Episode 11

Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Woman, by Sarah Grimke

Published on: 2nd February, 2021

Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Have you ever heard this quote?  “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” If you’ve heard this quote before you might attribute it to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And you would be right! She did say that a lot! But what you might not know is that Justice Ginsburg was in fact quoting 19th Century Abolitionist and Women’s Rights Advocate, Sarah Grimke. Today we will be reading the document that contains that quote: a series of letters from Sarah Grimke to fellow Abolitionist Mary S. Parker, in 1838. These letters were later published under the title Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Woman, and this book is known as the first sustained argument for equal rights written by a woman in the United States. Grimke has become a hero of mine during the past several years, and this particular text may be especially inspiring to listeners who are committed to holding onto their faith despite their struggles with patriarchal practices. I know some of our episodes so far might have been hard for religious listeners to metabolize - they have been hard for me! Grimke was a devoted Christian throughout her life, so this episode may give Christian women and men some encouraging new ways of viewing scripture. (and it will still be fascinating for non-religious listeners as well!)

But before we start, I want to welcome my reading partner, Rebecca Archibald. Hi, Becca!

Becca: Hi, Amy!

Amy:  Becca and I met in 2005 when our husbands were working on their MBAs at Stanford at the same time. We were neighbors on campus and we both had two little girls at the time, and we had similar interests, and as soon as I met you, Becca, I knew you were going to be an important person in my life with important things to teach me. And that was true - there are many nuggets of wisdom that I use in my life as a mother and as a thinker that will come to my mind and I’ll think “Becca taught me that.” I’m so grateful we’ve stayed in touch over the course of many years and many moves to various places, and so thankful that you’re joining me today to talk about this book!


Becca: Happy to be here, etc…. :)


Amy: So I always ask my reading partners to introduce themselves so listeners can get an idea of background and the perspective that each guest will bring to the discussion. Can  you tell us a little about yourself?


Becca: I grew up in Utah, the oldest girl of 6 kids.  Both my parents kind of made me feel like I could do anything, including move to Boston and go to Harvard for graduate school.  I started dating my husband just after I’d  been accepted.  I didn’t know if I should go or stay in Utah where he was---my dad said go, and my mom said stay. I did go, and my husband came to Boston too.   Since, we’ve been lucky to live in many places around the country--New York, Connecticut, Cleveland, Northern Ca and now San Diego.  In some of these places I’ve taught high school English, and in all of these places I’ve read.  You’d think both experiences would come in handy being at home with 5 kids in online school but let’s just say--we all miss real school.  I have loved the extra time for family adventures. 



Amy: And then the other thing I’d like you to tell listeners is what interested you in this project.


Becca: What interested me was a scheduled conversation with Amy.  When we both lived in Northern California, we’d run together in the beautiful wooded hills before anyone else was awake and discuss potty training, racial injustice, recipes--basically solve the problems of the world as we ran.  I miss that!

Of course this is such a compelling topic as well.  I read Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings a few years ago which is a historical novel about Sarah and Angelina Grimke.  The minute I finished it I started looking up information about the sisters.  I felt shocked I’d never heard of them before.


Amy: I was shocked when I learned about them too, that I had never heard of them before! They played such a critical role in American History, and I wish more people knew about them. And actually that’s the next thing we’re going to do -  Let’s talk for a minute about Sarah Grimke, who she was, and how she came to write these letters. Becca, why don’t you start us off.



Becca:

Sarah Grimké was born in South Carolina on November 26, 1792, the sixth of 14 children. Her father was a rich planter, an attorney and judge in South Carolina, and at one point Speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives.

Sarah's early experiences with education shaped her future as an abolitionist and feminist. Throughout her childhood, she was keenly aware of the inferiority of her education when compared to her brothers.’While her brothers went to Yale, she was educated by private tutors on subjects considered appropriate for a young Southern woman of her class, including French, embroidery, painting with watercolors, and playing the harpsichord. Her father allowed Sarah to study geography, history, and mathematics from the books in his library, and to read his law books; however, he drew the line at her learning Latin. She was prevented from pursuing her dream of becoming an attorney because it was considered "unwomanly."

Sarah's mother Mary was a dedicated homemaker and an active member in the community. She was a leader in Charleston's Ladies Benevolent Society, and her many charitable activities kept her from developing close relationships with her children.

Sarah developed a connection to the enslaved people working on her father’s plantation, which greatly upset her parents. From the time she was 12 years old, Sarah spent her Sunday afternoons secretly teaching Bible classes to the young enslaved people on the plantation. Her parents claimed that literacy would only make the enslaved people unhappy and rebellious, making them unfit for manual labor, and besides, this activity was illegal: teaching enslaved people to read had been prohibited since 1740 in South Carolina.

Sarah secretly taught Hetty, her personal enslaved girl, to read and write. Years afterward, she reflected on the incident, writing "I took an almost malicious satisfaction in teaching my little waiting maid at night, when she was supposed to be occupied in combing and brushing my locks. The light was put out, the keyhole screened, and flat on our stomachs before the fire, with the spelling book under our eyes, we defied the laws of South Carolina.” But when her father discovered this rebellion, he was furious and nearly had Hetty whipped. This made Sarah realize that breaking the rules in this way would be dangerous for Hetty and her friends, so she stopped teaching them to read in fear that they would get in trouble. 

Interestingly, Sarah’s father told her that if she had been a man,"she would have made the greatest jurist in the country." Sarah believed her inability to get higher education was unfair. She also wondered at the behavior of her family and neighbors, who encouraged enslaved people to be baptized and to attend worship services, but did not consider them true brothers and sisters in faith. So from a very young age, Sarah had an acute awareness of both gender and racial injustice.

Sarah believed that religion should take a more proactive role in improving the lives of those who suffered most. Her religious quest took her first to Presbyterianism; she converted in 1817. After moving to Philadelphia in 1821, she joined the Quakers, whom she had learned about in an earlier visit with her father. The Quakers were an egalitarian sect of Christianity, with female ministers, and they were also outspoken critics of the practice of enslavement, so she converted wholeheartedly. However, she encountered conflict within the Quaker community because she was too radical even for them - she encountered resistance when she tried to lead Quaker congregations, and she protested church segregation by sitting in what was termed the “colored” section with the African American members.

