Semester’s End, Reflections and Anticipations

Well, my Women’s History compatriots, this semester is at an end.  I read through my entire blog this morning, from start to finish, and I’m wondering where the semester has gone.  It’s probably camping out with Virginia Dare.  In all seriousness, I was struck by how much I’ve learned this semester and how much history I have explored.  This will be my 23rd post of the semester.  That’s a lot of posting for 14 weeks.

Briefly, briefly, briefly, I would like to take a quick trip through five of my favorite posts of the semester (in publication order).  See if you catch a theme!

#1. A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812: I loved this book!  Reading Martha’s story and learning about midwifery has continued to crop up in the strangest places ever since I wrote this post.  I met a nurse who’s husband was a history buff, so I recommended the book as something they could read together.  I was in my church one Sunday talking about natural remedies that I learned from this book (onions, what?!).  I was in Short Story class comparing things that Martha did medically to some things that characters did in the stories.  Martha Ballard gave me a lot of knowledge that I have continued to use.  Also, Martha Ballard, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and my class discussion about this book all made me start questioning modern childbirth practices.  My mom has a couple of hospital horror stories from her pregnancies that I don’t want to have.  I don’t know if I’ll have kids yet or not, but if I do, I’m seriously considering the midwife route as opposed to the hospital environment.  How you have your children is a huge decision, and without Martha Ballard, I never would have considered the options.

#2. Dear Women, Please Vote This Year: I like this post because it’s funny!  Obviously, it would be impossible for Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone to have voted in the 2012 election; they have been dead for a century.  But the thought game involved in writing this post — ah, that was fun.  I also hope it was entertaining.  Plus, writing this post gave me a chance to really dig into Obama’s 2012 platform and compare it to my knowledge of suffrage as a movement.  For what specific reasons would the suffragists choose Obama?  Those kinds of questions helped me to probe into Obama’s plans for the next four years.  I’ve been an Obama supporter since 2007, but I was admittedly a little complacent this year in my politics-watching.  By really digging into the platforms to write this post, I reaffirmed my connection to the Democratic party and was able to make an informed voting decision this year.  I voted with the suffragists.

#3. “Can women have it all?” And other bull**** questions: My trip to the Connecticut Forum: Wow.  What a trip.  I think about what all of the panelists at the State of Women 2012 panel said frequently.  It mulls around in the back of my brain, Gloria Steinem pursuing emotional freedom for men and women, Michelle Bernard shouting about transvaginal probes, Connie Schultz laughing at Rush Limbaugh, Ashley Judd and the god of her understanding.  I said at the bottom of my event review that this trip to the Connecticut Forum felt like an inauguration.  Without any question, it was.  After the CT Forum, I began questioning and challenging everything in conversations with my friends and with others.  The day I met my boyfriend’s father, we delved into a massive conversation about women’s liberation and high heels.  He raised a valid question:  Why do women in positions of authority wear high heels if they are painful and detrimental to your feet?  In this conversation, I mentally tried to emulate Gloria Steinem and Ashley Judd at the Connecticut Forum.  I wanted to possess a shred of Steinem’s wisdom and Judd’s ambassadorial tone.  Finally, I thought, ah finally, I am a feminist.

#4. Sarah Hale, I Love You: I cannot possibly begin to describe how much I love Sarah Hale.  She’s wonderful.  She’s hilarious.  And I can’t use the word female at all without thinking of Sarah.  I specifically reword things to take female and male out of my conversations.  Isn’t that crazy?  I got so involved in the story of her campaign with Vassar that I saw all of the logic of her arguments and started to agree with her.  Sarah Hale has made me phenomenally more conscious of the language that I use, both in formal writing and in everyday speech.  That consciousness is important to develop, because if we continue to use inaccurate language to describe our problems, then we will never arrive at accurate solutions.  Also, even by fighting to equalize terminology, Sarah Hale was laying the groundwork for feminist literary criticism. Without Sarah Hale, there is no Luce Irigaray.  And since I love Irigaray, I love Hale.

#5. Full of Quivers After Reading Quiverfull: Quiverfull was a fascinating read.  It was wonderful and horrifying and brilliant all at the same time.  It felt like the capstone to my first semester pounding into women’s studies.  Mostly, Quiverfull made me feel indignant that such obvious harm is being done to women right now.  And in the Church.  Having grown up in the evangelical Protestant world, I would like to believe that the safest place for people to be people is within the arms of the Christian church.  But all too often, someone who runs to the church’s embrace soon finds themselves suffocating from its death squeeze grip of hierarchical terror.  Say it with me now, what?  In no way does that make sense to me, and yet for so many people, it is the reality.  The churches presented in this book do harmful things to humanity, and it makes me angry.  Reading Quiverfull was at times like a call to action.  I live, function and operate within this world that so desperately needs feminism, and now I know, it is my duty and obligation to future generations to fight to make my world a safer place for humanity.  That’s my quiverfull.

