Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Hey, What's Wrong with a Little Domestic Violence? Amiright?

When Women Became No Longer Equal, Part 9: Nothing Wrong with a Little Domestic Violence, right?

It's all the fault of those pesky women, isn't it? Always wanting to be treated as if they are human beings. Those damn women are the reason things have gone to shit. At least according to the repugnant J.D. Vance, a misogynist who is hoping to be able to lord it over women as a U.S. Senator, representing the state of Ohio (or, maybe, the men of Ohio).

Sure, Vance wants all those demanding womenfolk "to have opportunities . . . to have choices," really, he does, but while that's all fine and good and he's perfectly okay with it, really, he is, still, you gotta agree with him when he says that "women and boys in the womb" (huh????) obviously should have greater rights to "opportunity" and "choices" than those full-grown female human beings. In other words, he's forced birth all the way. 

For women (or girls, like the 10-year-old Ohio child who had to go to Indiana for her necessary reproductive care), Vance is just full of sympathy--every pregnancy, without exception, is just a wonderful "opportunity," he declares. A woman whose pregnancy is the result of incest--or a little girl whose pregnancy is caused by rape--well, they should take advantage of these wonderful opportunities. They shouldn't be able to have an abortion, just because their pregnancies might be a bit "inconvenient" for them. (Again, his words.)

Abortion is "slavery," he proclaims. Women's loss of their fundamental rights is really an "amazing victory!" he cheers. Up is down! Black is white!

And another damn thing women have tried to ruin is marriage. Because, you know, if women have rights, if they are actual, real, human beings with thoughts, feelings, and the freedom to make decisions for themselves, well, they can just decide to end a bad marriage. (Or maybe not get married in the first place, but Vance doesn't even consider that horror.)

At Pacifica Christian High School (I'm not sure if he was speaking to high-school students, but I sure as hell hope not), as part of an event billed as part of "The Great Conversation Series" (here's the announcement), Vance weighed in, offering an astonishing and benighted view of marriage: 
Culturally, something has clearly shifted. I think it’s easy but also probably true to blame the sexual revolution of the 1960s. My grandparents had an incredibly chaotic marriage in a lot of ways, but they never got divorced, right? They were together to the end, ’til death do us part. That was a really important thing to my grandmother and my grandfather. That was clearly not true by the 70s or 80s. And I think that probably, I was personally and a lot of kids in my community, who grew up in my generation, personally suffered from the fact that a lot of moms and dads saw marriage as a basic contract, right? Like any other business deal, once it becomes no longer good for one of the parties or both of the parties, you just dissolve it and go onto a new business relationship. But that recognition that marriage was sacred I think was a really powerful thing that held a lot of families together. And when it disappeared, unfortunately I think a lot of kids suffered. . . .

His grandmother and grandfather's marriage? As Vance detailed in his fantasy "memoir," Hillbilly Elegy, his grandparents tried their best to kill one another. 'Til "death do us part" indeed. 

As for deciding to end a marriage? To consider that "one of the parties" (always have to be "moms and dads," right?) might decide a marriage "no longer good"? Stick it out no matter what! Vance insists. (Or, I suppose, until one partner kills the other.)

And while Vance gestures toward the notion that "dads" as well as "moms" who might find a marriage needs to end, look again--the real blame is to be found in "the sexual revolution of the 1960s." Guess who was liberated as a result of that revolution . . . 

So what's his advice? Here's the thing that has caused an uproar since Vance's comments, recorded in September 2021, were published by Vice this week: 

This is one of the great tricks that I think the sexual revolution pulled on the American populace, which is the idea that like, ‘well, OK, these marriages were fundamentally, you know, they were maybe even violent [emphasis added], but certainly they were unhappy. And so getting rid of them and making it easier for people to shift spouses like they change their underwear, that’s going to make people happier in the long term. . . .

Sure, J.D., what's wrong with a little domestic violence? Gotta stay on brand . . . 

Meanwhile, may I remind you: 
  • On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.
  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner contact sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking with impacts such as injury, fearfulness, post-traumatic stress disorder, use of victim services, contraction of sexually transmitted diseases, etc. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. This includes a range of behaviors (e.g. slapping, shoving, pushing) and in some cases might not be considered "domestic violence."
  • 1 in 7 women and 1 in 25 men have been injured by an intimate partner.
  • 1 in 10 women have been raped by an intimate partner. Data is unavailable on male victims.
  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence (e.g. beating, burning, strangling) by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • 1 in 7 women and 1 in 18 men have been stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime to the point in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.
  • On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.
  • The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%.
  • Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.
  • Women between the ages of 18-24 are most commonly abused by an intimate partner.
  • 19% of domestic violence involves a weapon.
  • Domestic victimization is correlated with a higher rate of depression and suicidal behavior.
  • Only 34% of people who are injured by intimate partners receive medical care for their injuries.

 (These numbers are from the National Coalition against Domestic Violence; for full statistics, click here.)

I've written about this topic before (click here and here and here and here and even here, with another asshole whining about when marriage and women were "sacred"). It never goes away.

And let's not forget. The Violence against Women's Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994. The law was expanded and improved in reauthorizations of 2000, 2005, and 2013. Republican opposition to reauthorization of the VAWA delayed its authorization--yeah, those guys again. The act was finally reauthorized in March 2022, but it could never manage to get support from Republicans, much less a vote, in the U.S. Senate. It was finally passed as part of an omnibus appropriations package

The video of Vance's remarks is widely available online, but I refuse to embed it or link to it here. You can find it if you must. 

Monday, July 25, 2022

Herrad of Landsberg, Abbess, Author, and Artist

Herrad of Landsberg, abbess of Hohenburg Abbey (died 25 July 1195)

The exact date of Herrad of Landsberg's birth is unknown, but most sources agree that she was probably born about the year 1130, making her about thirty years younger than Hildegard of Bingen, to whom she is sometimes compared. 

Although Herrad's place of birth was widely thought to be the castle of Landsberg, located in Alsace, France, more recent scholarship has called into question Herrad's association with the noble family associated with this castle. Today scholars prefer to identify her as Herrad of Hohenburg, though it is often hard to avoid the older name. (And I've used it here.)

A "self portrait,"
Herrad of Hohenburg,
detail from 
Hortus deliciarum
Little is known about Herrad's early life. There is no surviving evidence about her parents, where she might have been born, or when she may have entered the the Augustinian convent of Hohenburg, where she would spend her life and where she became abbess. 

While her former identification with the noble family of Landsberg castle is almost certainly incorrect, Herrad is likely to have had some aristocratic connection in order to have become abbess of such an institution.