Recounting her move from South Carolina to Pennsylvania, Sarah said:

“As I left my native state on account of slavery, and deserted the home of my fathers to escape the sound of the lash and the shriek of tortured victims, I would gladly bury in oblivion the recollection of those scenes with which I have been familiar. But this cannot be. They come over my memory like gory spectres, and implore me, with resistless power, in the name of a God of mercy, in the name of a crucified Saviour, in the name of humanity, for the sake of the slaveholder as well as the slave, to bear witness to the horrors of the Southern prison-house.”

 

Amy

In the spring of 1827 Sarah returned to Charleston to "save" her younger sister Angelina from the limitations of the South. (Sarah was 35 at the time; Angelina was 22) Angelina visited Sarah in Philadelphia from July to November of the same year and returned to Charleston committed to the Quaker faith. In November, 1829, Angelina joined her sister in Philadelphia. For years, Angelina called Sarah "mother", as Sarah was both her godmother and primary caretaker.

 

Sarah and Angelina began speaking out against slavery, and Abolition leaders in New York and Boston recognized the unique possibilities presented by Sarah and her sister as spokespersons for the cause, as they had grown up on a slave-holding plantation. The Grimkés underwent training in New York City, where they practiced the antislavery message before small, largely female audiences. Soon they were judged ready for larger things and were called to a series of lectures in the greater Boston area. Before crowds ranging from several hundred to well over a thousand, the Grimkés traveled from town to town, addressing more than forty thousand curious, supportive, and sometimes hostile listeners. [and here I have to mention that I first learned about the Grimke sisters when I was doing research on a paper on female abolitionists in Concord, MA. When the Grimkes stopped in Boston and Concord on their speaking circuit, Ralph Waldo 

Emerson’s wife, and Henry David Thoreau’s mother and sisters, were in attendance at the meeting, and they came home all fired up. The Emerson and Thoreau women joined the Abolitionist movement, and their homes became stops on the Underground Railroad, but the men took a long time to come around - those women worked on the men in their families relentlessly until they finally convinced them to speak up in the cause of Abolishing slavery. This was along with their neighbors, the Alcotts (Louisa May Alcott’s family). 

 

Anyway… back to the story… Sarah and Angelina became passionately involved in the anti-slavery movement. They met the famous abolitionist Lucretia Mott, and it was around this time that Lucretia Mott let Sarah borrow her copy of Mary Wollstonecraft’s book A Vindication of the Rights of Women, written the year Sarah was born, in 1792. (Mott kept a copy of this book on her coffee table and lent it to many men and women). As the sisters lectured on the Abolition circuit along the East coast, they began to face harsh criticism. Their public speeches were seen as unwomanly because they spoke to mixed-gender audiences, called "promiscuous audiences" at the time. They also publicly debated men who disagreed with them. This was too much for the general public of 1837, and as they spoke in churches and other venues they frequently drew large, hostile crowds of men yelling and threatening them and throwing rocks through the windows. Sarah and Angelina sometimes commented that they didn’t know whether these rabidly angry protestors were more furious about their anti-slavery message or about the fact that they were women having the audacity to speak puclicly to men. 

On 28 June 1837 Reverend Nehemiah Adams wrote "A Pastoral Letter of the General Association to the Congregational Churches under Their Care." This "Pastoral Letter" outlined the official stance of the clergy on the Abolitionist movement. First, such controversial subjects as abolitionism were not to be imposed on the faithful as fit matter for debate. Second, the letter warned ministers to avoid talking to or otherwise accommodating those who introduced such matters to their congregations. And finally, it attacked the involvement of women—especially women speakers—in matters of public controversy. The "Pastoral Letter" was in turn followed by two "Clerical Appeals," which specifically targeted William Lloyd Garrison and the unseemly actions of women who took it upon themselves to operate outside their divinely appointed spheres of influence. (We will keep talking about the “separate spheres” ideology in several other episodes.)

Sarah had already begun a series of letters regarding women’s rights, and when she read those letters she decided to turn her attention to a rebuttal. In a series of fifteen letters, written between 11 July and 20 October 1837 and addressed to the president of the Boston Anti-Slavery Society, Mary S. Parker, Grimké argued against those seeking to silence women's role in abolition specifically and the work of public moral reform generally. She grounded her arguments in her interpretation of the Bible, first of all because she was responding to theological arguments levied at her by reverends and ministers of the church, but also because most people in 19th Century America were Christian, and still based their philosophical reasoning in the Bible. These letters were published in the New England Spectator and reprinted in William Lloyd Garrison's Liberator magazine, and they have a place on many “essential readings” Women’s Studies lists, including ours. 

Two last notes: In 1868, Sarah discovered that her late brother had three  mixed-race sons by an enslaved woman. Sarah welcomed these boys to her family, and worked to provide funds to educate them.

She died in 1873 in Hyde Park, Massachusetts, at the age of 81.

 

Amy: Ok, let’s get into the text. There are 15 letters in this compilation, and Becca and I have each chosen a couple of them to highlight. Becca will start with Letter 1, then we’ll take turns sharing main points from a couple of letters each. So take it away, Becca!

 

Becca: 

Letter 1: The Original Equality of Woman

I feel that I am venturing on nearly untrodden ground, and that I shall advance arguments in opposition to a corrupt public opinion, and to the perverted interpretation of Holy Writ, which has so universally obtained. But I am in search of truth; and no obstacle shall prevent my prosecuting that search. (3)

Equality of the sexes was not part of the social and cultural consciousness so each time a woman thought or published it, it felt  new and foreign. There was no internet, chat room or forum to read of another’s similar experience or thoughts--though many other women scattered around the country must have surely written similar frustrations in a journal.  While Sarah was certainly an early voice on the subject-- the “untrodden ground” speaks also to the way it felt for her---surely she must have felt alone and approaching a landscape that was unchartered, a forest where no path had been cleared yet. 

 

Yes, I’m literally one of those women who wrote my frustrations in a journal!! This reminds me of an episode we did on Gerda Lerner’s work in The Creation of Feminist Consciousness. Lerner chronicles 1,000 years of Christian women authors through the middle ages and up to Grimke herself. Lerner points out that each woman thinks she is the first one to do it, on “untrodden ground,” because women have never had access to the writings of the women who came before her. They don’t get published, they don’t get passed on, they don’t benefit the women who come after them. More women need to know about Grimke and read this book, if for no other reason then to know they're not alone!

 

I’m also reminded of how epiphanies feel so totally personal and universal at the same time.  After I had my first daughter after a precarious labor, I felt shocked by the pain and trauma of the birthing experience.  It felt like no one had ever experienced that before for if they had they would have warned me and told me.  