Farewell to you all, all of my lovely followers!  Thank you for joining me in this four-month endeavor to learn some things about women in the U.S. throughout history.  If you are interested in something different, come back next semester for my second women’s history experiment:  Women in Christian History with Dr. Amy Davis Abdallah.  Until then, this has been Women in American History with Professor Bethany Johnson, as retold by Maggie Felisberto.  Hope you’ve enjoyed the ride!

Voting Image: Did we judge our candidates on their date-ability?

Last month, President Barack Obama was reelected to a second term in the White House.  Why?  Because more women vote than men, and a majority of women voted for Obama.  Why did women lean Democratic in this past election?  I don’t have all of those answers, as each vote is an individual act of preference, but in general, the Republican party this past election cycle has portrayed itself as particularly antagonistic toward women.  However, according to some evolutionary psychology nonsense, Mitt Romney should have won the women’s vote.

In a Yahoo! News article from Election Day, Liz Goodwin identifies three myths about women voters.  The third myth, “women vote like they date,” references the idea that women are going to vote for a president that would make a more attractive mate, thus Romney should be the logical choice.  He is the epitome of the white male provider, with five sons and wealth and a beautiful wife.  He has privilege, he has power, and he comes from the dominant racial group.  Women should be attracted to Romney and his image, therefore they should vote for him.

Mittens and his brood

Mittens and his brood

 

In light of my previous post about The Beauty Myth, this attitude shows the impact of Beauty Myth culture on men in the United States.  The myth goes that women vote like they date, and they date based on image.  The image that Romney presented — successful both financially and reproductively — should have been enough to sway women voters away from Obama.

Of course, women don’t actually vote based on how they would date, and how they would date doesn’t necessarily infer that they would choose Mitt Romney.  The women’s vote went to Obama.  But could image still be at play in this vote?  Here’s a photo of both of them:

mittensandbarack

Is one man more attractive than the other?  Can we make such a judgment?  Barack Obama is taller than Mitt Romney, but conversely, Mitt Romney has more hair.  Did Barack Obama’s image as a father of daughters supercede that of Romney as a father of sons?  Either way, I think this is open to interpretation.  Did Mitt Romney lose the 2012 election because of his image?  Did Barack Obama win because of his?  Are their images more appealing to one sex than to another?  These questions always makes me think about Fahrenheit 451, in which the characters discuss the candidates entirely based on their looks and appearance.  That book ends in war.

So what do you think about the images presented by these two men and the election?

 

“Can women have it all?” And other bull**** questions: My trip to the Connecticut Forum

Earlier this month, I had the amazing opportunity to travel with my professor Bethany Johnson to Hartford, Connecticut, to attend The Connecticut Forum’s panel discussion titled The State of Women 2012.  Wow.  What a trip.  Here’s a couple of clips to get you started:

Clip #1 features Connie Schultz and Gloria Steinem talking about the question “Can women have it all?”

Clip #2 features Ashley Judd and Michelle Bernard discussing why it is important to talk about women.

Clip #3 features Gloria Steinem and Connie Schultz talking about team sports and women’s bodies.

As you can see, the four panelists at the Connecticut Forum (Michelle Bernard, Ashley Judd, Connie Schultz and Gloria Steinem) have a lot of brilliant things to say about women.  There are a couple more clips from the conference on Youtube — check them out.

Getting to this conference was an experience itself.  Prof. Johnson found out about it in mid September, and I had to decide within the next few days if I could go.  Three questions: how much did it cost, how would I get there, how would I get home?  Thankfully, Prof. Johnson arranged for the cost of my ticket to be covered, and I managed to find a ride with a friend halfway there, where I met up with Prof. Johnson and she drove the rest of the way.    I spent the rest of the weekend relaxing at my friend’s house in Woodbridge.  The whole weekend was fantastic.

But this trip to the CT Forum was the decided highlight of the weekend.  I’m (un)lucky enough to have no experience with Gloria Steinem’s work, and I made the choice to do no googling before the event.  I knew her name and not much more.  I wanted to be surprised/impressed/untainted.  I wanted some first hand experience before reading the Wikipedia article about her.  I still haven’t read the Wikipedia page, but I do know what I am reading over summer this year, and it will include a lot of Gloria Steinem.  (By the way, I think it is heinous that women in my generation don’t know who Gloria Steinem is, myself included.)

