Beauty is…being a rebel

As you probably know, today is President’s Day. As you may or may not know, today is also Susan B Anthony’s birthday. Here are a few things I learned from scratching the surface of her life story…

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As you probably know, today is President’s Day. As you may or may not know, today is also Susan B Anthony’s birthday. Here are a few things I learned from scratching the surface of her life story…

 

1. To be a rebel, you gotta find a cause. Or six.

Susan B Anthony Rebel

Throughout her life, Anthony fought for equality above all else.

Abolitionist: Members of Anthony’s family were very involved in the anti-slavery movement, and in 1856 Susan became an agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society. She hung posters and gave speeches calling for an end to slavery. In 1863 Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized a Women’s National League to support the 13th Amendment. In her newspaper, The Revolution, she argued against lynchings and racial prejudice.

Educational Reform: In 1846 Anthony was a teacher and became active in calling for equality in the classroom. She called for better pay for women teachers and for equal education opportunities for all students, regardless of race, gender, or their family’s former state of servitude.  In the 1890s, she raised $50,000 to ensure that the University of Rochester would admit female students.

Labor Activist: Anthony advocated for an eight-hour work day in her newspaper, and she encouraged women who were excluded from male dominated trade unions to form their own unions. And of course, she called for equal pay for equal work.

Temperance Worker: Anthony was raised a Quaker, and as such, she believed drinking alcohol was sinful. She was an active member of the Daughters of Temperance, a group of women who drew attention to the effects of drunkenness on families and pushed for stronger liquor laws. When she was denied the right to speak at a convention of the Sons of Temperance, she held a meeting of her own. In 1853 Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton endeavored to petition the State Legislature to pass a law limiting the sale of liquor. The petition was rejected because most of the 28,000 signatures on it were from women. Anthony and Stanton  realized that women needed the vote so that politicians would listen to them, and they resigned from the Temperance Society to focus on getting women the right to vote.

Suffragist: Anthony and Stanton had believed that the Republicans would reward women for their work in the abolition movement by giving them the right to vote. When that didn’t happen, they were disappointed. Then they got to work. They founded the American Equal Rights Association and began publishing their newspaper, The Revolution. Anthony toured the west, giving speeches and raising awareness. She gathered petitions with thousands of signatures and spoke in front of every Congress from 1869 to 1906 to ask for passage of a suffrage amendment. She was a leader in the suffrage movement until she retired as president of the National American Women Suffrage Association in 1900 (she was 80 years old). However, she was still an active and respected voice  in the movement. She presided over the International Council of Women in Berlin in 1904 and became honorary president of Carrie Chapman Catt’s International Women Suffrage Alliance. Women finally got the vote when Congress passed the Ninteenth Amendment (also known as the Susan B Anthony Amendment) in 1920, fourteen years after Anthony’s death.

2. Haters gonna hate.

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For just about every cause she championed, somebody hated on her:

  • She faced mobs, threats, and was even hung in effigy for her efforts to end slavery.

 

  • Ironically, Anthony’s work for women in labor got her labeled as an “enemy of labor.” She was president of the Workingwomen’s Central Association, which drew up reports on working conditions and provided educational opportunities for working women. She supported the Sewing Machine Operators Union and the newly formed women’s typesetters union. She tried to establish trade schools for women printers. When printers went on strike in New York, saw it as an opportunity for employers to see that women could do the job just as well as men could and therefore deserved equal pay for their work. So, she encouraged employers to hire women to take the place of the strikers, and was accused of strike-breaking and being an enemy of labor.

 

  • Injustice was served. In 1872 Anthony was arrested for voting (she also refused to pay her streetcar fare on the way to the police station). She also refused to pay her bail and applied for habeas corpus (in which an individual reports an unlawful detention or imprisonment), but her lawyer paid her bail and kept the case from going to the Supreme Court. She was indicted near her home, so the Rochester District Attorney asked for a change of venue, fearing that a jury in Albany might be prejudiced in her favor. The judge in the new venue, Canandaigua, made sure there was no issue with jury prejudice when he instructed them to find her guilty without discussion– the jury did not even get to discuss the verdict! The judge fined her and ordered her to pay courtroom fees. When she refused to pay, he chose not to imprison her, thereby denying her chance to appeal.