Grimke’s diction also stands out to me--”corrupt” and ”perverted”-- such strong and acrid language. Not only is it an effective rhetorical method because it immediately establishes the cultural and religious views of the day as decrepit, decaying, diseased, which sets up the “truth” to be the antidote. She had so many “enforcers” of other versions of truth in her life.  It cost her so much to give up those versions and yet she did.   

 

In examining this important subject, I shall depend solely on the Bible to designate the sphere of woman, because I believe almost everything that has been written on this subject has been the result of a misconception of the simple truths revealed in the Scriptures, in consequence of the false translation of many passages of Holy Writ. My mind is entirely delivered from the superstitious reverence which is attached to the English version of the Bible. King James’ translators certainly were not inspired.

Her knowledge of languages helped her see the accepted version of the bible at the time (King James) as a translation rather than the actual word of God.  She is bold enough to call the King James translators  “not inspired.” I imagine it was this type of language that made many view her as radical.  The King James version of the Bible was translated by a group of 40 or so white English men from a British tradition who certainly compromised and negotiated diction as well as saw it through their own social/cultural view of the world--which was patriarchal.  It was translated by men through a patriarchal frame.  For me as a person of faith, this is liberating.  I can love the teachings and don’t have to throw the entire text as “uninspired”--but I can do that because it is not being used to dictate or limit my rights.

 

 

 

 I therefore claim the original as my standard, believing that to have been inspired, and I also claim to judge for myself what is the meaning of the inspired writers, because I believe it to be the solemn duty of every individual to search the Scriptures for themselves, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, and not be governed by the views of any man, or set of men. (4)

I am in awe of Grimke’s confidence in herself and her interpretation.  Oh that more women and more girls questioned the system, the text, rather than themselves! Her confidence and audacity is stunning.  I love that she starts off these letters establishing her source--a source beyond reproach--The Holy Bible.  And then she qualifies it based on the translation.  A brilliant rhetorical technique as well compelling logic.  

 

I agree that Grimke is so incredibly bold and self-confident to claim the right to interpretation, to claim the right to speak authoritatively on the Bible's translation. This was just not done by women at that time, and this is one of my most powerful takeaways from this book. To trust myself. To know that I answer to God directly and to not worry about what others think.

 

There is something so democratic about her establishing her duty and right to search the scriptures and come up with her own meaning.  With the establishment of the American democracy came the idea that the common man had a voice, which was not the case in the more tiered societies of Europe.  In protestant America, priests and pastors didn’t have to speak only Latin and they could expound on the word of God.  They could start their own religions.  Then why couldn’t and shouldn’t a woman as well.  Why shouldn’t she embody the tradition that started the nation by rejecting authority and questioning practice?  Why shouldn’t she  as she asserts in Letter 11 “best settle this on her knees before God”.  (72) 

When we lived in Connecticut I would often drive along the Hutchinson parkway and I’d always pay homage in my mind to Anne Hutchinson as I drove--a women who challenged gender norms in the 1600s--She preached and interpreted scripture and was thrown out of Massachusetts and then finally settled in NY.  Grimke shared Hutchinson’s belief that she had a right to read, think, interpet and express herself.    To challenge the few authoritative voices that had a monopoly on dispersing information and thought.  Today the circumstances are the opposite with the internet and the explosion of information, yet people are still being fed information and ideas.  It is still the “solemn duty of every individual” to search the scriptures, the laws, current events, history and science and “TO JUDGE FOR MYSELF.”  

 

 

CREATION

Grimke then goes through the story of the creation and the fall with her interpretation that views Adam and Eve as equal.  

 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them.’ In all this sublime description of the creation of man, (which is a generic term including man and woman,) there is not one particle of difference intimated as existing between them.  They were both made in the image of God; dominion was given to both over every other creature, but not over each other.  Created in perfect equality, they were expected to exercise the vicegerence entrusted to them by their Maker, in harmony and love.  

I love how Grimke says that creation was already “swarmed with animated beings” capable of “loving, obeying, and looking up to him.” Man did not need another subservient companion, he needed “ a free agent, gifted with intellect and endowed with immortality. . .”

Sarah Grimke had refused a marriage proposal, and refused to marry because of the oppression placed on women in marriage. It’s an interesting interpretation that all women are the “helpmeets” of all men. If she believes in total equality of the sexes, then does she think the men have the responsibility to help and support women as well? If not, then this doesn’t add up.

 

FALL

Had Adam tenderly reproved his wife, and endeavored to lead her to repentance instead of sharing in her guilt, I should be much more ready to accord to man that superiority which he claims. . .

They both fell from innocence, and consequently from happiness, but not from equality. 

Amy, do you want to read the next quote:

DOMINION

The truth is that the curse, as it is termed, which was pronounced by Jehovah upon woman, is a simple prophecy. The Hebrew, like the French language, uses the same word to express shall and will. Our translators having been accustomed to exercise lordship over their wives, and seeing only through the medium of a perverted judgment, very naturally, though I think not very learnedly or very kindly, translated it shall instead of will, and thus converted a prediction to Eve into a command to Adam; for observe, it is addressed to the woman and not to the man.

 

She’s right! God does say “he shall rule over thee.” It’s not to Adam: “I command you to rule over her.” So it very well could be “he will rule over you,” and maybe God is even lamenting that!

 

This ties directly back to her thesis at the beginning of the letter that the text was wrongly interpreted and a look at the Hebrew shows a difference in word choice which leads to a difference in meaning.  She follows up with the struggle for power that is characteristic of a fallen world:

The consequence of the fall was an immediate struggle for dominion. . .

Innocence is replaced by greed, pride, embarrassment, fear all which can feed the hunger for power--for control over something to make things seem less uncertain.  

 

Here then I plant myself. God created us equal; -- he created us free agents; -- he is our Lawgiver, our King and our Judge, and to him alone is woman bound to be in subjection, and to him alone is she accountable for the use of those talents with which her Heavenly Father has entrusted her. One is her Master, even Christ.

In addition to reiterating the claim of equality, I love how she owns being a free agent.  She sets that off by dashes on both sides for emphasis.  A free agent makes a choice and answers and accepts the consequences.  Adam was as accountable for his choice as was Eve.  And in the end they both have to answer to God with the only mediator being Christ.  I so value Grimke claiming her right to her own revelation, her own thought, and her own voice.  Again, it feels so democratic.  And the phrase “plant myself” stirs up images of people coming off ships from countries where they had no land, no voice, no status, or pioneers escaping to the western frontier where there was no social strata or hierarchy; they “planted” themselves in their new space with hopes for a better democracy, opportunity, freedom to choose.  And then so quickly the struggle for dominion begins or makes itself evident.  