So, still knowing minimal about Steinem, I am seriously and thoroughly impressed/awed by her at the CT Forum.  How to describe her?  Words that came to mind during the event included grace, beautiful, wisdom, magical.  I have met very few people as astute or as knowledgeable as Gloria Steinem on the stage.  She was more impressive than Bill Clinton when I saw him four years ago speaking in support of Obama at Penn State, and President Clinton has a reputation for being a fantastic speech-maker (which he is).  Gloria Steinem ruled the night.

But let’s not cut the other panelists short; they were all fantastic.  Michelle Bernard, the sometimes-conservative and the only panelist of an ethnic minority, was loud and boisterous, thoroughly engaging.  She was hilarious, as was Connie Schultz.  Schultz dominated the personal anecdote, telling stories about teasing Rush Limbaugh, naming cabbage patch dolls “Gloria Steinem” and getting phone calls from reporters asking how she knew her husband.  Ashley Judd added a beautiful layer of poise and dignity, referring to “the candidate of my choice” and “the god of my understanding,” instead of openly endorsing a politician or religion (this level and type of tact impressed me).

Even if the topic of the panel had been something completely different, something that I am only marginally interested in (like the zombie apocalypse panel I attended last November at Philcon), I would have had a good time at the Connecticut Forum.  Luckily for me, the topic was the state of women, which is something that (as a woman) I am highly interested in.  But being at the panel felt like a breath of fresh air to me.  Don’t get me wrong — I love attending a Christian college.  The socio-political atmosphere and student religious culture, however, make it ridiculously difficult for me to express myself as a woman and as a feminist.  NOTE:  This isn’t on the college.  This is on the student culture.  For the most part, I think that Nyack College is fairly decent in its acceptance and support of female professionals and women in academia (for the most part).  I’ve talked about it with some professors and the Dean of Students.  Nyack is a great place to work (it even won an award for it or something).  But student culture is pretty darn oppressive.  This is a “ring-by-spring,” MRS degree institution, and although Liberty University is over ten times the size of Nyack College, Nyack’s student culture is very similar to that depicted by Kevin Roose in The Unlikely Disciple.  So you can imagine that being an outspoken liberal feminist is difficult on this campus.  Being at the Connecticut Forum was like a validating breath of fresh air.  There are people in the world who think like me?  There are people in the world who see the ways that women are being mistreated in our society?  I’m not alone?

One of the things that I remember the panelists talking about is the attitude that feminism isn’t needed anymore when it most definitely is.  Women’s rights, I have been (accurately) told, are really human rights.  And that’s the attitude that I’m coming up against pretty regularly.  It makes me think of the 1920s.  Suffrage finally happens, but the women’s movement shrinks.  When NAWSA becomes the League of Women Voters after the 19th amendment, is membership goes down to 10% of what it had been.  The next generation of women stopped caring or something.  Feminism lulled.  It lulled again in the 1980s.  It’s lulling again now.  It’s uncool to be a feminist.

More than anything, The State of Women 2012 panel felt like an inauguration.  I felt like I was taking on the mantle of great women who have come before me, like I was becoming a part of something bigger and greater than myself.  I felt like I was being inducted into the proud ranks of a beautiful and ancient society structured on the principle that all people deserve fair treatment as people, regardless of sex, race, sexuality, economic class, et. al.  The whole event had the flavor of a ceremony or rite of passage.  It was wonderful, and I am so glad to have gone.

Dear Women, Please Vote This Year

Last night, I attended a panel discussion on campus featuring four prominent professors and moderated by the provost on a few of the important issues in this year’s election (healthcare, the economy, morality in leadership).  The discussion itself was fun, and it was interesting to see gender and race divides so clearly (the two white male professors in almost constant opposition to the two minority female professors), but the overwhelming consensus between them was the importance of a voting decision.  Dr. Carol Awasu from Nyack College’s social work program encouraged audience members to vote.  If you are a woman, if you are a minority, if you don’t own property, she reminded the audience, you did not always have the right to vote, and so you should vote.  Vote, because people have died to secure the right for you.

Especially in this election, which is the most gender-divided election in recent history, everyone who is able to vote should be voting.  We owe it to our predecessors — to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, to Susan B. Anthony, to Alice Paul — to vote.  I almost don’t care who you vote for, so long as you vote (of course, I want people to vote my way, but I’d rather a fair exercise of free will than a bunch of people voting against conscience).

