Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The surprising truth about women's history

"The early feminists, some of whose names are very familiar to you... were overwhelmingly pro-life." *


March is National Women's History Month.

I admit, I have mixed feelings about having a special month dedicated to the historic role of specific groups. (I had this very conversation with an African American friend just yesterday. We were talking about Black History Month, but all the same concerns apply.)

On the one hand, it's an opportunity to highlight the important contributions of people who have often been left out of history books.

On the other, it can come across as an insider's event, with all the exclusivity and divisiveness that implies.

It's that aspect, I think, that evokes a cynical response from those who don't feel included.

I could be wrong about that. But if I find myself reacting negatively to [Somegroup] History Month, I need to do a quick motive check. Is it possible my irritation stems from the fact that I'm not a part of [Somegroup], and [Mygroup] doesn't have its own History Month? (When I was little, in reaction to Mother's Day and Father's Day, I asked my parents when Children's Day was. Their response: "Every day of the year." Why don't we have a Euro-American Male History Month? Same reason.)

And at the same time, it bothers me that we can't seem to get outside ourselves enough to embrace the historic contributions of everyone, regardless of gender or ethnicity. I wish we could just make it one history. After all, women's history is our history. All of us. Not just women.

That said, I'm grateful for many of the American women who are the darlings of the women's movement. I'd like to highlight some of their opinions and activities that are less likely to be mentioned by today's feminists.

* Source: Feminists for Life

Susan B. Anthony - Well-known for her tireless efforts toward gaining the vote for women, Anthony also campaigned for abolition and temperance. And she was vocal in her opposition of abortion, seeing it as a violation of women themselves.

Together with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Anthony published a weekly journal called The Revolution, which gave voice to early feminist thought and documented the anti-abortion consensus among early feminist leaders. They refused lucrative ads for abortifacients, and the revenue loss eventually caused the paper to shut down.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton - The mother of seven children, Stanton championed the rights of married women to own property and argued for women's voice to be equal to men's in the public arena. In a letter to Julia Ward Howe, the originator of Mother's Day, Stanton wrote:
When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.

Elizabeth Blackwell - The first woman to receive a medical degree from an American medical school, Blackwell was motivated to pursue that education by a desire to serve suffering women. Though initially resistant to the idea of becoming a doctor, Blackwell was finally convinced after reading a newspaper article on abortionist Madame Restell. She wrote in her diary,
That the honorable term “female physician” should be exclusively applied to those women who carried on this shocking trade seemed to me a horror. It was an utter degradation of what might and should become a noble position for women.


Susan B. Anthony urged her fellow feminists to address the root causes that drive women to abortion. Her dream remains unfulfilled. The oppression and exploitation that lie at the root of abortion have taken on different faces over the years, but they are alive and well.

And if it takes a special-group-history-month to expose that root, so be it.


1 comment:

  1. This is such a great thing to draw out of our history, Mom. I hope you keep up the good work.


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