 

“Here then I plant myself” reminds me of  Martin Luther saying “Here I stand, I can do no other,” refusing to recant his criticisms that the Catholic Church had gone astray from Christ’s intentions. Grimke is taking a similar stand.

 

 

 

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Amy:

Really quickly I have to note that the quote “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks” is found in Letter 2, if listeners are interested. But I’m going to skip ahead and cover Letter 3. 

 

Letter 3: The Pastoral Letter of the General Association of Congressional Ministers of the State of Massachusetts

 

In this letter, Sarah writes to Mary Parker that in the first two letters, she had not yet seen the Pastoral Letter of the General Association yet (remember from the introduction, that this letter was written by Reverend Nehemiah Adams, and it warned Christian congregations to a) not get their heads all twisted up by Abolitionism and b) not to listen to female speakers, because that was inappropriate. So Sarah now has some responses to Reverend Nehemiah Adams, and her first response is to point out that he is going to end up being on the wrong side of History, just like Cotton Mather on the topic of witchcraft.

 

Here’s the next part: 

It says, ‘We invite your attention to the dangers which at present seem to threaten the FEMALE CHARACTER with wide-spread and permanent injury.’ I rejoice that they have called the attention of my sex to this subject, because I believe if woman investigates it, she will soon discover that danger is impending, though from a totally different source from that which the Association apprehends - danger from those who, having long held the reins of usurped authority, are unwilling to permit us to fill that sphere whcih God created us to move in. (15)

Two thoughts on this:

  1. The claim that women’s authority has been “usurped” hearkens not only to Grimkes’ assertion that God gave women equal rights, but also the Enlightenment notion of natural rights that we talked about in the episode about the French declaration of the rights of man and Olympe DeGouges’ declaration of the rights of women. This is the argument that the default condition of all human beings is liberty, and that men have stolen that liberty. This is a stronger argument than petitioning for rights that have never before been granted. It shows there is precedent for equality.
  2. She points out that Reverend Adams and the other ministers think that they are protecting the female character from “wide-spread and permanent injury.” She says “wow, thanks for worrying about us! That is so nice. But actually it’s your rules that are putting us in danger because they’re not allowing us to achieve our potential. We’re going to see this over and over again in texts through the next episodes - women saying “thanks for trying to protect us from the stress of voting; thanks for trying to protect us from the stress of higher education, thanks for trying to protect us from the stress of playing sports, or having a meaningful and exhilarating career or giving a sermon in church! Thanks!”

 

Ha.  Exactly.  And to add to the irony the only “protecting” is one group trying to protect their power share.

 

The Lord Jesus defines the duties of his followers in his Sermon on the Mount. He lays down grand principles with which they should be governed, without any reference to sex or condition: Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven. I follow him through all his precepts, and find him giving the same directions to women as to men, never even referring to the distinction now so strenuously insisted upon between masculine and feminine virtues; this is one of the anti-Christian ‘traditions of men’ which are taught instead of the ‘commandments of God.’ Men are women were CREATED EQUAL; they are both moral and accountable beings, and whatever is right for man to do, is right for woman. (16)

 

But the influence of woman, says the Association, is to be private and unobtrusive; her light is not to shine before man like that of her brethren; but she is passively to let the lords of the creation, as they call themselves, put the bushel over it, lest peradventure it might appear that the world has been benefited by the rays of her candle. So that her quenched light, according to their judgment, will be of more use than if it were set on the candlestick. Her influence is the source of mighty power. This has ever been the flattering language of man since he laid aside the whip as a means to keep woman in subjection. He spares her body; but the war he has waged against her mind, her heart, and her soul, has been no less destructive to her. ...Alas! She has too well learned the lesson which MAN has labored to teach her. She has surrendered her dearest RIGHTS, and been satisfied with the privileges which man has assumed to grant her. (17)

 

This is one point that I had on my mind a lot several years ago as I myself read the New Testament and noticed the exact same thing: in the Sermon on the Mount and throughout Jesus’ teachings, he never once - NEVER ONCE!!! - separates according to gender. Both men and women are taught to be humble and meek. Both men and women are taught to care for the vulnerable and needy. Both men and women are taught to be strong by withstanding persecution. And furthermore, Jesus Christ is constantly flouting cultural norms regarding women by talking with them openly, letting a woman with an issue of blood touch him (that was the height of uncleanness)... he made a point of including women, and Mary Magdalene was the first witness of his Resurrection, which my Catholic friend once pointed out to me meant that she was the entire embodiment of the Christian church in that moment. That was the most important role anyone could have, and he purposefully entrusted that to a woman. But anyway, back to Grimke’s point, Jesus makes no distinction between the virtues that men should have and the virtues that women should have. Christian virtues are Christian virtues, she says, and we should all cultivate them.

 

I love how you point out how Christ was flouting social norms.  He was a revolutionary, teaching women, touching the diseased and the lowest of society.  More evidence that being Christian doesn’t mean just accepting norms--doesn’t mean accepting norms that don’t espouse equality.

 

Our trust is in the Lord Jehovah, and in him is everlasting strength. The motto of woman, when she is engaged in the great work of public reformation, should be - ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? She must feel… that she is fulfilling one of the important duties laid upon her as an accountable being, and that her character, instead of being ‘unnatural’, is in exact accordance with the will of Him to whom, and to no other, she is responsible for the talents and gifts confided to her. (21)

 

To me, this one of the most powerful quotes in the whole book. Remember that Sarah Grimke’s “great work of public reformation” was the work of abolishing the practice of slavery. And she was being told it wasn’t her place to do it because she was a woman! This reminds me of the research I did on Thoreau and Emerson in Concord - their wives and daughters and sisters and female friends begged them for years to stand up against slavery. And those men dragged their feet. I remember reading about the moment when Emerson finally made a speech saying he supported the cause of Abolition, and Margaret Fuller, who was one of the geniuses of the 19th Century but was denied a place at Harvard because she was a woman, sat in the audience and wept. These women knew what was right, they were brilliant and noble, and in this case, they saw right from wrong before the men did, and yet they were completely dependent on the men to do the right thing. They had no power to make social change, and when they tried, they were told to get back in their proper place. I am so inspired by Grimke’s reminder that each of us individually answers to God for our actions, and her total confidence that her cause was just and that God backed her up.