The abbey of Hohenburg had been restored by the Holy Roman emperor Frederick Barbarossa, who placed it under the direction of the abbess Rilinda of Bergen. While Herrad would succeed her as abbess, probably about 1176, the exact date isn't known. And, as Joan Gibson notes, "Although Herrad acknowledges that she was instructed by Rilinda's 'admonitions and examples', it is not certain that Herrad was in fact a pupil of Rilinda, nor even necessarily educated at the abbey of Hohenburg."

Not is it clear when Herrad began compiling the encyclopedic work for which she is today remembered, the Hortus deliciarum or Garden of  Delights. The title, with its reference to a garden, clearly recalls Paradise, but it also refers to the nature of the work itself, as a florilegium, a collection of extracts. And here is the playful simile Herrad's uses in her preface, addressed to the nuns in her convent: 
I myself, the little bee, composed this book titled Garden of Delights, and drew from the sap of the diverse flowers of Holy Scripture and from philosophical works, inspired by God, and I constructed it by my love for you, in a manner a honeycomb full of honey for the honor and the glory of Jesus Christ and the Church.
A collection of 1,160 "textual extracts," Herrad's encyclopedia includes poetry, prose, and dialogue as well as song texts accompanied by musical notation, and some 340 illustrations in its 324 folios (648 pages). The sources from which Herrad draws for her encyclopedia include some classical authors (though not poets--her illustrations include Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Muses, and Odysseus), the philosopher Boethius, the writings of the Church Fathers, including St. Augustine, and more contemporary philosophers, among them, notably, Hildegard of Bingen.

The final illustration from
Hortus deliciarum,
Herrad address her sisters,
caption identifying her as
"Herrat hohenburgensis abbatissa"

As Thomas Head writes in his entry on Herrad in the Encyclopedia of Continental Women Writers, the collection "provided information on a wide range of biblical, theological, spiritual, and historical topics," though its specific purpose--and its intended audience--aren't altogether certain.

Again, it has been widely said that Herrad intended her encyclopedia for the education of the notices at the abbey, though more recent scholarship has questioned that assumption. The collection was certainly addressed to members of the community, as her preface indicates, but its specific audience and purpose have been debated. As Gibson notes, the encyclopedia contains material on marriage, so lay women may also have been "considered" as part of the audience for whom the the "garden" was intended. "Although there is a general agreement that the Hortus deliciarum is a remarkable and very important work of the late twelfth century," she writes, "it is nevertheless extremely difficult to classify."

However difficult it may be to classify, the encyclopedia itself was the product of Herrad's wide-ranging knowledge. Abbess Rilinda may have had some part in its origins, but Herrad is its singular inspiration, and she worked closely on all aspects of its production. 

As if to compound the many difficulties and uncertainties associated with the manuscript, the Hortus deliciarum no longer exists. Well, the original manuscript no longer exists. After the abbey of Hohenburg burned in 1546, the contents of its library went to the bishop of Strasbourg. The manuscript eventually wound up in the municipal library in the Central Registry of Strasbourg in 1803. It was destroyed in 1870, during Prussian bombardment of Strasbourg during the Franco-Prussian War.

What remains of Herrad's "garden of delights" are copies of the miniatures made in 1818 by Christian Moritz Engelhardt (head of the Strasbourg police!) and various (incomplete) copies of its texts, sketches, and tracings made before the book's destruction. (Evidently one man who copied parts of the manuscript took it to Paris and kept it for ten years!) Two scholars, A. Straub and G. Keller, produced a reconstruction of the Hortus deliciarium, beginning work in 1879 and publishing in 1899 (after Straub's death in 1891). It is from this late nineteenth-century "edition" that the illustration I have used here--Herrad addressing the nuns of her convent--is taken.

Herrad of Hohenburg died on 25 July 1195. 

For a discussion of the manuscript, you might start with the website of the Bibliothèque Alsatique du Crédit Mutuel (click here). It's particularly good on the history of the manuscript from the time it entered the municipal library in Strasbourg until its destruction. It also offers a gallery of illustrations that have been given some color.

A colorized version of
the final manuscript illustration,
Bibliothèque Alsatique

To view 12 black-and-white drawings made by Engelhardt in 1818, turned into copperplates, and now digitized, click here. You can see Engelhardt's drawing of the final manuscript illustration, Herrad and the convent's nuns, which was later reproduced by Straub and Keller in their reconstructed edition.

I've already linked you, above, to this nineteenth-century "facsimile." In 1979, the Warburg Institute produced a "partial facsimile" of the Hortus deliciarum with commentary by Rosalie Green, Michael Evans, Christine Bischoff, and Michael Curschmann. It is now considered the best available edition, but only 750 copies were produced. (As of this writing, two copies are available on Amazon--one for the low, low price of $2,160, the other $4,458.03--three cents???!!!)

I find Joan Gibson's "Herrad of Landsberg," to which I've already linked you, to be the best overall analysis. Her essay is in A History of Women Philosophers . . . , vol. 2, edited by Mary Ellen Waithe. (Which is also ridiculously expensive, so I've linked here to what's available via Google Books.)

Monday, July 18, 2022

Is It Time for "Deeds, Not Words"?

When Women Became No Longer Equal, Part 8: Time for Deeds, Not Words?

An improbable confluence of events has gotten me thinking about the motto of one of the twentieth century suffragist organizations: "Deeds, not words."

Last Friday, 15 July 2022, was anniversary of the birth of the militant political activist Emmeline Pankhurst--Pankhurst founded the Women's Social and Political Union, the organization that adopted that motto. "Deeds, not words" were needed, she said. 

Emmeline Pankhurst, 1914,
arrest outside Buckingham Palace
(National Portrait Gallery,
used by permission)
And on that same day, Friday, 15 July 2022, the U. S. House of Representatives passed two bills, neither of which has a chance in hell of passing in the Senate. The first, H.R.8297, Ensuring Access to Abortion Act of 2022, would guarantee that a woman had the right to travel freely wherever she chose and for whatever reason she chose--specifically, that no state could prevent a woman from crossing state lines to get an abortion. The second, H.R.8296, Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022, would prohibit "governmental restrictions on the provision of, and access to, abortion services."

Even though the House passed both bills, the final votes were grim. The first act, ensuring a woman's right to free movement, passed by a vote of 223 to 205--only three Republicans thought a woman should be able to travel out of state if she made the decision to do so for reasons that were nobody else's business. The second passed by a vote of 219 to 210, no Republicans agreeing that a woman was entitled to self-determination and bodily autonomy. (The final tally is different on these two votes because not everyone voted.)

