojourner Truth?
“A series of women's conventions in various parts of the country followed the one at Seneca Falls. At one of these, in 1851, an aged black woman, who had been born a slave in New York, tall, thin, wearing a gray dress and white turban, listened to some male ministers who had been dominating the discussion. This was Sojourner Truth. She rose to her feet and joined the indignation of her race to the indignation of her sex:
“That man over there says that woman needs to be helped into carriages and lifted over ditches. .. . Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles or gives me any best place. And a'nt I a woman?
Look at my arm! I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And a'nt I a woman?
I would work as much and eat as much as a man, when I could get it, and bear the lash as well. And a'nt I a woman?
I have borne thirteen children and seen em most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And a'nt I a woman?”
Thus were women beginning to resist, in the 1830s and 1840s and 1850s, the attempt to keep them in their "woman's sphere." They were taking part in all sorts of movements, for prisoners, for the insane, for black slaves, and also for all women.
In the midst of these movements, there exploded, with the force of government and the authority of money, a quest for more land, an urge for national expansion.”
And that takes us into Chapter 7: As Long as Grass Grows or Water Runs. Zinn brings our attention back to the treatment of the people who were native to this land. The people who the settlers could have learned so much from. And who, thankfully, some immigrants to the “New World”, to Turtle Island, did learn from...