I agree and so inspired by her ability to disregard the messages of societal norms all around her.  It is so hard to shut out those voices and feel betrayed by those you think share your cause and then let you down, to  listen to her own heart and mind and stay the course.  

 

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Becca:

Letter 8: On the Condition of Women in the United States

Women as Ornamental

During the early part of my life, my lot was cast among the butterflies of the fashionable world; and of this class of women, I am constrained to say, both from experience and observation, that their education is miserable deficient; that they are taught to regard marriage as the one thing needful, the only avenue to distinction. . . (46)

Here we get a glimpse of the culture Grimke grew up in.  A world where women are applauded and “regarded by men, as pretty toys or mere instruments of pleasure.” 


Two thoughts:

1- The social conventions of the Southern upper class is a whole different animal than most other places in the country in 1837.  I imagine the rules of etiquette for the female “butterflies” were extensive and frivolous.  In graduate school I had a friend from South Carolina and the silver pattern for utensils even had a hierarchy.  She laughed when she told me her family’s  was mid-level.  In the west where women had to engage in meaningful work and be equal contributors to survive in the 1800s, i can see how marriage was essential.  But to someone in Southern high society where marriage had evolved into a prize or social status indicator, I can’t imagine how maddening it was for a passionate and intelligent girl like Grimke.  



This is such a great point! I was thinking “yes, this is exactly what Mary Wollstonecraft talked about,” and it’s true, but there is a uniquely Southern United States manifestation of this in this text, and I think it’s really interesting to point out the difference between that and the Northern and especially Western culture for women.



2- The juxtaposition of such emphasis on manners and social convention and the barbaric practice of slavery must have caused extreme mental dissidence for Grimke.  


For this purpose [marriage]more than for any other, I verily believe that majority of girls are trained. . .In most families, it is considered a matter of far more consequence to call a girl off from making a pie, or a pudding, than to interrupt her whilst engaged in her studies. . . All i complain of is that our education consists so almost exclusively in culinary and other manual operations.  

I had to laugh at this. One because I love a good chocolate pudding and can fully appreciate the emotional joy of that.  But mostly because to a modern ear it sounds silly to value food over intellect.  Yet when we first moved to Northern California, the elementary school was doing an auction and asked each parent to donate some items.  I had been working as a writing tutor helping people with application essays and high school papers for years for hire; I auctioned up a few free hours of tutoring and then I also auctioned up homemade cookies.  Guess which one didn’t get one bid, and one that sold for hundreds of dollars?


I definitely feel that I was trained for marriage. And I feel like our culture - not just religious culture but literary culture and Disney movies - prepared girls for marriage far more than it did boys. Which doesn't do any favor for the girls or the boys!! First of all  “marriage” gets conflated with “cooking and cleaning,” when they are not the same thing, and second, because if you over emphasize that marriage is the be-all and end-all for a girl, it sets her up to derive her only satisfaction and meaning from the relationship, which isn’t healthy. And it sets up the boy to not be prepared to do the emotional work required for a healthy, joyful relationship.) Do you feel like it's changing now?

 

Isn’t that the question! Yes and no.  Yes because there are opportunities now for school and work that didn’t exist even when you and I were first married.  Because of technology so many more women have companies and jobs and are exposed to different places to travel and study.  Yet in some ways social media has reversed women’s rights--by promoting and reinforcing the message that a girl is her appearance.  The images of womanhood communicated by social media entrap rather than liberate; they tie worth to appearance and often sexual appeal. What do you think?

 

Absolutely, that’s such a great point - can you imagine Grimke’s horror at this societal trend? She thought girls were too concerned with how they were “regarded by men, as pretty toys” in the 1830’s!! I think she would be sounding the alarm about social media and how it makes all of us, but especially young girls, waaaay too focused about how they are being perceived and “liked” by others. Which is damaging to our character and damaging to our mental health, and if nothing else, just a huge waste of time. 

 

They seldom think that men will be allured by intellectual acquirements, because they find, that where any mental superiority exists, a woman is generally shunned and regarded as stepping out of her ‘appropriate sphere’... (47)

 This gives a small window into the courage it took for Grimke to step out of many appropriate spheres: she broke from her homeland of SC, her family, her religion, and her traditions.  I am amazed and stunned really that she was able to do it.  Not just the courage but also that she had the ability to see beyond the paradigm constructed for her by her parents and family as a child.  


Fashionable women regard themselves, and are regarded by men, as pretty toys or as mere instruments of pleasure; the frivolity which is the necessary result of this false and debasing estimate of women, can only be fully understood by those who have mingled in the folly and wickedness of fashionable life; and who have been called from such pursuits by the voice of the Lord Jesus, inviting their weary and heavy laden souls to come unto Him and learn of Him, that they may find something worthy of their immortal spirit, and their intellectual powers; that they may learn the high and holy purposes of their creation, and consecrate themselves into service of God; and not, as is now the case, to the pleasure of men.  

This seems highly biographical--”can only be understood” by someone who has been in that sphere and has also had a call to pursue something “high”er.  This is an insight into Grimke motivation.  I continually feel amazement for what she had the courage to give up, and what fueled her perseverance.  With continual and very public opposition, she was committed--she was planted firmly--and here it seems to say why and how--that she was  “called from such pursuits by the voice of the Lord Jesus.” She had a divine inspiration.  Throughout history there are so many campaigns and pursuits that used God as their rationale--because it is for many people beyond reproach--and hers is one fueled and defended by her faith, but faith in a God who loves and sees all human beings as equal.  This is an answer to how and why she challenged patriarchy in her life--she felt called to do it and pulled herself from fashionable society to the quiet solitude of a crusader.  Who were these women trying to please in fashionable society? Who was she trying to please? She was done pleasing those with a different value system than hers and answered to her God.

 

Education

“‘Give me a host of educated, pious mothers and sisters, and I will do more to revolutionize a country, in moral and religious taste, in manner and in social virtues and intellectual  cultivation, than I can possibly do in double or treble the time, with a similar host of educated men.’” Thomas Grimke

Grimke quotes her brother here--interesting insight into him (he was the one who lent his lawbooks so she could read what he was studying).  I love this quote as respect and inspiration for mothers---as a stay at home mom, a job that can feel steeped in the domestic mundane, it gives a meaning to the job which I believe is there.  When this rationale is used to keep women only in the home--it’s irksome. 

