Earlier, I attended a ceremony at the Women’s Right’s Museum in Seneca Falls, New York. It was the home of the first Women’s Right’s Convention. By the time I came of age, Women’s Rights had been given so many different and derogatory names that it was hard to identify with what the suffragettes had been fighting for all those decades. Here’s a quick reminder:
Before being given the right to vote women
- were only allowed to work out of their home – sewing or spinning /weaving; when machination took over, these jobs were taken over by factories where women were not allowed; they were allowed to teach summer school and to earn $1 a week which was supposed to satisfy their aspirations
- were not considered persons; in Massachusetts, properly qualified persons were allowed to practice law but women were not
- when married lost all right to her personal property; it went to the husband. The income of her land went to her husband, leaving her penniless. If a woman earned $1 by scrubbing houses, that $1 had to be turned over to the husband who could spend it on drink and beat her afterwards with no repercussion. If a woman wrote a book, the copyright, and any profits, went to the husband. When the husband died, the law counted out how many cups, saucers, plates, spoons, knives, and forks were left behind. The widow could have them if she could pay for them, even if they had been her property before the marriage. Also, when the husband died, the law ‘gave’ 1/3 of their estate to the widow and called it ‘the widow’s encumbrance’ even if the land had been hers before the marriage. Also, no married mother had any rights to her children no matter how unfit her husband was to her or the child.
Because of the great courage of these women who faced hardship, ill treatment (being stoned or pelted with bad eggs when attempting to talk in public), imprisonment, being held as mentally insane time after time and decade after decade, and some who faced death because of their belief that well-bred women had as much right to education, employment, equal pay, and voting as foreigners who did not speak English but were allowed to vote, and as prisoners who are allowed freedom of speech while women are not, I have an education, a job, a voice when I vote, and a right to choose how I live my life. My things and my money are mine to save or spend or give away as I wish. My thoughts are mine whether I speak them or write them. I think of these ladies often and all they gave up for the women who would come after them. And sometimes I wonder, what would they think about The Real Housewives Series and shows like Keeping Up with the Kardasians.
And for the record, my definition of feminism is a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. Nothing more or nothing less should be expected.
Reference: Stone, L. (2008). Great Speeches by American Women. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.