Susan B. Anthony

I think that’s what those wonderful suffragists would want to see: a fair exercise of free will.  That’s what they were after in pursuing equal suffrage.  As for how they would vote if they were alive today — I feel like my fair guess would be for Obama, and here’s why:

1) Party Allegiance would be inverted, and thus they would vote on principles as opposed to party.  After the Civil War, women’s suffrage split into two different camps, one aligning itself with the liberal Republicans and the other working to garner support from the more conservative Democrats.  Lucy Stone stuck with the Republican party, and those who followed suit worked to tie female suffrage with freedman (those who had until recently been slaves) suffrage, but when that move proved to be unsuccessful, they willingly took a back-burner position to freedman suffrage.  Now that women have the vote, a Republican suffragist from the mid-nineteenth century would likely choose to vote for Obama because of his egalitarian appeal and his insistence that female policymakers are necessary for appropriate lawmaking.  Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, frustrated by the sexism in the Republican party, broke off from their abolitionist roots and pursued a women’s rights platform through the Democratic party.  The Democrats, for the most part, were uninterested, but Stanton and Anthony persisted in their hunt for political equality in more than just the vote.  Fair pay, property ownership and child custody were also a part of their branch of the suffrage movement.  Stanton and Anthony would be drawn to Obama because of the Democratic Platform’s position on women.  All of these women would also be horrified by comments about rape that have come out of the Republican party during this election cycle (I’m looking at you, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock).  Don’t worry, women; Obama doesn’t understand their comments, either.

Lucy Stone

2) The restriction of voting rights that this election cycle has seen are abhorrent and being repudiated by the Democratic party.  In case you’ve missed it, several state governments have either successfully or unsuccessfully been implementing new voter registration laws that require voters to have excessive and unnecessary amounts of identification in order to vote.  My home state of Pennsylvania is also guilty in this; I chose to register here in New York instead.  If Alice Paul were alive today, you can bet that she would be vocally opposing this from all sides, and as such, she would align herself with today’s Democratic party.  Voting rights are an important part of the Democratic position, and the legislators who are creating the new voter id laws have largely been Republican.  Think I’m inflating things?  Check out this surprisingly astute Sarah Silverman video on voter id laws (my apologies for the profanity, if you find profanity an issue):

3) Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act; Republicans voted almost unanimously against it.  Look at the vote results from the Senate on the 2009 act.  Of the 61 senators that voted in favor of Lily Ledbetter, only two of them were Republicans; however, of the 36 senators that voted against it, all of them were Republicans.  On top of that, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney did not support the Lily Ledbetter Act in 2009 and he would not have signed it.  Would Romney overturn it if he reaches office?  He says not, but early suffragists Anthony and Stanton would still be casting their vote with Obama because of this law.  Though Anthony’s faction of suffrage did grow toward favoring the white middle class, she made a few concerted efforts to mobilize working class women to demand suffrage and fair pay.  Toward the beginning of the film Iron Jawed Angels, the characters of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns advertise for suffrage amongst working class women, recruiting Ruza Wenclawska.  Wenclawska, a Polish immigrant who changed her name to Rose Winslow, began working as a mill girl at age eleven.  She would be voting for Obama.

Ruza Wenclawska, aka Rose Winslow

Ultimately, I think these women would encourage anyone on the fence about voting for either candidate to vote, no matter what.  But they would probably be voting for Barack Obama.

Ann Romney, Eliza Pinckney, and Republican Motherhood

In case you’re not following U.S. politics, right now is a special tetra-annual occasion.  It’s election season!  And with this current election, our two major political parties are doing everything that they can to convince you (the voting populous) that your vote belongs with them.

Talk of the town at the RNC last month was Ann Romney’s passionate speech about love.  Deeply embedded within this speech is Ann’s concept of motherhood and nation.  She says, “It’s the moms of this nation — single, married, widowed — who really hold this country together. We’re the mothers, we’re the wives, we’re the grandmothers, we’re the big sisters, we’re the little sisters, we’re the daughters.”  Ann acknowledges the work that women do to keep this nation running, especially mothers.

I saw someone wearing a red dress the other day, and in my head I called it “Ann Romney Red”

“As a mom of five boys, do we want to raise our children to be afraid of success?” She asks the audience.  “Do we send our children out in the world with the advice, ‘Try to do… okay?'”  The obvious answer is no.  Ann is reminding American women of a legacy of motherhood that instills entrepreneurial spirit and high morality into children.  Ann is hearkening back to Republican Motherhood.

The phrase “Republican Motherhood” started cropping up around the time of the American Revolution.  As the political and economic structures of the colonies shifted and became an independent nation, the expected roles of women changed with them.  And one of the newest ideas was that women, not men, are be responsible for the moral upbringing of their children, so therefore they should be educated in virtue.