 

Agreed. Being a parent is such an important job, and parenting really does create our future society! However, this belief that the only reason to educate a woman is so that she can educate her sons harks back to Rousseau and Republican motherhood, and is a patriarchal argument that values women only as a means or tool to benefit men. (As you said - when it’s used to keep women home, it’s a problem.)

 

There is another class of women in this country, to whom I cannot refer, without feelings of the deepest shame and sorrow.  I allude to our female slaves.  Our southern cities are whelmed beneath a tide of pollution; the virtue of female slaves is wholly at the mercy of irresponsible tyrants and women are bought and sold in our slave markets, to gratify the brutal lust of those who bear the name of Christians. 

How did what Grimke witnessed of slavery and her beliefs on slavery influence the evolution of her ideas on patriarchy? At the time so many people advised to shelve women’s rights until slavery was abolished because it was the more “pressing” matter.  It brings to mind how trauma and empathy can be powerful connectors.  When did Grimke in all her horror and defiance of slavery recognize that she identified with the slaves? That she felt trapped and mistreated as she saw them.  

 

The word shame jumps out at me.  Brenee Brown is such a huge voice on shame and how it controls and belittles people, how it skews how they view themselves.  Brown’s research has found that the process and effects of shame and vulnerability are deeply gendered.  The shame cycle had to be a hugely enforcing dynamic in slavery.  The shame triggers dissociation which allows cruelty without conscience.  And troubling that Grimke herself who had little power and say in her slaveholding family feels shame.  

 

WOW. That is a powerful concept. Can you expound on that a bit more? (I wonder if what Sarah Grimke felt was more like the appropriate collective “guilt”  - her conscience saying “what our country is doing is terribly wrong!!” Because of course if we didn’t have that alarm bell then we wouldn’t be able to act morally. And she used that “red flag” of conscience that she called “shame” to work with her every living breath to correct her country’s sin.)

I think you’re right.  I think I’m projecting a little of 21st century definition on her use of the word shame.   I feel--not shame--but horror and anguish that it’s part of my country’s history too, so that collective guilt rings true.  And so does the shame cycle being an element that allows slavery to exist.  It’s so complex.

 

I cannot close this letter, without saying a few words on the benefits to be derived by men, as well as women, from the opinions I advocate relative to the equality of the sexes. Many women are now supported, in idleness and extravagance, by the industry of their husbands, fathers, or brothers, who are compelled to toil out their existence, at the counting house, or in the printing office, or some other laborious occupation, while the wife and daughters and sisters take no part in the support of the family, and appear to think that their sole business is to spend the hard bought earnings of their male friends. I deeply regret such a state of things, because I believe that if women felt their responsibility, for the support of themselves, or their families it would add strength and dignity to their characters, and teach them more true sympathy for their husbands, than is now generally manifested - sympathy which would be exhibited by actions as well as words. Our brethren may reject my doctrine, because it runs counter to common opinions, and because it wounds their pride; but I believe they would be ‘partakers of the benefit’ resulting from the Equality of the Sexes, and would find that woman, as their equal, was unspeakably more valuable than woman as their inferior, both as a moral and an intellectual being.

This highlights the tragedy of forcing human beings--women and men--into roles that have too much or too little power: oppressors, ornaments, slaves.  If you’ve ever been in a bully situation--as the bully, as the bystander, or the bullied--all of the roles are deeply uncomfortable.  When a culture imposes these roles it brings out the worst in everyone because fear steals the “strength and dignity” Grimke talks about.  The only role that doesn’t feel horrible is upstander though it takes a ton of courage--that’s Grimke.  

 

I highlighted this same quote when I read this chapter, Becca. I think it’s so important to remember that this system of male supremacy harms men as well. Like you said, it is not good for men’s hearts or minds to be put in the role of a bully,  and even if they’re not bullies, it puts so much pressure and strain on them to have to be the breadwinners and the leaders in every single aspect of life. Lindsay and I mentioned this in our episode on Olympe de Gouges’ Declaration on the Rights of Women and the Female Citizen. We cited a study that found that countries with egalitarian practices report higher levels of happiness for women and for men. One data point that was analyzed was lower suicide rates in men who live in more egalitarian cultures, and the thought is that the men don’t feel such pressure and stress as the sole leader and the sole bread-winner because the women are able to share the load. [“Why the Patriarchy Is Killing Men”, The Washington Post, September 13, 2019]

Another thought: I remember being at Girls Camp one year and seeing that my daughters and I weren’t the only ones opting out of singing one the camp songs. We opted out of several of those songs, but this one was about only marrying a boy who was rolling in money, and all a boy was good for was money, money, money. I went over to my daughter’s friend Brooke - who was scowling - and asked why she wasn’t singing, and she said “It’s sexist, and it makes me so mad to think of a girl thinking of my brother like that and wanting to use him for his money.”

 

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Amy:

Letter 7: Condition in some parts of Europe and America

I would entreat (woman) to double her diligence in the performance of all her obligations as a wife, a mother, a sister, and a daughter. Let us remember that our claim to stand on perfect equality with our brethren, can only be substantiated by a scrupulous attention to our domestic duties, as well as by aiding in the great work of moral reformation. (39)

Wait. What? Still believes in gendered division of labor? How, if she keeps emphasizing not only equality but her desire for less distinction between the sexes?

 

Also, what is her motivation here? Men will say women are just trying to get out of work? I do hear something similar from friends - they will only take on work outside the home as long as it doesn’t interfere with homemaking (although I see my friends volunteer insane numbers of hours at their kids’ schools, very much taxing their home lives. It seems to be working in a career that people are so concerned with taking them out of the home). 

 

Would she counsel men to not neglect their duties to provide for their families and be involved in their families as husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons, even as they work in the anti-slavery movement? Because then that would be equitable. The problem that we see manifested today is that women have taken this very advice: yes, you CAN be involved in the public sphere, have a career, and do community service work, but you still can’t neglect your relationships or your housework. So women feel like they have to do it all. Some men have not received the same messaging, that they can have careers and do public work, but to make sure they don’t neglect their relationships and housework. And that places an inequitable burden on women. (Although I do think some men are exceptional - I know my husband and your husband are super involved in home life and housework).

 

Right? In 2020 I hate this argument! Did she believe it or did she see it as necessary marketing? Either way it is way too much pressure.  