So, as I said, the startling meeting of these two things on this one day got me thinking. Is now the time for women in America to consider "deeds, not words"?

A bit of history. Emmeline Pankhurst had been active in the effort to gain the vote for women for decades. Beginning in the early nineteenth-century, women had marched and had held rallies and had displayed banners and had spoken at public meetings and had published pamphlets and books and had petitioned and had drafted and redrafted legislation. And they had seen three successive suffrage bills--1870, 1886, and 1897--fail 

In 1903, disillusioned with established suffrage organizations and tired of the parliamentary promises that failed to result in action, Pankhurst and a group of like-minded women founded the Women's Social and Political Union--a militant group whose activities soon moved from non-violent to violent, a group whose chosen motto was "deeds, not words."

These women, women who were sick to death of being ignored, were militant but peaceful at first, and their movement grew--the WSPU organized a "Women's Sunday" rally at Hyde Park in June 1908 that drew a crowd of 250,000 people. But, finding their protests and issues ignored, women turned to smashing windows in Downing Street and fastened themselves to railings. Their demonstrations grew increasingly violent, perhaps none more so than the Black Friday protests on 10 November 1910, following parliament's failure--once again--to pass a suffrage law that would have granted at least some women, property-owning women, the right to vote.

Members of the WSPU began a campaign of violent actions--sure, they spit at politicians and threatened Winston Churchill with a horsewhip and heckled members of parliament. But they also broke windows, slashed paintings, blew up mailboxes, committed arson, cut telegraph wires, and planted bombs. And they were not apologetic. 

In 1913, Christabel Pankhurst, Emmeline Pankhurst's daughter, felt no need to excuse the tactics of the WSPU: "If men use explosives and bombs for their own purpose they call it war, and the throwing of a bomb that destroys other people is then described as a glorious and heroic deed. Why should a woman not make use of the same weapons as men. It is not only war we have declared. We are fighting for a revolution!"
Mary Winsor, Pennsylvania,
(Library of Congress)

Meanwhile, Emmeline Pankhurst traveled to the United States, where she addressed her speech, "Freedom or Death," to an audience in Hartford. Connecticut on 13 November 1913.

Pankhurst' speech is long--I'll link you here to the speech in its entirety. But so much of it seems relevant to this current moment and the alarming future that women in the United States face as their rights to self-determination and bodily autonomy have been erased by the Supreme Court, and where multiple states are resorting to other drastic measures, including the right of women to travel freely. 

In opening her address, Pankhurst says, "I am not here to advocate woman suffrage." Rather than an advocate, she asserts, "I am here as a soldier, one who has temporarily left the field of battle in order to explain--it seems strange it should have to be explained--what civil war is like when civil war is waged by women." 

from Emmeline Pankhurst's "Freedom or Death"

I am not only here as a soldier temporarily absent from the field at battle; I am here--and that, I think, is the strangest part of my coming--I am here as a person who, according to the law courts of my country, it has been decided, is of no value to the community at all: and I am adjudged because of my life to be a dangerous person, under sentence of penal servitude in a convict prison. So you see there is some special interest in hearing so unusual a person address you. I dare say, in the minds of many of you--you will perhaps forgive me this personal touch--that I do not look either very like a soldier or very like a convict, and yet I am both.

Now, first of all I want to make you understand the inevitableness of revolution and civil war, even on the part of women, when you reach a certain stage in the development of a community's life. It is not at all difficult if revolutionaries come to you from Russia, if they come to you from China, or from any other part of the world, if they are men, to make you understand revolution in five minutes, every man and every woman to understand revolutionary methods when they are adopted by men.

Many of you have expressed sympathy, probably even practical sympathy, with [such] revolutionaries. . . . It is quite easy for you to understand--it would not be necessary for me to enter into explanations at all--the desirability of revolution if I were a man. . . . If an Irish revolutionary had addressed this meeting . . . it would not be necessary for that revolutionary to explain the need of revolution beyond saying that the people of his country were denied--and by people, meaning men--were denied the right of self-government. That would explain the whole situation. If I were a man and I said to you, "I come from a country which professes to have representative institutions and yet denies me, a taxpayer, an inhabitant of the country, representative rights," you would at once understand that that human being, being a man, was justified in the adoption of revolutionary methods to get representative institutions. But since I am a woman it is necessary in the twentieth century to explain why women have adopted revolutionary methods in order to win the rights of citizenship.

You see, . . . we women, in trying to make our case clear, always have to make as part of our argument, and urge upon men in our audience the fact--a very simple fact--that women are human beings. It is quite evident you do not all realize we are human beings or it would not be necessary to argue with you that women may, suffering from intolerable injustice, be driven to adopt revolutionary methods. We have, first of all to convince you we are human beings [emphasis added]. . . . 

I am going to talk later on about the grievances, but I want to first of all make you understand that this civil war carried on by women is not the hysterical manifestation which you thought it was, but was carefully and logically thought out, and I think when I have finished you will say, admitted the grievance, admitted the strength of the cause, that we could not do anything else, that there was no other way, that we had either to submit to intolerable injustice and let the woman's movement go back and remain in a worse position than it was before we began, or we had to go on with these methods until victory was secured; and I want also to convince you that these methods are going to win, because when you adopt the methods of revolution there are two justifications which I feel are necessary or to be desired. The first is, that you have good cause for adopting your methods in the beginning, and secondly that you have adopted methods which when pursued with sufficient courage and determination are bound, in the long run, to win.

We found that all the fine phrases about freedom and liberty were entirely for male consumption, and that they did not in any way apply to women. [emphasis added] When it was said taxation without representation is tyranny, . . . everybody quite calmly accepted the fact that women had to pay taxes and even were sent to prison if they failed to pay them--quite right. We found that "Government of the people, by the people and for the people" . . . was again only for male consumption; half of the people were entirely ignored; it was the duty of women to pay their taxes and obey the laws and look as pleasant as they could under the circumstances. In fact, every principle of liberty enunciated in any civilized country on earth, with very few exceptions, was intended entirely for men, and when women tried to force the putting into practice of these principles, for women, then they discovered they had come into a very, very unpleasant situation indeed.

