Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
Auden, bless his honest reaching heart, did not go back far enough. Oh, he saw the keelson; he knew the construction as he knew his own penning hand. The punctilios of patriarchy left him unearthing only half the whole offense. Luther, Linz, indeed, unearth them, revisit Thucydides, but the whole offense starts with Eve. The health of an apple and awareness doomed her. That is all. Since before recorded history this story has informed our treatment and expectations of women. This simple narrative, unsupported as it is by any fact, institutionalizes misogyny throughout each successive generation. It is, ironically, the tit that feeds the fattening babe.
But there is so much more to be unearthed. The magnitude of it creates a special kind of nihilistic wheel under which the sensitive person is crushed. It immobilizes, it leaves the victim fixed and wiggling. Rooms of our own appeal to us more and more. Elizabeth Cady Stanton knew this crushing wheel. She began her feminist life reaching out, holding the first women’s right’s convention and trying to engage others in the struggle. She ended it rewriting the Bible for women and penning a stunning essay called The Solitude of Self. What she did not do was ever give up.
In America, women have been engaging in the struggle for equality since the founding of this country. Mary Wollstonecraft, the mother of Mary Shelly (author of Frankenstein), penned a treatise called A Vindication of Women’s Rights in 1792. Abigail Adams used her proximity to the new government to petition directly for women’s rights, writing her husband, John Adams:
I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.
Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands.
Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.
For 232 years women have been building the rising tide. It has ebbed and flowed at times, degraded and demoralized by occasional direct attacks from the patriarchy. They are beating that demoralizing drum again, hoping enough disaffected people will just blow off voting Tuesday. Don’t do it. Don’t fall into their trap. They told every single one of these women that it was useless to even try, that they should be good little wives and mothers and tend to hearth and home. But these women did not give up. Alice Paul and Lucy Burn did not give up. The dedicated Silent Sentinels (PDF) did not give up. What we’ve dealt with doesn’t hold a candle to what these women went through. They were daily ridiculed, sabotaged; some of them were arrested, held in the custody of a hostile, patriarchal police, where great harm came to them. They still won, because they understood that unity, real unity, of women was the only way to win. They simply did the math.
We owe those women something. We are their daughters, for whom they sacrificed a great deal. We must be at least as courageous for our daughters. We must continue to push for the next goal post, and the next goal post is, as I said this summer, access. If we reach this goal post, then suffrage, choice, and agency will be better protected, and a whole host of other issues currently being ignored get moved to the front. Who among us doesn’t want to end gender discrimination in insurance, or reproductive discrimination in the workplace?
The young women of today-free to study, to speak, to write, to choose their occupation -should remember that every inch of this freedom was bought for them at a great price… the debt that each generation owes to the past, it must pay to the future.
~ Abigail Scott Dunaway
Whatever happens on Tuesday, we must keep this focus. The fourth wave must grow. The 30% solution must become common knowledge and an acceptable notion among women, as well as feminist-minded men. We must address issues of education: particularly we must utilize March, which is Women’s History Month, to get our story told in as many disciplines as we can, from kindergarten classrooms through high school. We must pursue parity and access in math and the sciences. We must protect and strengthen Title IX. We must end discrimination in pay, in reproduction, and in social, political and economic access. This is the debt we owe. Your vote Tuesday is huge, and I hope you vote for one of the many women running, but it is this work, this basic framework for a platform for a new agenda that is what really matters. Do not lose heart; keep your focus and renew your dedication. This fight is just beginning.