 

In Russia, women have been seen paving the streets, and performing other similar drudgery. In Finland, they work like beasts of burden, and may be seen for hours in snow water, up to the middle, tugging at boats and sledges. In Flanders and France, women are engaged in performing laborious tasks; and even in England, it is not unusual to see them scraping up manure from the streets with their hands, and gathering it into baskets. In Greece, even now the women plough and carry heavy burdens, while the lordly master of the family may be seen walking before them without any encumbrance. (43)

Once I had a conversation with a man of my parents’ generation who said that our society needs chivalry, or in other words, benevolent patriarchy wherein men protect women and set them on pedestals, because men are brutes and they used to make women their servants and abuse them terribly. He asked me “Is that what you want?”

He was definitely right that men have behaved that way toward women throughout history, and those practices - though much less common - do still continue. But I see this choice as a false dichotomy. Those two options - women being used and brutally exploited vs. women being locked in a safe, gilded cage are not the only options. I see it more as an evolution forward - if men in a less evolved state took advantage of women’s smaller size and her defenseless anatomy, then a step forward would be chivalrous respect for women because men viewed women as weak and vulnerable and it made men feel heroic to protect women. But there’s even another step forward in social evolution! And that is seeing women as equals.  

 

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Amy: Ok, now we’re going to talk about Letter 15: Man Equally Guilty with Woman in the Fall.  I think we each have a couple of quotes to share from this chapter.

 

Becca: It is said that ‘modern Jewish women light a lamp every Friday evening, half an hour before sunset, which is the beginning of their Sabbath, in remembrance of their original mother, who first extinguished the lamp of righteousness - to remind them of their obligation to rekindle it.’ I am one of those who always admit, to its fullest extent, the popular charge, that woman brought sin into the world. I accept it as a powerful reason, why woman is bound to labor with double diligence, for the regeneration of that world she has been instrumental in ruining. (115)

YIKES!! So sad. Sojourner Truth refers to this too - because it’s a woman who turned the world upside down, it’s a woman’s job to turn it rightside up again. I love the empowerment that women can save the world, but I’m sad about the internalized guilt.

Double diligence.  This is hard for me.  Accepting this logic as true (which I don’t ), if woman brought sin into the world, who has done the most to propagate it? Who has put power structures in place to propagate it? The lighting of lamps is such a beautiful image--I’d like to think of it as an act of hope rather than penance. 

 

 

Becca: I do not ask anyone to believe my statements, or adopt my conclusions, because they are mine; but I do earnestly entreat any sisters to lay aside their prejudices, and examine these subjects for themselves, regardless of the ‘traditions of men,’ because they are intimately connected with their duty and their usefulness in the present important crisis. (119)

This is such a powerful concept--examine this for yourself-- and puts the responsibility on the reader or the individual.  The phrase “lay aside their prejudices” seems especially important; we all have blind spots and true education is putting those aside, examining philosophies that threaten ours.  One thing I loved about my runs with you Amy is that we would challenge each other or disagree.  It’s impossible to lay aside prejudice if it’s never challenged and you don’t know it exists.  This ties back to Grimke’s earlier letters on education--an educated person can think, question, interpret for themselves.   She’s urging examination and education.

Amy: 

I have blushed for my sex when I have heard of their entreating ministers to attend their associations, and open them with prayer. The idea is inconceivable to me, that Christian women can be engaged in doing God’s work, and yet cannot ask his blessing on their efforts, except through the lips of a man. I have known a whole town scoured to obtain a minister to open a female meeting, and their refusal to do so spoken of as quite a misfortune. Now, I am not glad that the ministers do wrong, but I am glad that my sisters have been sometimes compelled to act for themselves: it is exactly what they need to strengthen them, and prepare them to act independently. (125)

This reminds me of Bishops giving the keynote talks at YW in Excellence or New Beginnings, stake presidents giving the keynote talks at Girls Camp, male general authorities giving keynote addresses at general RS and YW meetings. Also the whole concept of priesthood blessings - the “whole town scoured” for a male to give a blessing: “Christian women can be engaged in doing God’s work, and yet cannot ask his blessing on their efforts, except through the lips of a man.” That sends a very clear message of inferiority and powerlessness to girls and women. Do we really think, at Girls Camp, for example, that if there is a special need, God won’t grant it if a woman asks for it? He will only grant it if a male priesthood holder asks for it? Think about what that means.

Amy

I was traveling lately in a stagecoach. A gentleman, who was also a passenger, was made sick by riding with his back to the horses. I offered to exchange seats, assuring him it did not affect me at all unpleasantly, but he was too polite to permit a lady to run the risk of being discommoded. I am sure he meant to be very civil, but I really thought it was a foolish piece of civility. This kind of attention encourages selfishness in woman, and is only accorded as a sort of quietus, in exchange for those rights of which we are deprived. Men and women are equally bound to cultivate a spirit of accommodation; but I exceedingly deprecate her being treated like  a spoiled child, and sacrifices made to her selfishness and vanity. In lieu of these flattering but injurious attnetions, yielded to her as an inferior, as a mark of benevolence and courtesy, I want my sex to claim nothing from their brethren but what their brethren may justly claim from them. I am persuaded woman can do much in this way to elevate her own character. (127-128)

I love the detail of the man getting motion sick in the stage coach - just brings the people and time period to life. So this example reminds me of men opening doors for women. My personal feeling is that a man opening a door for a woman is a very thoughtful, considerate thing to do, and I always say thank you. But that’s only because I think it’s a thoughtful, considerate thing to do for any person to hold the door open for any other person. I teach all my kids - boy and girls - to hold the door open for the other person who is approaching the door near you. I teach my kids to give up their subway seats to anyone who is handicapped, or elderly, or pregnant, or carrying a heavy load, or has children with them… no matter the gender.

In the simplest terms: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (And that man must not have been that motion sick because as someone who gets really car sick, on the verge of throwing up over and over, I’d take that seat from anyone. ;) )

 

Amy: What a great discussion! As we wrap up, is there one key point or takeaway that you want to share?

Becca: What stood out to me was that Grimke ends every letter with “Thine in the bonds of womanhood.” While bonds could have been referring to her relationship with Parker--their shared experience of being women--I initially read it as bondage-- each time I read it just felt heavier and heavier. It seemed to communicate the heaviness of her experience living in the bondage of a society where other human beings were traded and sold and her own choices so restricted. And despite every reason to be cast down and broken by her experience, she used it to try to lift and better the world.  We don’t notice bonds until we try to move.  Sarah’s movement was trying to abolish slavery, and she kept getting restricted in her efforts because she was a woman.  She had a unique perspective on slavery and her and her sister Angelina’s courage, determination, and perseverance changed the world though it probably didn’t feel like it at the time.  If only she could have known she’d be quoted by a female supreme court justice. 