Now, I am going to. . . come right up to the time when our militancy became real militancy, when we organized ourselves on an army basis, when we determined, if necessary, to fight for our rights just as our forefathers had fought for their rights. Then people began to say that while they believed they had no criticism of militancy, as militancy, while they thought it was quite justifiable for people to revolt against intolerable injustice, it was absurd and ridiculous for women to attempt it because women could not succeed. After all the most practical criticism of our militancy coming from men has been the argument that it could not succeed. They would say, "We would be with you if you could succeed but it is absurd for women who are the weaker sex, for women who have not got the control of any large interests, for women who have got very little money, who have peculiar duties as women, which handicaps them extremely--for example, the duty of caring for children--it is absurd for women to think they can ever win their rights by fighting; you had far better give it up and submit because there it is, you have always been subject and you always will be." Well now, that really became the testing time. Then we women determined to show the world, that women, handicapped as women are, can still fight and can still win. . . . 

You have to make more noise than anybody else, you have to make yourself more obtrusive than anybody else, you have to fill all the papers more than anybody else, in fact you have to be there all the time and see that they do not snow you under, if you are really going to get your reform realized.

That is what we women have been doing, and in the course of our desperate struggle we have had to make a great many people very uncomfortable. . . . [I]f you really want to get anything done, it is not so much a matter of whether you alienate sympathy; sympathy is a very unsatisfactory thing if it is not practical sympathy. It does not matter to the practical suffragist whether she alienates sympathy that was never of any use to her. What she wants is to get something practical done, and whether it is done out of sympathy or whether it is done out of fear, or whether it is done because you want to be comfortable again and not be worried in this way, doesn't particularly matter so long as you get it. We had enough of sympathy for fifty years; it never brought us anything, and we would rather have an angry man going to the government and saying, my business is interfered with and I won't submit to its being interfered with any longer because you won't give women the vote, than to have a gentleman come onto our platforms year in and year out and talk about his ardent sympathy with woman suffrage. . . . 

Very well, then when you have warfare things happen; people suffer; the noncombatants suffer as well as the combatants. And so it happens in civil war. When your forefathers threw the tea into Boston harbor, a good many women had to go without their tea. It has always seemed to me an extraordinary thing that you did not follow it up by throwing the whiskey overboard; you sacrificed the women; and there is a good deal of warfare for which men take a great deal of glorification which has involved more practical sacrifice on women than it has on any man. It always has been so. The grievances of those who have got power, the influence of those who have got power commands a great deal of attention; but the wrongs and the grievances of those people who have no power at all are apt to be absolutely ignored. That is the history of humanity right from the beginning.

They have said to us government rests upon force, the women haven't force so they must submit. Well, we are showing them that government does not rest upon force at all: it rests upon consent. As long as women consent to be unjustly governed, they can be, but directly women say: "We withhold our consent, we will not be governed any longer so long as that government is unjust." Not by the forces of civil war can you govern the very weakest woman. You can kill that woman, but she escapes you then; you cannot govern her. And that is, I think, a most valuable demonstration we have been making to the world. We have been proving in our own person that government does not rest upon force; it rests upon consent; as long as people consent to government, it is perfectly easy to govern, but directly they refuse then no power on earth can govern a human being, however feeble, who withholds his or her consent. . . .

When they put us in prison at first, simply for taking petitions, we submitted; we allowed them to dress us in prison clothes; we allowed them to put us in solitary confinement; we allowed them to treat us as ordinary criminals, and put us amongst the most degraded of those criminals: and we were very glad of the experience, because out of that experience we learned of the need for prison reform; we learned of the fearful mistakes that men of all nations have made when it is a question of dealing with human beings; we learned of some of the appalling evils of our so-called civilization that we could not have learned in any other way except by going through the police courts of our country, in the prison vans that take you up to prison and right through that prison experience. It was valuable experience, and we were glad to get it. But there came a time when we said: "It is unjust to send political agitators to prison in this way for merely asking for justice, and we will not submit any longer."

It has come to a battle between the women and the government as to who shall yield first, whether they will yield . . . , or whether we will give up our agitation.

Well, they little know what women are. Women are very slow to rouse, but once they are aroused, once they are determined, nothing on earth and nothing in heaven will make women give way; it is impossible. [emphasis added]

Now, I want to say to you who think women cannot succeed, . . . what would you say if in your state you were faced with that alternative, that you must either kill them or give them their citizenship--women, many of whom you respect, women whom you know have lived useful lives, women whom you know, even If you do not know them personally, are animated with the highest motives, women who are in pursuit of liberty and the power to do useful public service? Well, there is only one answer to that alternative; there is only one way out of it, unless you are prepared to put back civilization two or three generations: you must give those women the vote. Now that is the outcome of our civil war. 

. . . You have left it to women in your land, the men of all civilized countries have left it to women, to work out their own salvation. . . . [W]e will put the enemy in the position where they will have to choose between giving us freedom or giving us death.

. . . Even the most hardened politician will hesitate to take upon himself directly the responsibility of sacrificing the lives of women of undoubted honor, of undoubted earnestness of purpose. That is the political situation as I lay it before you today. . . . 

We have to look facts in the face. [W]omen have learned to look facts in the face; they have got rid of sentimentalities; they are looking at actual facts: and when [men] talk about chivalry, and when they talk about putting women on pedestals and guarding them from all the difficulties and dangers of life, we look to the facts in life as we see them and we say: "Women have every reason to distrust that kind of thing, every reason to be dissatisfied; we want to know the truth however bad it is, and we face that truth because it is only through knowing the truth that you ever will get to anything better." We are determined to have these things faced and cleared up, and it is absolutely ridiculous to say to women that they can safely trust their interests in the hands of men who have already registered in the legislation of their country a standard of morals so unequal for both sexes. . . .

Well, can you wonder that all these things make us more militant? It seems to me that once you look at things from the woman's point of view, once you cease to listen to politicians, once you cease to allow yourself to look at the facts of life through men's spectacles but look at them through your own, every day that passes you are having fresh illustrations of the need there is for women to refuse to wait any longer for their enfranchisement. . . . 

Men have done splendid things in this world; they have made great achievements in engineering; they have done splendid organization work; but they have failed, they have miserably failed, when it has come to dealing with the lives of human beings. They stand self-confessed failures, because the problems that perplex civilization are absolutely appalling today. Well, that is the function of women in life: it is our business to care for human beings, and we are determined that we must come without delay to the saving of the race. The race must be saved, and it can only be saved through the emancipation of women. [emphasis added]

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I want to say that I am very thankful to you for listening to me here tonight; I am glad if I have been able even to a small extent to explain to you something of the English situation. I want to say that I am not here to apologize. I do not care very much even whether you really understand, because when you are in a fighting movement, a movement which every fiber of your being has forced you to enter, it is not the approval of other human beings that you want; you are so concentrated on your object that you mean to achieve that object even if the whole world was up in arms against you. So I am not here tonight to apologize or to win very much your approbation. People have said: "Why does Mrs. Pankhurst come to America? Has she come to America to rouse American women to be militant?" No, I have not come to America to arouse American women to be militant. I believe that American women . . . will find out for themselves the best way to secure that object. . . . 