3.  Stay focused.

While working in the Temperance Movement, Anthony made a tough decision. In additon to speaking and gathering petitions, Anthony and Stanton had drawn attention to the case of Abby McFarland. Abby’s drunken and abusive husband, Daniel, had shot and killed the man Abby divorced Daniel to marry. Daniel was aquitted on a plea of temporary insanity and given custody of their son. But even though temperance was a cause that was dear to Anthony’s heart, she decided to stay focused and not support Prohibition because it distracted from the bigger issue– women getting the vote.

Susan B Anthony

 

4. Sometimes the most obvious answer is the right one.

In 1846, when she was a teacher, Anthony argued that girls should be educated as well as boys, because there is no inherent difference in their brains. Over 100 years later, science is backing her up.

equal brains

5. Girl, you better work.

What blew me away the most when I was taking this little glimpse into Anthony’s life was her constant WORK. She seems to have been indefatigable in her pursuit of equality. She reminded me that if there is something you want, pursue it relentlessly. She never saw the fruits of her labor, but she didn’t give up. She stayed the course. And I am so grateful that she did.

you better work
Image from tinyletter.com



I got my info about Susie B from susanbanthonyhouse.org

Beauty is…being limitless

These women rose above the limits put on them by others to accomplish amazing things. And that is beautiful.

 These women rose above the limits put on them by others to accomplish amazing things. And that is beautiful.

We will be adding stories of incredible African American women to this page throughout the month of February.

 

PhillisWheatley
Image above is from NewWorldEncyclopedia.org. Original image was sketched by Scipio Moorhead for the frontispiece of Wheatley’s book Poems on Various Subjects

Madam CJ Walker
Image from Biography.com

 


 


 

Mary Fields (1)

Beauty is…sisterhood

Women were not allowed to learn to read and write Chinese, so to stay in touch they took it upon themselves to formulate their own means of communication.

The ancient secret language of Nu Shu

Beside a well

In a time when women’s feet were bound, women were kept in doors, and the goal of marriage was to bear sons, women in the Jiangyong County in Hunan province of China found strength and satisfaction in each other. Growing up, girls were confined to ‘women’s chambers’ in their own homes, and would later be confined to the home of their husband’s family. To ease their isolation, girls were brought together as “sworn sisters” until they were married. A laotong relationship was a step further– girls would be brought together by a matchmaker and would sign a contract. The relationship was expected to last for life. In Lisa See’s novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan See describes the laotong relationship as “… made by choice for the purpose of emotional companionship and eternal fidelity. A marriage is not made by choice and has only one purpose — to have sons.”

When girls were old enough to be married, they were expected to live wherever their husband’s family lived, and sworn sisters were often separated. Women were not allowed to learn to read and write Chinese, so to stay in touch they took it upon themselves to formulate their own means of communication. Nu Shu, or “women’s writing,” was developed phonetically, as opposed to traditional Chinese languages in which characters represent ideas.

NuShu with Chinese
Chinese (on the left) compared to Nu Shu (on the right). Image from Onmiglot.com.

 

Nu Shu was not only written, but embroidered and used to adorn fans. Nu Shu was also found in “Third Day Books,” journals that a woman’s friends and family would make for her upon her marriage. The clothbound books were delivered to the new bride three days after she was married. Inside, family and friends would fill the first few pages with their laments over losing a friend and daughter, and their hopes for her happiness. The rest of the pages were left blank, for the new bride to fill with her thoughts and feelings. Everything was written in Nu Shu, and though the men couldn’t read it, they seemed to think it was harmless and therefore didn’t mind it.

