Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Women's Rights Writings: Grimke, Stanton, Fern

--This is an example of the way Fern's work would have appeared: in a newspaper column. By the 1850s, she was receiving the contemporary equivalent of $5000 per column!

--In her letter to Catharine Beecher (Harriet Beecher Stowe's sister, an important advocate for women's education, but also someone who argued against women's equality), Grimke demonstrates the linkage between abolition and women's rights. Consider the means by which she constructs her argument for women's equality to men and whether or not such an argument would still be an effective tool of persuasion.

--Stanton's "Declaration of Sentiments" is a direct appropriation of Jefferson's "Declaration of Independence": how effective is it to shift the focus (without changing much of the language, at least in the beginning part)? What is your reaction to the list of injustices, this time directed not to the King of England but to a universal manhood ("he")?

--Fern's various pieces are intended for a wider popular audience and are meant to be funny, but also reflect an interest in women's rights as well. What are the underlying issues for gender inequality for Fern and how does she recommend that her readers address them?


  1. I certainly found Fern's pieces, "Aunt Hetty" and "Hungry Husbands" to be stronger and bolder with its implications than "A Law More." From what I gathered, Fern is basically saying that there is a trade off for women. Meaning, when a woman finds love, or at least a husband, then she has to give up her voice. She becomes a tool for the man or a pretty doll to be looked at and touched but not heard. There's an inequality where the women has all the labor and responsibility that the man does, but is not rewarded for it unless her husband gives her the reward.

    Fern seemed to end her pieces in the same way. She reinforced her point and told women to DO IT. "Don't get married." "Keep your husband full." "Wear proper clothing to take care of your body." It's all like the Nike ads...JUST DO IT!

  2. In her letter to Catharine Beecher, Grimke explains both abolition and the women’s rights causes in the same terms. She says that all human beings are moral creatures and all deserve equal rights, regardless of race or gender. Grimke then goes on to say that men should have no more power over women than one man should have over another, as is the case in slavery. She simply states her belief that all human beings are entitled to the same rights. Her argument draws comparisons to women’s rights and abolition without being obvious. In both cases, people who have been kept down by essentially the same group are trying to rise up and become equals. And although they are being mistreated in very different ways, both women and African Americans want the same thing. She uses her words to both empower women and state her point of view and the reasons she has for believing what she does in a very clear way.

    I believe that Grimke’s argument would still be an effective tool of persuasion today. All of what she is saying makes a lot of sense and she states it in a very logical and reasonable way. Anyone who actually had an open mind about the subject would easily be able to see her side and understand the sense in her words.

    ~Shannon Durington

  3. I found the shift of focus very effective. The wording was very clear and easy to understand just what point Stanton is trying to get across—women have no rights, yet they are expected to follow laws set by the government that they can’t even participate in any way. I realized as I was reading just how true all of these sentiments used to be. Until I actually read them on the paper and how spelled out they were, I didn’t notice how few rights women had. I understood that they couldn’t vote, or hold office, but after reading this I saw the bigger picture. I really enjoyed reading this piece and found myself nodding along as I read and thinking “yeah, what’s up with that? She gets taxed by a government she has absolutely no part in. And if she’s married, she doesn’t even get a little bit of say.” I don’t think I really reacted in a way that is different from the way many people react when they read this. The government—ran by males—wasn’t giving women the rights they deserved, so I thought it was very appropriate to address the universal manhood as “he.” After all, women weren’t making the laws.

  4. In her letter to Catharine Beecher, Angelina Grimke argues that women are completely equal to men. She starts by pointing out that all human beings have rights, because they are moral beings. Then she goes on to say that because our rights were founded in the nature of our moral being, that, “the mere circumstance of sex does not give to man higher rights and responsibilities, than to woman.” She is arguing that human beings are equal, regardless of sex. Grimke, when speaking of male-female work relationships, later talks about woman being perceived as “an instrument of his convenience and pleasure,” instead of being held on the same level as a man. I believe this argument could still be put into use today, because there still seems to be inequality in some workplaces.

    Emily Miller

  5. Fern's pieces are all quite humorous and seem to poke fun at many of the expected social norms for women at the time. She suggests that it is unfair women are not allowed to wear suits like men, and that they must wear skirts all the time (which can become quite the inconvenience in the rain). Instead, Fern chooses to wear her husband's suit on a walk and suggests women do the same. She felt a sense of freedom walking in the trousers. As Fern states, "I've as good a right to preserve the healthy body God gave me, as if I were not a woman."

    In the piece about matrimony, Fern points out how men don't care about their wives once they are married. She believes men are self-centered and don't even notice what women are doing, until it comes to the money. It was interesting that the only time the man really interacted with the woman in this piece was when the woman asked for money. I think this highlights one of the inequalities that Fern is concerned about: the fact that women cannot have control over the family's money, and that the men sparingly give it up to the women. This entire essay is about how women should "let matrimony alone" and not marry, however, at the end, Fern also suggests that women should at least try marriage, which is interesting because it seems to contradict what she has built up through the entire essay.

    The point of Fern's "Hungry Husbands" essay is suggesting to women that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Therefore, women should ask about things they really want while a man is eating a delicious meal she has prepared. In order to get what a woman wants, Fern basically suggests she must cook for a man, which seems to live up to the stereotype that women belong in the kitchen and are only useful for cooking, so I found it interesting that Fern suggested this idea. I would think that Fern would try to get away from those sorts of stereotypes of women, but instead she embraces this one for the purpose of women being able to get what they want through cooking for men.

  6. It seems like Fern is most aggravated with the simple, day to day inconveniences that sexual inequality brought about. (Or maybe she is speaking out about silly things like not being allowed to wear pants and having to feed hungry men, to be ironic…and sassy).

    I thought the big recommendation (serious or otherwise) was in “Aunt Hetty on Matrimony”. Fern jokingly suggests via Aunt Hetty that women should just avoid men because they are a downright hassle. You have to take this advice with a grain of sand, and consider both the ironic tone of the piece and also the fact that Fern seems to have a fairly loving relationship with her husband, which is shown in “A Law More Nice Than Just.”

  7. It's easier to blame one man, than it is to condemn a great many of men, as would be assumed by the condemnation of a gender as a whole. In Stanton's declaration of women's rights, her stance may be trying to approach a similar level of intensity to Jefferson's work, but naturally falls short. I'm sure she was influential to the majority of women at the time, but to the men busy toiling the fields, I assume a sense of sympathy harder to believe. Though, she efficiently uses a religious base for her argument. I'm sure what the women at the time did for the congregational system spoke to the great amount of well-reared homes, with their well-tempered organizations. And for the men themselves, if they had wives, would've felt an inclination to engage in Stanton's argument in a certain form. Though, the exhausting of inalienable rights, on either side, may naturally be apart of the home's structure. The 'give' and 'take' of relationships, and pain as a product of dancing with love, may always be a mode to master.

  8. Fanny Fern's pieces, though meant for a broad audience and intended to be humorous, effectively acknowledge certain gender inequalities noticed at that time.

    I think Fern would agree that her point of most emphasis was on the freedom of women, and how marriage was, at the time, an institution where women were forced to cast aside as domestic. She makes note of how women are socialized to care for their husbands, be it cleaning and cooking or raising his children, leaving women stricken from furthering their own aspirations.
    Fern also points out how clothes forced women to alter their lifestyle simply because of the hindrance of what those clothes entailed. The scene is comically portrayed, with an ironic twist about the discomfort of both gender's clothing. Here Fern, with her larger audience, subtly raises awareness of the subjugation of women under men, and the clothing problems posed to women by the 'customs' that force them to hide their entire bodies under petticoats.