So here am I. I come in the intervals of prison appearance: I come after having been four times imprisoned . . . , probably going back to be rearrested as soon as I set my foot on British soil. I come to ask you to help to win this fight. If we win it, this hardest of all fights, then, to be sure, in the future it is going to be made easier for women all over the world to win their fight when their time comes. So I make no apologies for coming. . . . 

Of course, Pankhurst was arguing for women's suffrage. And women finally did get that right--no small thanks to their "deeds." In both Britain and the United States, women's militancy before the First World War ensured they got the vote after its end. 

And it's important to remember--the right to vote was not a right that they were given, a reward for their agreeableness and good behavior. As Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority, notes, "The textbooks when I went to school said women were given the vote." But nothing could be farther from the truth: "We weren’t given anything. We took it."

Today, in the face of women's outrage and despair, as they are being told that, sorry, they are not quite equal after all, sanctimonious judges and politicians are also telling them that if they aren't happy, they just need to vote for change. Why are you so upset, they ask. After all, we gave you the right to vote, so just go vote.

Just vote, and everything will be fine. But in the light of the gutting of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, of undisguised and calculated efforts at voter suppression and years of partisan gerrymandering, and after years of packing and stacking the federal courts at all levels with right-wing religious zealots--well, in light of all of this, will voting do it?

As Smeal reminds us--women weren't been given anything. They had to take their rights from those who determined to deny them. 

And as Emmeline Pankhurst reminds us--to be regarded as equal under the law, to be treated as human beings, women may need to become revolutionaries.

Women protesting outside the U.S. Supreme Court
following the Dobbs decision,
AP Photo

Update, 21 July 2022: They're coming for for us, now doing everything they can to reduce a woman--an independent, autonomous person--to the status of a vessel, a receptacle, a sort of Tupperware container, just ready and waiting for some guy to deposit his semen. Today, the U.S. House of Representatives considered H.R.8373, To Protect a "Person’s Ability to Access Contraceptives and to Engage in Contraception, and to Protect a Health Care Provider’s Ability to Provide Contraceptives, Contraception, and Information Related to Contraception."

Yes, this bill would ensure a person--a human being--would be able to make informed decisions about whether and when she will become pregnant. It would also ensure a person had access to information about birth control. 

Only 8 Republicans thought women should be assured such access--220 Representatives voted in favor of H.R. 8373, but only 8 of them were Republicans. The vast majority of Republicans--195--voted against this bill. (Two Republican weenies voted "present," while eight lacked enough conviction to vote at all. I mean, if you're a benighted, misogynist asshole, at least have the courage of your convictions . . . 

And good luck getting this through the Senate . . . 

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Get Your Damn Feet Off Our Necks! Sarah Grimké, 1837

When Women Became No Longer Equal, Part 7: Sarah Grimké, Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women

In arguing her first case before the Supreme Court in 1973 (Frontiero v. Richardson), future justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg quoted the nineteenth-century American feminist and abolitionist Sarah Grimké: "I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks." (You can hear the oral argument here, at the Oyez website; in the opening scene of the 2018 documentary RBG, Justice Ginsburg is sitting at her desk and, looking straight into the camera, she repeats these words).

Memorable as that line is, Sarah Grimké had a great deal more of note to say in her extended analysis of the unequal status of women. In her Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women, published in 1838, just a year after Harriet Martineau's indictment of American hypocrisy (a work Grimké knows and cites in her own), she writes at length about the treatment of women in religion, employment, education, politics, and the law--she is even interested in the differences in the clothing that is deemed "appropriate" for women.

Her letters discuss the place of women in history and throughout her contemporary world, but those that are most illuminating are the ones where she addresses the unequal status of women in a country that proclaimed its independence by declaring that "all men are created equal."

By the way, the quotation that Ginsburg loved is from Letter II, "Women Only Subject to God." Here it is, in context:
But I ask no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of our brethren, is that they will take their fee from off our necks, and permit us to stand upright on that ground which God designed us to occupy. If he has not given us the rights which have, as I conceive, been wrested from us, we shall soon give evidence of our inferiority, and shrink back into that obscurity, which the high souled magnanimity of man has assigned us as our appropriate sphere. 

There is a very great deal worth reading in Grimké Letters, but given the Supreme Court's recent decision that women are not, after all, equal under the law, free and independent human beings, capable of deciding their own future for themselves, I thought a look back at Grimké's clear-eyed analysis of the law's view of women in the early part of the nineteenth-century--just sixty years after all that all-men-are-created-equal, "unalienable"-right-to-life-liberty-and-the-pursuit-of-happiness, no-taxation-without-representation bullshit.

So here it is, lightly edited for content (and I've normalized punctuation). To read the original, from the 1838 edition, pictured above, click here.

Letter XII. Legal Disabilities of Women 

Concord, [6 September] 1837

My dear sister,

There are few things which present greater obstacles to the improvement and elevation of woman to her appropriate sphere of usefulness and duty than the laws which have been enacted to destroy her independence and crush her individuality [emphasis added], laws which, although they are framed for her government, she has had no voice in establishing and which rob her of some of her essential rights. Woman has no political existence. With the single exception of presenting a petition to the legislative body, she is a cipher in the nation, or, if not actually so in representative governments, she is only counted, like the slaves of the South, to swell the number of law-makers who form decrees for her government with little reference to her benefit, except so far as her good may promote their own. I am not sufficiently acquainted with the laws respecting women on the continent of Europe to say anything about them. . . . I shall confine myself to the laws of our country. These laws bear with peculiar rigor on married women. Blackstone, in the chapter entitled "Of husband and wife," says:

By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law; that is, the very being, or legal existence of the woman, is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband under whose wing, protection, and cover she performs everything. For this reason, a man cannot grant anything to his wife or enter into covenant with her, for the grant would be to suppose her separate existence, and to covenant with her would be to covenant with himself; and therefore it is also generally true, that all compacts made between husband and wife, when single, are voided by the intermarriage. A woman indeed may be attorney for her husband, but that implies no separation from, but is rather a representation of her love.*

Here now, the very being of a woman, like that of a slave, is absorbed in her master. All contracts made with her, like those made with slaves by their owners, are a mere nullity. Our kind defenders have legislated away almost all our legal rights, and in the true spirit of such injustice and oppression, have kept us in ignorance of those very laws by which we are governed. [Emphasis added.] They have persuaded us that we have no right to investigate the laws and that, if we did, we could not comprehend them: they alone are capable of understanding the mysteries of Blackstone. . . . But they are not backward to make us feel the practical operation of their power over our actions.