Lisa See’s book, and a movie based on it, have renewed interest in this ancient and secret language. Since girls have been able to go to school with boys and learn traditional Chinese, the number of women who can read and write Nu Shu is dwindling. People like Hu Mei Yue are trying to change that. Every Saturday Mei Yue visits Pumei, a Nushu Cultural Village with a museum and school dedicated to Nu Shu. She teaches the language to any village girls who show up.

One girl taking the class said, “I don’t know how people can write like this. Each word is like a flower.”

Sample of NuShu
Example of Nu Shu. Image from Omniglot.com

 

 


 

(my sources)

www.sfgate.com

www.theguardian.com

www.wmm.com

www.omniglot.com

Beauty is…sitting down

These ladies, and so many others like them, were on the right side of history. And that is beautiful.

They sat. A nation stood. Celebrating Rosa Parks and Claudette Colvin

 

Rosa Parks

“Mother Superior of the Civil Rights movement”

Today we celebrate Rosa Parks Day. And for good reason. It was Rosa who drew nation gty_rosa_parks_mug_kb_ss_130203_sshwide attention to Montgomery Alabama, where transportation segregation was rampant. And legal. What I didn’t realize– and you may not have known either– is that Rosa was sitting in “her” section of the bus. So, she was actually following the law. But when all the seats filled up and a white man was left standing, the bus driver demanded that Rosa give up her seat for him. She refused. And the rest is HERtory.

It is a very special thing to learn what happened from the woman herself, in her own words.  Take it away Tom Brokaw…

 

(I grabbed this video from YouTube, but it is also available on NBC Learn. It originally aired in 1995)

But before Rosa, there was Claudette…


 Claudette Colvin

Civil Rights activist, Medical professional (1939-)

I first heard Claudette’s story on an episode of Drunk History. I was in awe. Here was this fierce little 15 year old girl, who refused to give up her seat on the bus NINE MONTHS BEFORE Rosa Parks did it. According to the episode (and this article by NPR), Rosa Parks was a sectary for the NAACP who had a natural gravitas. Parks was an adult, with the right look and the right hair. She would be the face of the boycott. Colvin was young, had darker skin, and got pregnant soon after her arrest– not the poster child the NAACP was looking for.

Civil Rights (2)

Recalling that day, Claudette says she remembers it was Negro history month at her (segregated) school. Her head was swimming with the stories of leaders like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. Her class had talked about the injustices they faced every day under the Jim Crow laws. Injustices like not being able to eat at a lunch counter, or try on clothes. She remembers, “We couldn’t try on clothes. You had to take a brown paper bag and draw a diagram of your foot…and take it to the store.” With all of these images fresh in her mind, she had finally had enough. That day she would not be moved. She would not get off that bus– she says she felt like she had Sojourner Truth on one side of her and Harriet Tubman on the other, holding her down in that seat.

When Claudette refused to give up her seat, the bus driver notified police. I will let Claudette tell the rest of the story herself:

CLAUDETTE: One of them (the police officers) said to the driver in a very angry tone, “Who is it?” The motorman pointed at me. I heard him say, “That’s nothing new . . . I’ve had trouble with that ‘thing’ before.” He called me a “thing.” They came to me and stood over me and one said, “Aren’t you going to get up?” I said, “No, sir.” He shouted “Get up” again. I started crying, but I felt even more defiant. I kept saying over and over, in my high-pitched voice, “It’s my constitutional right to sit here as much as that lady. I paid my fare, it’s my constitutional right!” I knew I was talking back to a white policeman, but I had had enough.

One cop grabbed one of my hands and his partner grabbed the other and they pulled me straight up out of my seat. My books went flying everywhere. I went limp as a baby—I was too smart to fight back. They started dragging me backwards off the bus. One of them kicked me. I might have scratched one of them because I had long nails, but I sure didn’t fight back. I kept screaming over and over, “It’s my constitutional right!” I wasn’t shouting anything profane—I never swore, not then, not ever. I was shouting out my rights.

It just killed me to leave the bus. I hated to give that white woman my seat when so many black people were standing. I was crying hard. The cops put me in the back of a police car and shut the door. They stood outside and talked to each other for a minute, and then one came back and told me to stick my hands out the open window. He handcuffed me and then pulled the door open and jumped in the backseat with me. I put my knees together and crossed my hands over my lap and started praying.

