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Revisiting women’s suffrage

April 19, 2010

While completing the first final seminar paper of this semester, I also started watching the PBS documentary on the first wave of feminist movement in the USA epitomized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony. I first came by Stanton as a graduate (MA) student when I found her The Woman’s Bible in a second-hand bookstore in Malaysia. At that time still a practising Christian but with strong reservations and problems with the way I perceive the institution as treating me, finding the book was glad tidings, though i could not quite remember whether I have found it before or after I have read Mary Daly’s Beyond God the Father. I have only managed to read a few pages of the book but I could understand why it was considered heretical to the more conservative and pious suffragettes. The book addresses some of the unflattering, violent and unjust manner in which women had been portrayed in Biblical stories.

Even as we trace the long history of women’s political movement and the rise and fall of feminism and feminist practices through different timelines, it is always important to realize that women have not quite reconcile their needs and desires with expectations and responsibilities foisted onto them. Many women still continue to allow themselves to be the victims, to fight against progress and improvements and insist on practices that endanger the welfare of themselves and others, unable to break free from the chains that bond them. Backlash against feminism now come in the most sophisticated forms, including arguments enlisted through biology and medicine, women-targeted advertising and media, and even anti-choice movements. For women (and also men) who are afraid to be alone, and would do whatever it takes (even to the extend of remaining in a damaging and abusive situation) to never be alone, should take heed of these words by Stanton:

The isolation of every human soul and the necessity of self-dependence must give each individual the right to choose his own surroundings. The strongest reason for giving woman all the opportunities for higher education, for the full development of her faculties, forces of mind and body; for giving her the most enlarged freedom of thought and action; a complete emancipation from all forms of bondage, of custom, dependence, superstition; from all the crippling influences of fear, is the solitude and personal responsibility of her own individual life. The strongest reason why we ask for woman a voice in the government under which she lives; in the religion she is asked to believe; equality in social life, where she is the chief factor; a place in the trades and professions, where she may earn her bread, is because of her birthright to self-sovereignty; because, as an individual, she must rely on herself. No matter how much women prefer to lean, to be protected and supported, nor how much men desire to have them do so, they must make the voyage of life alone, and for safety in an emergency they must know something of the laws of navigation. To guide our own craft, we must be captain, pilot, engineer; with chart and compass to stand at the wheel; to match the wind and waves and know when to take in the sail, and to read the signs in the firmament over all. It matters not whether the solitary voyager is man or woman.
– From The Solitude of Self, 1892

This is similar in its ideals to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, which was written around two decades after.

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