Abigail Adams famously begged her husband to “remember the ladies” and reminded him that “all men would be tyrants if they could.”  Abigail’s outspoken desire for women’s rights led to the creation of schools and academies for women.  Education for women (maybe even some autonomy?), within the budding nation, could only lead to stronger and better-developed citizens as generations progressed.

One chief example of a Republican Mother is Eliza Pinckney.  Born Eliza Lucas, she was educated in England until her father George Lucas (yes) moved the family to Carolina.  However, George was a traveling man and a major in the British army who spent much of his time in the West Indies.  Eliza, at age seventeen, took control of the family plantation in Carolina and began coaching her brothers through school in England via letters.

I’m only 90% sure that this is really a picture of Eliza Pinckney

Eliza believed in rationality and logic.  She hated frivolity in anything, and thought men were easily carried away by violence.  She was an avid letter writer, and kept copies of everything that she sent out.  Logic and temperance, in everything, were essential to her being.  She applied these traits to herself, and she applied herself to her work on the plantations.  And her work changed Carolina’s entire economy.  Within a decade of her first experiments growing indigo, for example, indigo became one of the main crops to be produced in Carolina.

And when she and her husband Charles started having children, she worked to ensure that her sons and daughter followed into this mold.  Her sons Charles Cotesworth and Thomas became great Revolutionary War heros, embodying the spirit of the new republic.  But Eliza’s work to raise her children within her ideals was not forgotten.  President Washington took a tour of the South and spent a considerable amount of time with the Pinckney family at Hampton, the home of Eliza’s only daughter Harriott Horry.  When Eliza Pinckney died, President Washington was one of the pallbearers at her funeral.

A Republican Mother was not just a housewife; she was an educated woman whose duty it was to instill national values and patriotism into her children.  She taught them morality, temperance, and work ethic.  Though she did not have political rights directly, a Republican Mother was able to influence the political world of men greatly by the sheer force of her character.

So when Ann Romney appeals to the women of the United States as mothers who make America what it is, she is adding into the tradition of Republican Motherhood.

Watch Ann Romney’s speech at CBS News

Read the transcript of Ann Romney’s speech at NPR

Witch People

Salem. March 1692.  Sarah Osborne, Sarah Good, and Tituba the slave are accused of witchcraft.  Both Sarahs claimed innocence, but Tituba confessed that “the Devil came to me and bid me serve him” (Find my source here!).  All three women were arrested.  The accusers — Elizabeth Parris, Abigail Williams, and Ann Putnam — were all under the age of twelve.

Salem Witch Trials, image borrowed politely from UMKC

After the three initial arrests in Salem, an epidemic of witchcraft trials flooded the town and surrounding region.  Even the four-year-old daughter of Sarah Good was accused; her testimony taken as evidence against her.  All told, twenty women were executed in Salem for witchcraft.  (Check out this other site from the University of Missouri – Kansas City)

But if they had had microcredit loans, they might have been able to stave off accusation.

CBS News reported back in 2009 about modern-day witch hunts in remote regions of India.  At the time of reporting, five people had recently been hacked to death for allegedly “practicing sorcery.”  Between 2004 and 2009, over 150 people had been killed under allegations of practicing witchcraft.

Sociologist Soma Chaudhuri from Michigan State University studied witch hunts in India for seven months, and one thing has seemed to work to dissuade witch accusations: microcredit loans.

Microcredit Group. Photo by Soma Chaudhuri, borrowed politely from Yahoo! News

Women in rural parts of India can apply for a low-interest, collateral free microcredit loan (equal to about $18) to start their own businesses.  Once involved in the loan program, women join a support group of other women who have started businesses.  A group of mobilized women can protect others from allegations of witch hunts.  Check what Yahoo! News has to say:

In one case documented in Chaudhuri’s study, a woman was accused of causing disease in livestock. Group members gathered in a vigil around her home and the home of the accuser. They stated their case to the accuser’s wife, who intervened. The accuser’s husband ultimately recanted his accusation and asked forgiveness.

Chaudhuri then goes on to say that the women involved in microcredit groups are able to resist the tradition of witch hunts because “they believe in the ideals of the microcredit group – in women’s development, family development and gender equality.”

Both the accusations of witchcraft in seventeenth century Salem and in twenty-first century India stem from heightened superstition and gender inequality.  The microcredit group that Chaudhuri observed in India is bringing balance and equality into the mix.  As empowered business owners, these women are able to stop witch hunts before they escalate into the mass chaos that defined Salem in 1692.