All ride long they swore at me and ridiculed me. They took turns trying to guess my bra size. They called me “nigger bitch” and cracked jokes about parts of my body. I recited the Lord’s Prayer and the Twenty-third Psalm over and over in my head, trying to push back the fear. I assumed they were taking me to juvenile court because I was only fifteen. I was thinking, ‘Now I’m gonna be picking cotton, since that’s how they punished juveniles’—they put you in a school out in the country where they made you do field work during the day.

But we were going in the wrong direction. They kept telling me I was going to Atmore, the women’s penitentiary. Instead, we pulled up to the police station and they led me inside. More cops looked up when we came in and started calling me “Thing” and “Whore.” They booked me and took my fingerprints.

Then they put me back in the car and drove me to the city jail—the adult jail. Someone led me straight to a cell without giving me any chance to make a phone call. He opened the door and told me to get inside. He shut it hard behind me and turned the key. The lock fell into place with a heavy sound. It was the worst sound I ever heard. It sounded final. It said I was trapped.

When he went away, I looked around me: three bare walls, a toilet, and a cot. Then I feel down on my knees in the middle of the cell and started crying again. I didn’t know if anyone knew where I was or what had happened to me. I had no idea how long I would be there. I cried and I put my hands together and prayed like I had never prayed before.

• • •

MEANWHILE, schoolmates who had been on the bus had run home and telephoned Claudette’s mother at the house where she worked as a maid. Girls went over and took care of the lady’s three small children so that Claudette’s mother could leave. Mary Ann Colvin called Claudette’s pastor, the Reverend H.H. Johnson. He had a car, and together they sped to the police station.

• • •

CLAUDETTE: When they led Mom back, there I was in a cell. I was cryin’ hard, and then Mom got upset, too. When she saw me, she didn’t bawl me out, she just asked, “Are you all right, Claudette?”

Reverend Johnson bailed me out and we drove home. By the time we got to King Hill, word had spread everywhere. All our neighbors came around, and they were just squeezing me to death. I felt happy and proud. I had been talking about getting our rights ever since Jeremiah Reeves was arrested, and now they knew I was serious. Velma, Q.P. and Mary Ann’s daughter, who was living with us at the time, kept saying it was my squeaky little voice that had saved me from getting beat up or raped by the cops.

But I was afraid that night, too. I had stood up to a white bus driver and two white cops. I had challenged the bus law. There had been lynchings and cross burnings for that kind of thing. Wetumpka Highway that led out of Montgomery ran right past our house. It would have been easy for the Klan to come up the hill in the night. Dad sat up all night long with his shotgun. We all stayed up. The neighbors facing the highway kept watch. Probably nobody on King Hill slept that night.

But worried or not, I felt proud. I had stood up for our rights. I had done something a lot of adults hadn’t done. On the ride home from jail, coming over the viaduct, Reverend Johnson had said something to me I’ll never forget. He was an adult who everyone respected and his opinion meant a lot to me. “Claudette,” he said, “I’m so proud of you. Everyone prays for freedom. We’ve all been praying and praying. But you’re different—you want your answer the next morning. And I think you just brought the revolution to Montgomery.”

Excerpt from Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, by Phillip Hoose (via NPR)


 

Both of these ladies deserve to be honored today. As do the hundreds of civil rights advocates that made the Montgomery bus boycott a success. And the thousands of African Americans that demanded to be heard by peacefully boycotting. If they had given in and taken the bus, we might still be years behind.

These ladies, and so many others like them, were on the right side of history.

And that is beautiful.

