Sojourner Truth

The five-volume, A History of Women, was published by Harvard University Press in 1994. The investigation was more an encyclopedic exploration of “what do we know about women?” They found that women are more likely to be represented in history, art, and literature rather than fully described or having stories of their own. Images of women persist, but across the centuries they are most often man’s image of woman. Women were defined by their biology/physiology and their social position and duties. Aristotle’s view of women remains largely unchanged today.

There could be no women’s “her-story” until women were taken seriously and gender relations recognized as influencing events and social change. This new consciousness made many historians re-examine the nature of their enterprise. Unfortunately, A History of Women was limited to the story of identified-white Western women in Europe and North America. There would be a richer, fuller exploration if women of color’s contributions were fully detailed. Gender discussions could be expanded further with the inclusion of lesbian/transgendered perspectives. There are plenty of questions for investigation of women’s identity. Given the dominance of men, what power has devolved for women?

But before we run to this century, let us revisit the past when Sojourner Truth, an emancipated slave who never was limited by her race or gender, delivered her “Ar’n’t I a Woman?” speech to the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio in 1851:

“I want to say a few words about this matter. I am woman’s rights. I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed, reaped, husked, chopped, and mowed, and can any say more than that? I have heard much about the sexes being equal. I can carry as much as a man and eat as much too, if I can get it. … As for intellect, all I can say if woman have a pint, and man a quart — why can’t she have her little pint full?”

In a few paragraphs Sojourner Truth covered the waterfront of the creation story, equal rights and gender relations: exposing man’s dominant relationship to race and gender. This must give way to the new reality of equality and partnership for a future to become truly a shared “Their-Story.”

In 1995, the Zapatistas Revolutionary Law for Women was drafted as a result of months of discussion with hundreds of women in dozens of communities in Mexico. It reads like a platform for the future:

First: Women have the right to participate in the revolutionary struggle; second: Women have the right to work and receive a just pay; third: Women have the right to decide the number of children they will bear and care for; fourth: Women have the right to participate in community affairs and hold political office if they are elected freely and democratically; fifth: Women and their children have the right to primary medical care; sixth: Women have the right to education; seventh: Women have the right to choose their partners/spouses; eight: No woman may be hit or physically abused by relatives or strangers; ninth: Women may hold leadership positions in organizations and military rankings; tenth: Women will have all the rights and obligations set by law.

Population control begins with the education of women; peace among nations begins with domestic equality and tranquility. A public role for women is vital for a shared partnership of the sexes.

The rights and roles of women are still a struggle: witness the Virginia legislature using technology to turn back the clock. For our daughters and granddaughters, we must invent a future beyond International Women’s Day 2012.

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