Yet a man may spend the property he has acquired by marriage at the ale-house, the gambling table, or in any other way that he pleases. Many instances of this kind have come to into knowledge, and women who have brought their husbands handsome fortunes have been left, in consequence of the wasteful and dissolute habits of their husbands, in straitened circumstances and compelled to toil for the support of their families.

If the wife be indebted before marriage, the husband is bound afterwards to pay the debt, for he has adopted her and her circumstances together. [quoting Blackstone]

The wife's property is, I believe, equally liable for her husband's debts contracted before marriage.

If the wife be injured in her person or property, she can bring no action for redress without her husband's concurrence and his name as well as her own: neither can she be sued without making her husband a defendant. [quoting Blackstone]

This law that "a wife can bring no action," et cetera, is similar to the law respecting slaves: "A slave cannot bring a suit against his master or any other person, for an injury—his master must bring it." So if any damages are recovered for an injury committed on a wife, the husband pockets it; in the case of the slave, the master does the same.

In criminal prosecutions, the wife may be indicted as punished separately unless there be evidence of coercion from the fact that the offence was committed in the presence or by the command of her husband. A wife is excused from punishment for theft committed in the presence, or by the command of her husband. [quoting Blackstone]

It would be difficult to frame a law better calculated to destroy the responsibility of woman as a moral being or a free agent. Her husband is supposed to possess unlimited control over her, and if she can offer the flimsy excuse that he bade her steal, she may break the eighth commandment with impunity, as far as human laws are concerned.

Our law in general considers man and wife as one person, yet there are some instances in which she is separately considered as inferior to him and acting by his compulsion. Therefore, all deeds executed and acts done by her during her coverture (i. e. marriage) are void, except it be a fine or like matter of record, in which case she must be solely and secretly examined to learn if her act be voluntary. [quoting Blackstone]

Such a law speaks volumes of the abuse of that power which men have vested in their own hands. Still the private examination of a wife, to know whether she accedes to the disposition of property made by her husband is, in most cases, a mere form; a wife dares not do what will be disagreeable to one who is, in his own estimation, her superior and who makes her feel, in the privacy of domestic life, that she has thwarted him. With respect to the nullity of deeds or acts done by a wife, I will mention one circumstance. A respectable woman borrowed of a female friend a sum of money to relieve her son from some distressing pecuniary embarrassment. Her husband was from home, and she assured the lender that as soon as he returned, he would gratefully discharge the debt. She gave her note and the lender, entirely ignorant of the law that a man is not obliged to discharge such a debt, actually borrowed the money and lent it to the distressed and weeping mother. The father returned home, refused to pay the debt, and the person who had loaned the money was obliged to pay both principal and interest to the friend who lent it to her. Women should certainly know the laws by which they are governed, and from which they frequently suffer; yet they are kept in ignorance, nearly as profound, of their legal rights and of the legislative enactments which are to regulate their actions, as slaves.

The husband, by the old law, might give his wife moderate correction, as he is to answer for her misbehavior. The law thought it reasonable to entrust him with this power of restraining her by domestic chastisement. The courts of law will still permit a husband to restrain a wife of her liberty, in case of any gross misbehavior. [quoting Blackstone--yes, you are reading this correctly, a husband can beat (moderately, of course!) and imprison his wife!]

What a mortifying proof this law affords of the estimation in which woman is held! She is placed completely in the hands of a being subject like herself to the outbursts of passion and therefore unworthy to be trusted with power. Perhaps I may be told respecting this law that it is a dead letter, as I am sometimes told about the slave laws; but this is not true in either case. The slaveholder does kill his slave by moderate correction, as the law allows, and many a husband, among the poor, exercises the right given him by the law, of degrading woman by personal chastisement.** And among the higher ranks, if actual imprisonment is not resorted to, women are not unfrequently restrained of the liberty of going to places of worship by irreligious husbands and of doing many other things about which, as moral and responsible beings, they should be the sole judges. Such laws remind me of the reply of some little girls at a children's meeting held recently at Ipswich. The lecturer told them that God had created four orders of beings with which he had made us acquainted through the Bible. The first was angels, the second was man, the third beasts; and now, children, what is the fourth? After a pause, several girls replied, "WOMEN."

A woman's personal property by marriage becomes absolutely her husband's which, at his death, he may leave entirely away from her. [quoting Blackstone]

And farther, all the avails of her labor are absolutely in the power of her husband. All that she acquires by her industry is his; so that she cannot, with her own honest earnings, become the legal purchaser of any property. If she expends her money for articles of furniture to contribute to the comfort of her family, they are liable to be seized for her husband's debts, and I know an instance of a woman, who by labor and economy had scraped together a little maintenance for herself and a do-little husband, who was left, at his death, by virtue of his last will and testament, to be supported by charity. I knew another woman, who by great industry had acquired a little money which she deposited in a bank for safe keeping. She had saved this pittance whilst able to work, in hopes that when age or sickness disqualified her for exertion, she might have something to render life comfortable without being a burden to her friends. Her husband, a worthless, idle man, discovered this hid treasure, drew her little stock from the bank, and expended it all in extravagance and vicious indulgence. I know of another woman, who married without the least idea that she was surrendering her rights to all her personal property. Accordingly, she went to the bank as usual to draw her dividends, and the person who paid her the money, and to whom she was personally known as an owner of shares in that hank, remarking the change in her signature, withdrew the money, informing her that if she were married, she had no longer a right to draw her dividends without an order from her husband. It appeared that she intended having a little fund for private use and had not even told her husband that she owned this stock, and she was not a little chagrined when she found that it was not at her disposal. I think she was wrong to conceal the circumstance. The relation of husband and wife is too near and sacred to admit of secrecy about money matters, unless positive necessity demands it, and I can see no excuse for any woman entering into a marriage engagement with a design to keep her husband ignorant that she was possessed of property. If she was unwilling to give up her property to his disposal, she had infinitely better have remained single.