Beauty is how you treat people

A conversation with Human Trafficking advocate Amanda Mohl

 

intl inst logo_2c vert

Amanda Mohl is the Anti-Trafficking Community Coordinator at International Institute of St. Louis, which focuses on refugee resettlement and immigrant services. Through a grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services, the International Institute manages the St. Louis Rescue and Restore Coalition. The Institute also provides funding and technical assistance to United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS) in Southeast Missouri so they can run the Southeast Missouri Rescue and Restore Coalition.  Both coalitions focus on outreach and education with the ultimate goal of identifying victims. Amanda’s job involves educating the public about human trafficking, increasing public awareness, outreach, and coalition building. Her end goal is to increase identification of trafficking victims, who themselves sometimes don’t even realize they are victims.  Victims brought to the United States to work, for example, might not be familiar with our labor laws and might think their situation is normal. So, it is important for Amanda to ask the right questions and develop relationships with communities whose members might be at risk of exploitation.

Amanda is on the front lines fighting against human trafficking here in St Louis. Her “typical day” includes reaching out to various communities throughout the area– keeping up with her contacts in those communities, and making sure she is present at their events. She organizes presentations and writes curriculum to teach different groups according to their needs and what will resonate with them. She works directly with immigrant communities, building trust and offering resources should they need them.

At a recent event to raise awareness about human trafficking, Amanda spoke about what she does and what the trafficking situation looks like in St Louis. Here are a few things that really stood out to me:

  • Here in St Louis, there is a large amount of Hispanic males who are victimized in the landscaping, construction, and industrial cleaning sectors.
  • Debt bondage is a common form of labor trafficking. Recruiters charge anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 to bring workers here LEGALLY (in a recent Urban Institute study, it was reported that over 70% of victims talked to were brought to the us-visa-webformUS on a LEGAL visa), where they then charge victims a huge interest rate on the amount owed, along with other “fees” for the use of tools, housing, etc. No matter how long
    a victim works, the debt is never totally paid off.
  • Many times, the victim’s visa is tied to the employer. So the trafficker has A LOT of control over the victim.

 

I had a chance to sit down with Amanda and talk about what she does, why she does it, and– of course– her definition of beauty.

 

668d12fe7ef735cd822e0e17e6eccd39Question: Human trafficking is undoubtedly a big problem. But just HOW big seems to be tricky to pin down–there are so many numbers floating around out there. I have read that there as many as 30 MILLION victims of trafficking worldwide today. Is that an accurate estimate? And how are these estimates made?

Answer: Really the only solid numbers we have are the numbers of people HELPED. There is work currently being done at Washington University to find a more reliable way to produce statistics, but right now it is very tricky. Looking at the number of human trafficking cases, for instance, isn’t as reliable as it might sound. Human trafficking is sometimes hard to prove in court, so prosecutors might go for a lesser charge that is more likely to get a conviction rather than risk losing a case and letting the trafficker back on the streets.

 

Amanda, and many like her, are committed creating a St Louis free of trafficking. She works hard for victims and at-risk populations in her community. She travels and teaches and raises awareness. She is making a difference, and that is beautiful.

3 Beautiful Female Civil Rights Leaders

All of these women, and many more, contributed to the civil rights movement we are so familiar with today. Though the image we see is usually of men in suits giving important speeches, lets not forget about the strong, passionate, brave women who were also on the front lines in the fight for civil liberties.

Martin Luther King, Jr. gets his day, but these ladies deserve to be celebrated, too.

Continue reading “3 Beautiful Female Civil Rights Leaders”

Soccer mom,social worker, advocate

People like Marcy are what make this world beautiful

Meet Marcy, a working mom of two boys. She is proud to be a feminist, an activist, and a soccer mom. Like most moms, her kids keep her busy, motivated, and inspired. What sets her apart is her passion for making a difference. Marcy is tackling huge social issues like domestic violence, child abuse, and poverty every day. She works directly with the families who have been profoundly impacted by these issues.

Social work is a grossly under appreciated, and often misunderstood, line of work. People like Marcy are what make this world beautiful.

Vocation: Social Worker/Activist

Location: Orange County, CA

A bit of background

I’m a mom to two boys, ages 10 and 8. I grew up behind the Orange Curtain (aka Orange County, CA). I’m a feminist and an activist, currently I’m employed  as a social worker. I majored in Women’s Studies in 2007 and taught ballroom dance for a few years before going back to school to become a therapist.

