Sunday, November 27, 2005

Sarah Grimke: Feminist of Yesterday


Sarah Grimke
Abolitionist, theoretician
"All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet from off our necks."

Sarah Grimke was the daughter of a slaveholding judge, who saw a slave being whipped when she was five, and responded by trying to run away to somewhere where there were no slaves. She wanted to go to college, but her parents fobid her from studying, so instead she ended up moving North with her sister and becoming one of the first white women to argue the abolitionist cause. She started arguing for women's rights because no-one was taking her seriously as an abolitionist. She was a mediocre speaker, but an important writer, and a loShe lived an incredible life.

Of all the nineteenth century feminists, I find the lives of the American abolitionist women most admirable, but also most unfathomable. They were almost all driven by their religious beliefs, and their view of themselves, their view of women's place in the world, was so very different from mine. And yet the issues they raise sound so familiar, even though so much of their lives were different.

That feminism sounds so different, in another time and place, is no surprise to me. I don't see feminism as providing a solution, or even an explanatory framework, it is simply a way of analysing the world that starts with what women experience. So feminism is going to look different depending on when and where you are. Unfortunately the issues women face don't change that much.

Conclusion: I may not be able to quite understand her, but it's hard to argue with:
I ask no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet from off our necks, and permit us to stand on the ground which God has designed for us to occupy. All history attests that man has subjected woman to his will used her as a means to promote his selfish gratification, to minister to his sensual pleasures, to be instrumental in promoting his comfort, but never has he desired to elevate her to that rank she was created to fill. He has done all he could to debase and enslave her mind; now he looks triumphantly on the ruin he has wrought, and says, the being he has thus deeply injured is his inferior

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