The laws above cited are not very unlike the slave laws of Louisiana: "All that a slave possesseth belongs to his master; be possesses nothing of his own, except what his master chooses he should possess."
By the marriage, the husband is absolutely master of the profits of the wife's lands during the coverture, and if he has had a living child and survives the wife, he retains the whole of those lands, if they are estates of inheritance, during his life; but the wife is entitled only to one third if she survives, out of the husband's estates of inheritance. But this she has, whether she has bad a child or not. With regard to the property of women, there is taxation without representation, for they pay taxes without having the liberty of voting for representatives. [Grimké notes, below, she is quoting Massachusetts law here]
And this taxation, without representation, be it remembered, was the cause of our Revolutionary war, a grievance so heavy that it was thought necessary to purchase exemption from it at an immense expense of blood and treasure, yet the daughters of New England, as well as of all the other States of this free Republic, are suffering a similar injustice—but for one, I had rather we should suffer any injustice or oppression than that my sex should nave any voice in the political affairs of the nation. [Emphasis added.]
. . . That the laws which have generally been adopted in the United States for the government of women have been framed almost entirely for the exclusive benefit of men, and with a design to oppress women by depriving them of all control over their property, is too manifest to be denied. . . .  

As these abuses do exist, and women suffer intensely from them, our brethren are called upon in this enlightened age by every sentiment to honor, religion and justice, to repeal these unjust and unequal laws, and restore to woman those rights which they have wrested from her. Such laws approximated too nearly to the laws enacted by slaveholders for the government of their slaves and must tend to debase and depress the mind of that being whom God created as a help meet for man . . . and designed to be his equal and his companion. Until such laws are annulled, woman never can occupy that exalted station for which she was intended by her Maker. And just in proportion as they are practically disregarded, which is the case to some extent, just so far is woman assuming that independence and nobility of character which she ought to exhibit.

The various laws which I have transcribed leave women very little more liberty, or power, in some respects, than the slave. "A slave," says the civil code of Louisiana, "is one who is in the power of a master, to whom he belongs. He can possess nothing, nor acquire anything, but what must belong to his master." I do not wish by any means to intimate that the condition of free women can be compared to that of slaves in suffering or in degradation; still, I believe the laws which deprive married women of their rights and privileges have a tendency to lessen them in their won estimation as moral and responsible beings, and that their being made by civil law inferior to their husbands has a debasing and mischievous effect upon them, teaching them practically the fatal lesson to look unto man for protection and indulgence.  [Emphasis added]

Ecclesiastical bodies, I believe, without exception, follow the example of legislative assemblies, in excluding women from any participation in forming the discipline by which she is governed. The men frame the laws, and, with few exceptions, claim to execute them on both sexes. In ecclesiastical, as well as civil courts, woman is tried and condemned not by a jury of her peers but by beings who regard themselves as her superiors in the scale of creation. Although looked upon as an inferior, when considered as an intellectual being, woman is punished with the same severity as man, when she is guilty of moral offenses. Her condition resembles, in some measure, that of the slave, who, while he is denied the advantages of his more enlightened master, is treated with even greater rigor of the law. Hoping that in the various reformations of the day, women may be relieved from some of their legal disabilities, I remain,

Thine in the bonds of womanhood,


*"Blackstone" refers the English jurist William Blackstone, whose four-volume Commentaries on the Laws of England was (and is) a standard reference on English law.

To this reference, Grimké adds, as a footnote, a further citation from Blackstone: "The husband is bound to provide his wife with necessaries by law. as much as himself. and if she contracts debts for them, he is obliged to pay for them, but for anything besides necessaries, he is not chargeable."

**Grimké seems to suggest that domestic violence occurs only "among the poor." Hmm. 


Monday, July 4, 2022

Are All "Men" Created Equal? American Hypocrisy

When Women Became No Longer Equal, Part 6, Have-a-Happy-Fourth-of-July Edition: Harriet Martineau on American Hypocrisy, the "Political Non-Existence of  Women"

In 1776, recognizing that women had a right to vote, the newly emerging state of New Jersey carried out the ideals of the proclamation of the Declaration of Independence--that all men and women are "created equal." To exclude women (as well as free Black men and women and unnaturalized "aliens") from this right would be hypocritical. But the grand experiment in merging theory with reality soon failed, and by 1807, the right to vote had been taken away from women, 

But the fundamental hypocrisy of the Declaration of Independence and the new republic designed by its "founding fathers" was undeniable. (It's hard to beat Samuel Johnson's observation: "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?" [Taxation No Tyranny, 1775]).

Martineau's 1837
overview of her
travels in the United States
But for an extended analysis of this hypocrisy as it pertains to women, we can turn to Harriet Martinea's "Political Non-Existence of Women," written after her two-year journey throughout the country from 1834 to 1836. 

Everywhere she had traveled in the United States, Martineau was fêted, warmly recognized and welcomed as the great "lion of London," whose writings on politics and the economy were widely read and appreciated. She seems to have met everyone who was anyone, including James Madison, whom Martineau visited at Montpelier in 1835.

When she returned to England, Martineau wrote about her travels. An abolitionist, she had a lot to say about slavery in the United States. But in light of the current state of affairs for women in this country, newly returned to unequal status, I thought it would be most appropriate here to read what Martineau had to say about the status of women in the place where the Declaration of Independence had loudly proclaimed the equality of humankind.

Rather than my usual analysis, I'll quote here--with a link to the first volume of her two-volume Society in America (1837) so you can read more, if you're interested. (The "Political Non-Existence of Women" is Chapter 3, section 7.)

From "Political Non-Existence of Women"

One of the fundamental principles announced in the Declaration of Independence is, that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. How can the political condition of women be reconciled with this?

Governments in the United States have power to tax women who hold property; to divorce them from their husbands; to fine, imprison, and execute them for certain offences. Whence do these governments derive their powers? They are not "just," as they are not derived from the consent of the women thus governed.

Governments in the United States have power to enslave certain women; and also to punish other women for inhuman treatment of such slaves. Neither of these powers are "just;" not being derived from the consent of the governed.

Governments decree to women in some States half their husbands' property; in others one-third. In some, a woman, on her marriage, is made to yield all her property to her husband; in others, to retain a portion, or the whole, in her own hands. Whence do governments derive the unjust power of thus disposing of property without the consent of the governed?

The democratic principle condemns all this as wrong; and requires the equal political representation of all rational beings. . . . 

The case is so plain that I might close it here; but it is interesting to inquire how so obvious a decision has been so evaded as to leave to women no political rights whatever. The question has been asked, from time to time, in more countries than one, how obedience to the laws can be required of women, when no woman has, either actually or virtually, given any assent to any law. No plausible answer has, as far as I can discover, been offered; for the good reason, that no plausible answer can be devised. The most principled democratic writers on government have on this subject sunk into fallacies, as disgraceful as any advocate of despotism has adduced. . . . 