When did you start doing what you are doing?

I finished graduate school in 2013 and although my degree is in counseling/marriage and family therapy, I’ve worked in various settings including a therapist at a domestic violence shelter,  a counselor at a group home for teenage girls on probation and a social worker.  I started as a social worker back in 2013. For almost two years I worked for a non profit that trains and assists foster parents in caring for children placed through Children and Family Services. Currently I work at CFS as a social worker in the continuing courts program. My caseload is generally focused on family reunification and if that doesn’t happen, looking for a permanent placement for the child.  I’ve been an activist as long as I could speak.

Why do you do what you do? Who/What inspired you to take this path?

I sort of just fell into what I do now because of training and past experience. I never aspired to be a social worker but it fits for now. It’s been an opportunity to work on a micro level with some huge social issues (child abuse, domestic violence, drug abuse, poverty, incarceration, trauma). It was an adjustment at first and I had a lot of conflicting feelings about working in the system but those feelings make me work harder for my clients. I know how many people feel about child welfare  social workers, they see us as busy bodies and kid snatchers and you meet a lot of resistance and every day is a challenge but I love helping families. They don’t always want help at first but with a lot of patience and hope you see a change for the better.

Continue reading “Soccer mom,social worker, advocate”

11 Things You (probably) Didn’t Know About Malala

You know her name, and you probably know some of her story. But did you know…

 

  • She was born in Mingora, in Pakistan‘s Swat Valley, in July of 1997. Mingora is a beautiful city with moderate weather and ancient Buddhist ruins and stupas nearby. When the Taliban sought to control the area, they destroyed an ancient Buddhist statue.
  • Not long after the Taliban began it’s takeover of the Valley in 2007, one militant began a pirated radio channel based just a few miles from Mingora. Over the airwaves, he campaigned against girls’ education and liberal ways of life. The center of Mingora, known as the Green Square, went from being a bustling hub of cultural and social activities to being the stage on which the Taliban showcased what they were capable of. They hung the bodies of those who opposed them on the electric lines. The area became known as the “bloody square.” This was the atmosphere in which young Malala lived.

 

  • Malala’s father founded the school Malala attended, and despite the Taliban’s calls for an end to the education of girls, she did not give up her right to an education. In 2008 she gave a speech calling out the Taliban entitled, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?”

 

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The school Malala attended in Mingora.
  • In 2009 Malala began anonymously blogging for the BBC. She wrote about living under threats from the Taliban. You know, the typical stuff 12 year old girls deal with.

Continue reading “11 Things You (probably) Didn’t Know About Malala”

Mary Wollstonecraft

So if we must define beauty as something worth attaining, let beauty be intelligence. And passion. And independence. Let it be what you say it is. Only then will no one have the power to take it away from you.

If I could sit down and talk to Mary Wollstonecraft, our interview might look something like this…


Who you are: Mary Wollstonecraft

What you do: Write

Where you do what you do: I have lived in various places around London, as well as Paris. At one point, I had hoped to live in America. I had fond visions of the simple and free life I might live there, but those visions were not to become reality.

Tell us a little bit about your childhood and background.

Honestly, I would really rather not. I do not have many fond memories of my childhood. My father was a gambler who pretended to be a farmer. We were shuffled around quite a bit growing up. Moving residences often become quite a common theme throughout my life. My father had a quick and fierce temper, the full force of which my mother, my siblings, and I often felt. I hated my father’s brutality, though it might be said that I inherited more from him than from my weak-willed mother. I have heard it said that I have his temper and the same hatred of restrictions. Better those than weakness, I suppose. I never understood why my mother didn’t fight back. Why she didn’t try harder to give herself and her children a better life. But, had she left, she would not have been able to support herself. And leaving him would have meant loosing her children (we were, after all, his property) and facing social ostracism. Early in life I vowed I would never be dependent upon anyone for my happiness and well-being. I grew to abhor the image of marriage my parents presented. I, instead, have sought a relationship between equals in which both parties are esteemed and respected. As I wrote in my Vindication, a woman who values and flaunts her weakness might “excite tenderness and gratify the arrogant pride of a man, but the lordly caresses of a protector will not gratify a noble mind that pants for and deserves to be respected.”

