So often in life, we give others advice. Some of it is solicited and some not so much. Advice often comes in a small package of two words: “Speak Up”. I have even said it on my blog. I have been told to speak up, but usually, by the time some one tells me to, I already have.
So why are we discussing it today? I will explain. There are not many times when women have stood up and spoken. Since we were little girls, we were taught to be “ladies” and to stay clean and don’t be too loud. Actually, these admonitions have been around for centuries. The words were packaged differently but the ultimate meaning was the same.
By the 1800’s, many women had had it with the second class, stay-in-the-kitchen-and-keep-having-babies mentality that surrounded them. Women were treated like birds in a cage. They were to look beautiful and be charming and witty.
Long before the 1800’s, there was domestic violence in America. The Pilgrims brought it with them, and it came over with immigrants from England, and Scotland and Ireland and Germany — from everywhere, really, because it was at that time the norm to beat your wife. The first laws of this brand new country called America were based on English jurisprudence. It was considered legal to beat your wife, for correctional purposes, so long as you used nothing thicker than your thumb. It could be metal, but not thicker than your thumb.
In the 1800’s, as I have written about many times in the past, the Suffragettes came together and began to hold meetings because they wanted to be able to Vote. The men felt this was extremely funny, I have read diaries from women written in that time, talking about how hard it was to be woman living with a man who felt you were too stupid to know which candidate to vote for. Here job was to have the children, raise the children, feed the family, clothe the family (all with the man’s money) and, often, take care of the livestock and help in the fields. For more well-to-do married couples, there were servants to do many of these chores, but the only activity left for a woman was needlepoint, pianoforte, reading, and of course, being charming and witty.
Even after the end of the American Civil War and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the black man was free but black women were in the same position as white women or Asian women or any other women. They were not allowed to vote; they were not equal citizens even to a greater extent than the black man was not an equal citizen.
Suzanne B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized the women who lived in and around Seneca Falls, NY, and decided that they wanted the right to vote. They also put out a newspaper that referred to women’s issues of the time, which helped to prove that they had the intelligence to vote, as they had a higher level of literacy than many of the male voting public. Oh, and they found a way to use their own money to support all these efforts, not the money of the men in their lives, taking in washing and doing mending and other “womanly” chores to support their Women’s Cause. These ground-breaking women also get credit for women being allowed to wear trousers, called bloomers at the time; they got rid of corsets, which these women (rightly) believed to be bad for the health of women who wore them; corsets were a major reason for women “swooning” all over America and Europe because they simply could not get enough oxygen and passed out as a result.
If you are interested in more information about the Suffragettes and how they got women the Vote in America, I would suggest the book Founding Sisters and the Nineteenth Amendment by Eleanor Clift, one of the many books available on the subject at your local library, bookstore (brick or online) and e-reader source.
You also may refer to one of the several blogs I have written on the subject of Suffrage for additional resources and information.
In the 1960’s and 70’s, women began to Speak Up again. A feminist woman named Betty Friedan wrote a book called The Feminine Mystique. As women across America read this book, more and more of them found that the book reflected their inner most secret feelings about being a woman — that basically, it was not a really great deal. Women’s place had stayed in the home, except during World War II, when they were sent to the factories to make war planes and ammunition when the men were sent to fight. Many women found this to be a heady experience of independence, being able to earn money on their own for the first time and to work outside the home. When the War ended, and the GIs came home to return to their jobs, women were sent back to the kitchen.
A lot of women who had tasted independence in the 1940’s had daughters in the 1960’s to whom they expressed their discontent at being still trapped in the home.
In the 50’s and 60’s women still wore a strand of white pearls, white gloves, a hat and a dress that was below the knee. When I was in high school in the 60’s the teachers measured the lengths of our skirts and if they weren’t long enough, you were sent home. In public school.
As the women began to deal with their discontent and the feeling that their minds were withering inside their skulls, small groups began to pop up across the nation, in every state; groups of women only, where women could talk about their experiences, how hard it was to have a college education and never be allowed to use it. They wanted more.
This was the beginnings of the last Women’s Movement. Women were not called Suffragettes this time. This time, they — we — were called Women’s Libbers or Feminazis, bitches or even lesbians because that, to men, was the worst thing you could say to a woman.
It was during this period of time that we were able to finally get Domestic Violence on the books as a crime which carried a fine and often a jail sentence. Shelters were opened across the country to help victims of domestic violence and, copying the successful Underground Railroad that, a century before, had moved black slaves to safety in the north, a new Underground Railroad was created to move women and their children to places where they can live in safety without fear of being found and further victimized by their abuser.
Traditional laws based on the British jurisprudence that our founding fathers adopted was no longer an acceptable defence for beating your wife or girlfriend, or sister or mother.
Rape Crisis centers were opened in the 70’s and women were trained as counselors in Domestic Violence and Rape. Women began returning to college and we began to stand up for our reproductive rights, something that never was addressed by the 19th century Suffragettes, even though Elizabeth Cady Stanton had 11 children.
We are now facing a time in the 21st century when an American woman is beaten every 9 seconds. Rape is on the rise and, once again, men are trying to blame the woman for his inability to “control his passions”, forcing him to rape her, when in actuality rape has nothing to do with sex: it is an act of power and control.
So, women in this country can vote. We have places to go when we are afraid and in danger from our domestic partners. Think how many years it that has taken.
Now the men want to take away our ability to control our own bodies and our own reproductive systems. They want to control their own sexuality (often through artificial means) as well as ours.
Last but not least, is the fact that women of any color who are citizens of the United States of America are not legally equal. If you think that begin legally equal is not of vital importance, ask the next black man you meet. Despite an increase in racism in our country, at least on paper, black men are equal. It is only women who are full citizens, often college educated, running businesses, teaching in Ivy League colleges, going into space, working to find a cure for cancer, who are not, in the eyes of the law, equal.
Once again, we women have our work cut out for us. And once again, I will say Speak Up. You can bring about changes. Writing, emailing, Twittering your Senators and Congressman, and the White House — these are all ways that you can Speak Up, even when your life is crazy and there are not enough hours in the day.
Do it in memory of your mothers; do it for your sisters; do it for your daughters and your granddaughters.
Let’s make Congress give us Legal Equality this time.
Speak Up. Settle for nothing less.