[Thomas] Jefferson says,* "Were our State a pure democracy, in which all the inhabitants should meet together to transact all their business, there would yet be excluded from their deliberations,

"1. Infants, until arrived at years of discretion;

"2. Women, who, to prevent depravation of morals, and ambiguity of issue, could not mix promiscuously in the public meetings of men;

"3. Slaves, from whom the unfortunate state of things with us takes away the rights of will and of property."

If the slave disqualification, here assigned, were shifted up under the head of Women, their case would be nearer the truth than as it now stands. Woman's lack of will and of property, is more like the true cause of her exclusion from the representation, than that which is actually set down against her. As if there could be no means of conducting public affairs but by promiscuous meetings! As if there would be more danger in promiscuous meetings for political business than in such meetings for worship, for oratory, for music, for dramatic entertainments,—for any of the thousand transactions of civilized life! The plea is not worth another word.

Mill says, with regard to representation, in his Essay on Government, "One thing is pretty clear; that all those individuals, whose interests are involved in those of other individuals, may be struck off without inconvenience.... In this light, women may be regarded, the interest of almost all of whom is involved, either in that of their fathers or in that of their husbands."

The true democratic principle is, that no person's interests can be, or can be ascertained to be, identical with those of any other person. This allows the exclusion of none but incapables.

The word "almost," in Mr. Mill's second sentence, rescues women from the exclusion he proposes. As long as there are women who have neither husbands nor fathers, his proposition remains an absurdity.

The interests of women who have fathers and husbands can never be identical with theirs, while there is a necessity for laws to protect women against their husbands and fathers. This statement is not worth another word.

Some who desire that there should be an equality of property between men and women, oppose representation, on the ground that political duties would be incompatible with the other duties which women have to discharge. The reply to this is, that women are the best judges here. God has given time and power for the discharge of all duties; and, if he had not, it would be for women to decide which they would take, and which they would leave. But their guardians follow the ancient fashion of deciding what is best for their wards. The Emperor of Russia discovers when a coat of arms and title do not agree with a subject prince. The King of France early perceives that the air of Paris does not agree with a free-thinking foreigner. The English Tories feel the hardship that it would be to impose the franchise on every arti[s]an, busy as he is in getting his bread. The Georgian planter perceives the hardship that freedom would be to his slaves. And the best friends of half the human race peremptorily decide for them as to their rights, their duties, their feelings, their powers. In all these cases, the persons thus cared for feel that the abstract decision rests with themselves; that, though they may be compelled to submit, they need not acquiesce.

It is pleaded that half of the human race does acquiesce in the decision of the other half, as to their rights and duties. And some instances, not only of submission, but of acquiescence, there are. Forty years ago, the women of New Jersey went to the poll, and voted, at state elections. The general term, "inhabitants," stood unqualified;—as it will again, when the true democratic principle comes to be fully understood. A motion was made to correct the inadvertence; and it was done, as a matter of course; without any appeal, as far as I could learn, from the persons about to be injured. Such acquiescence proves nothing but the degradation of the injured party. It inspires the same emotions of pity as the supplication of the freed slave who kneels to his master to restore him to slavery, that he may have his animal wants supplied, without being troubled with human rights and duties. Acquiescence like this is an argument which cuts the wrong way for those who use it.

But this acquiescence is only partial; and, to give any semblance of strength to the plea, the acquiescence must be complete. I, for one, do not acquiesce. I declare that whatever obedience I yield to the laws of the society in which I live is a matter between, not the community and myself, but my judgment and my will. Any punishment inflicted on me for the breach of the laws, I should regard as so much gratuitous injury: for to those laws I have never, actually or virtually, assented. [emphasis added] I know that there are women in England who agree with me in this—I know that there are women in America who agree with me in this. The plea of acquiescence is invalidated by us. [emphasis added]

It is pleaded that, by enjoying the protection of some laws, women give their assent to all. This needs but a brief answer. Any protection thus conferred is, under woman's circumstances, a boon bestowed at the pleasure of those in whose power she is. A boon of any sort is no compensation for the privation of something else; nor can the enjoyment of it bind to the performance of anything to which it bears no relation. Because I, by favour, may procure the imprisonment of the thief who robs my house, am I, unrepresented, therefore bound not to smuggle French ribbons? The obligation not to smuggle has a widely different derivation.

I cannot enter upon the commonest order of pleas of all;—those which relate to the virtual influence of woman; her swaying the judgment and will of man through the heart; and so forth. One might as well try to dissect the morning mist. I knew a gentleman in America who told me how much rather he had be a woman than the man he is;—a professional man, a father, a citizen. He would give up all this for a woman's influence. I thought he was mated too soon. He should have married a lady, also of my acquaintance, who would not at all object to being a slave, if ever the blacks should have the upper hand; "it is so right that the one race should be subservient to the other!" Or rather,—I thought it a pity that the one could not be a woman, and the other a slave; so that an injured individual of each class might be exalted into their places, to fulfil and enjoy the duties and privileges which they despise, and, in despising, disgrace.

The truth is, that while there is much said about "the sphere of woman," two widely different notions are entertained of what is meant by the phrase. The narrow, and, to the ruling party, the more convenient notion is that sphere appointed by men, and bounded by their ideas of propriety;—a notion from which any and every woman may fairly dissent. The broad and true conception is of the sphere appointed by God, and bounded by the powers which he has bestowed. This commands the assent of man and woman; and only the question of powers remains to be proved.

That woman has power to represent her own interests, no one can deny till she has been tried. The modes need not be discussed here: they must vary with circumstances. The fearful and absurd images which are perpetually called up to perplex the question,—images of women on wool-sacks in England, and under canopies in America, have nothing to do with the matter. The principle being once established, the methods will follow, easily, naturally, and under a remarkable transmutation of the ludicrous into the sublime. The kings of Europe would have laughed mightily, two centuries ago, at the idea of a commoner, without robes, crown, or sceptre, stepping into the throne of a strong nation. Yet who dared to laugh when Washington's super-royal voice greeted the New World from the presidential chair, and the old world stood still to catch the echo?

The principle of the equal rights of both halves of the human race is all we have to do with here. It is the true democratic principle which can never be seriously controverted, and only for a short time evaded. Governments can derive their just powers only from the consent of the governed.

Happy Independence Day, all you lucky American women who are, as of now, no longer independent.


*Here Martineau cites "'Correspondence,' vol. iv. p. 295." To read Jefferson's letter in full for yourself, click here.