My mother, though I most certainly never desired to be like her, was nevertheless dear to me. I yearned for her love and attention, like any child does. However, her affections were taken completely by my eldest brother, Ned. In him she saw no fault, and though it was I who held her hand as she breathed her last, I am certain her affection toward him remained steadfast. I will admit, I have felt resentment and jealousy towards him. He, who was free to pursue the desires of his heart without thought to family duties. He entered the military, and though I repeatedly asked for his assistance in the support of our sisters, he was aloof and unfazed in regard to our struggles.

Most abrasive to me was the education I was restricted from pursuing. At home I had learned to read, but I was hungry for more. I was finally able to attend school when we moved to Beverley in the summer of 1770, but I was sorely disappointed in the curriculum at the local girl’s school. While my brothers studied history, mathematics, and Latin, I was expected to be content to learn skills suitable to women, like needlework and simple addition. I have always resented this, and have written several treatises on the importance of education for women and girls. Indeed, how can men judge women as less intelligent and less capable if we are not even given the opportunity to increase our intellect. Determined as I was to be entirely self-reliant, and as I understood that education was the gateway to opportunity, I read and educated myself in earnest. Happily, men such as John Arden helped shaped my intellect and feed my curiosity early on.

Education was the primary focus of your early work. Tell us a bit about the role education played in shaping your life, as well as that of your sisters.

My thoughts on the matter are expressed in my book Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, but the topic is touched upon in other works as well.

 Indeed, I recognized that a girl would certainly not get anywhere in life without the most basic of an education. However, I am not so naive as to think that education alone is a perfect savior. Growing up I heard girls be advised to hide their intellect as not to scare away suitors. What rubbish! Clearly, it is not only the education of girls that needs reforming, but the whole of society itself. As I wrote in Vindication, “men and women must be educated, in a great degree, by the opinions and manners of the society they live in…till society can be differently constituted, much cannot be expected by education.”

Nevertheless, education of the whole mind has always been important to me. I myself held many teaching positions early in life, and was gracious enough to employ my sisters in similar positions. However, I never saw teaching as my heart’s passion. As a woman in the 1700s being a governess or an educator are the only somewhat respectable vocations one may consider. So, I took positions as both, and even ran a school of my own at one point, as a means to an end. The end goal, of course, being to maintain my independence and self-reliance.

And what was your heart’s passion, if not teaching?

I wanted above all to be heard. I found the norms of society rather silly and outrageously confining. I wanted to shake people–especially women–out of their haze. Did they not see the bars they were behind? Beautiful though the bars they may be, they were bars just the same. The home is not the only stage on which a woman can shine. I have always been very aware of my social standing and the expectations put on me. And, when possible I have tried to meet them. For instance, as the eldest daughter, it fell on me to provide care for my mother as her health failed, and to support my sisters as they were unwed. I put my plans on hold to be by my mother’s side as she passed from this world. I rescued my sister from an abusive marriage, even when she had second thoughts about leaving her baby behind (again, the child, as the wife, was the property of the husband). I found gainful employment for my sisters, though they continued to complain about their circumstances. When I found constant work as a writer, I sent most of my earnings to them and subsided on less than what would have been considered reasonable.

So, you see, I did not abandon all the trappings of being a woman in the 1700s. But I so deeply desired to. My independence was of the utmost importance to me. I found the fight for independence in France invigorating and inspiring. I longed for a revolution for women, and was hopeful it would come to pass in Paris. After the king was de-throned, women gained many rights they had not enjoyed before, like the right to divorce and inherit property. But, their freedom was short-lived as those who rebelled against the king’s authority began showing us that they would be no better as rulers. Robespierre’s regime put women back under men’s thumbs, and began executing anyone who did not agree with them. They were bloodthirsty and vengeful, and I turned to images of America for inspiration. There, one could be truly free. There, I could be equal to any man.

And that, I suppose, was my heart’s true passion. The equality of all and the end of injustice and oppression.

Continue reading “Mary Wollstonecraft”

Beauty is…a marriage of passion and reason

Mary Wollstonecraft is often lauded as a pioneer of Feminism. Her most popular book, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, was published in 1792 and is considered a groundbreaking work that laid the foundation for the argument for women’s rights.

Mary was a passionate woman who considered independence to be the utmost goal of every individual, but especially women. She was raised by an abusive father and emotionally absent mother. As the oldest sister, she was expected to care for her siblings. Mary struggled to balance this role of care-giver that was placed on her, with the role of independent human she desired for herself. If she was alive today, I would like to think she would be a supporter of OperationalizeBeauty, as she is remembered as a woman who most definitely questioned–and shunned– the labels put on her by others.  When she made her way to London to pursue a career as a writer, she took a sort of pride in eschewing the style of the time. She arrived on the scene in thick-soled sensible walking shoes and a beaver cap. She felt she did not need to fit into a world she loathed (the world of the rich and well-connected), and would not waste time making herself attractive for the benefit of others. She absolutely detested the ideal of femininity popular during her lifetime, and eschewed the behavioral norms women were expected to abide by as well. For example, she found it silly that women were expected to lay in bed for anywhere from a week to a month after giving birth, and insisted on being up and about the day after having her first child. She insisted that having a baby was a natural process, not an illness.

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She was quite the conundrum. She did provide for her sisters, finding them employment and sending them money; yet, she did not take their feelings about that employment into account. She was a woman of reason and learning, yet she was fiercely passionate and emotional about causes and people dear to her heart. She was a great supporter of the Revolution in France and held idealized images of America as a land of true freedom, yet she seems to have absolutely reveled in the domestic duties of wife and mother. She valued independence above all, yet became deeply attached to a few people. The attachment she would foster was often unhealthy, and the absence of the object of her affection would send her into depression that resulted in at least two suicide attempts.

  henry-fuseli-by-james-northcoteOne of her objects of affection was German-Swiss artist Henri Fuseli (left), to whom she grew quite close. Though details are not known for sure, it is said that at one point, Mary showed up at his doorstep and asked to move in with he and his wife. Allegedly, she claimed she sought no physical relationship with Fuseli and posed no threat to his marriage; she simply could not live without seeing and talking to him daily. She needed a spiritual connection with him. Fuseli’s wife threw Mary out and forbade Henri from ever speaking to her again. Later, Mary would propose a similar, and incredibly unorthodox, living arrangement with her estranged husband (and father of her first child) and his paramour.

Mary was a firecracker to say the least. Prone to swings of unbridled 170px-josephjohnsonenergy and focus, as well as boughts of depression and self-doubt. Those close to her, like friend and publisher Joseph Johnson (right), learned to maneuver these dark spaces of Mary’s personality. Once, when penning a rebuttal to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, she expressed to Johnson that she wasn’t sure if she should continue. Having already printed what she had written so far, he assured her that if she didn’t feel up to the task of completing the work, he would throw the printed pages into the fire and forget the piece altogether. With the perfect response, Johnson struck a cord with the proud and zealous Mary, who quickly got back to work and completed the piece.

Mary lived and loved fiercely. She is a shining example of a woman who fought for the right to CHOSE her own life path, which is what most feminist leaders have called for from the beginning. She wanted to be the one who decided what her life would look like. She enjoyed living and writing as a single woman in London and Paris. She likewise enjoyed living in a small cottage with a simple garden outside the city and raising her child (very much parallel to the happy suburban housewife).  What stayed constant in Mary’s life was her passion to carve her own path, the high value she placed on reason and education, and the overall driving desire for independence that informed much of her life’s trajectory.

If Mary could send in a definition of beauty, it might look something like this:

Mary Wollstonecraft Definition