Amy: I think of Sarah Grimke like a prophet. She could see things that no one else saw. She knew she was right, and she knew that God was with her, so when her own parents and family members and ministers and the public at large tried to silence her, she was not deterred. She and her sister had a HUGE impact on their speaking tour, rallying their fellow Americans to abolish slavery, and if she had listened to all the people to tell her to get back in her proper women’s sphere and stop talking, it’s quite possible that it would have taken much, much longer to get the 13th Amendment passed. And the Grimke sisters’ shaking things up as women leaders is what got the wheels in motion for the eventual passage of the 19th Amendment as well. So I think of her as a prophet and a hero.

Thanks again for being here, Becca!  

Outtro:

Our next text is a continuation of the story we told today… it’s two speeches by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, delivered at the iconic Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention in 1848. The Seneca Falls Convention was the first women’s rights convention in the United States, and it is thought of as the event that launched the women’s rights movement, or what is also known as the “first wave of feminism,” eventually resulting in the passage of the 19th Amendment, 72 years later.

These speeches are groundbreaking, and are essential reading in US women’s history, so look them up online - they’re easy to find and not terribly long - look up the Declaration of Sentiments, and the list of Resolutions from the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. It’s also worth looking up Elizabeth Cady Stanton - like Sarah Grimke, she first became a social activist in the cause of racial justice first, and then became an activist for women’s rights. This was one of the big social phenomena of the 19th Century - white women involving themselves in the anti-slavery movement, and then discovering that women were not being treated fairly and having a big feminist awakening and then fighting for their own rights. But whereas Sarah Grimke kept stressing racial justice and integration and urging White women never to forget Black women, Stanton turned her back even on her Black supporters, including Frederick Douglass. It’s an important story, and we’ll discuss it in the next episode. So read up if you can, and then join us for an invigorating discussion of the Seneca Falls convention speeches, next time on Breaking Down Patriarchy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Notes we couldn’t use

 

Letter 1: The Original Equality of Woman

I feel that I am venturing on nearly untrodden ground, and that I shall advance arguments in opposition to a corrupt public opinion, and to the perverted interpretation of Holy Writ, which has so universally obtained. But I am in search of truth; and no obstacle shall prevent my prosecuting that search. (3)

Two thoughts here: 

First, this of course reminds me of Gerda Lerner’s work in The Creation of Feminist Consciousness, where she chronicles 1,000 years of women authors through the middle ages through Grimke herself, writing feminist Biblical commentary, and Lerner points out that each woman thinks she is the first one to do it, on “untrodden ground,” because women have never had access to the writings of the women who came before her. They don’t get published, they don’t get passed on, they don’t benefit the women who come after them. Not part of the social and cultural consciousness so each time a woman thinks or publishes it feels new and foreign.

 

And second, her declaration, “I am in search of truth, and no obstacle shall prevent my prosecuting that search.” That is Grimke. Confident in her own conscience and claiming her right to seek truth and to speak. She had been taught every day of her life that she had to accept other people’s version of “truth,” and she just never bought it. She is a hero to me. She had so many “enforcers” of other versions of truth in her life.  It cost her so much to give up those versions and yet she did.   

 

My mind is entirely delivered from the superstitious reverence which is attached to the English version of the Bible. King James’ translators certainly were not inspired. I therefore claim the original as my standard, believing that to have been inspired, and I also claim to judge for myself what is the meaning of the inspired writers, because I believe it to be the solemn duty of every individual to search the Scriptures for themselves, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, and not be governed by the views of any man, or set of men. (4)

So here she lays out her beliefs and her philosophy of scriptural interpretation. Again, so bold!!! This is pretty radical for her to reject the King James Bible, and far more radical for her to say “I claim to judge for myself what is the meaning of the inspired writers.” She places herself on the same level as ministers and reverends and says that she is every bit as qualified as they are to decide what the scriptures mean. 

 

[So with that introduction, she launches into Biblical interpretation]

And God said, Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness, and let them have dominion… So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them. In all this sublime description of the creation of man (which is a generic term including man and woman), there is not one particle of difference intimated as existing between them. They were both made in the image of God; dominion was given to both over every other creature, but not over each other. (4)

This is the easier account to read. Is she going to address the other creation account? Yep, here it is:

[She quotes the Bible saying] ‘The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. And the Lord God said, it is not good that man should be alone, I will make him an help meet for him.’ [So now Grimke responds]: 

All creation swarmed with animated beings capable of natural affection, as we know they still are; it was not, therefore, merely to give man a creature susceptible of loving, obeying, and looking up to him, for all that the animals could do and did do. It was to give him a companion, in all respects his equal; one who was like him a free agent, gifted with intellect and endowed with immortality. ...I understand this as applying not only to the parties entering into the marriage contract, but to all men and women, because I believe God designed woman to be an help meet for man in every good and perfect work. (5)

 

Sarah Grimke had refused a marriage proposal, and refused to marry because of the oppression placed on women in marriage. It’s an interesting interpretation that all women are the “helpmeets” of all men. If she believes in total equality of the sexes, then does she think the men have the responsibility to help and support women as well? If not, then this doesn’t add up.

 

[Regarding Eve’s temptation and eating the forbidden fruit]:

The woman was exposed to temptation from a being with whom she was unacquainted. She had been accustomed to associate with her beloved partner, and to hold communion with God and with angels; but of satanic intelligence, she was in all probability entirely ignorant. Through the subtlety of the serpent, she was beguiled. (6)

Emphasizes Eve’s innocence, and thus, her limited accountability 

We next find Adam involved in the same sin, not through the instrumentality of a supernatural agent, but through that of his equal, a being whom he must have known was liable to transgress the divine command. ...Had Adam tenderly reproved his wife, and endeavored to lead her to repentance instead of sharing in her guilt, I should be much more ready to accord to man that superiority which he claims, but as the facts stand disclosed by the sacred historian, it appears to me that to say the least, there was aas much weakness exhibited by Adam as by Eve. The both fell from innocence, and consequently from happiness, but not from equality. (7)

  1. Eve’s temptation was way more tricky!! She was tempted by a supernatural being.
  2. Adam was tempted by his partner. So he gave in to a lesser temptation and if one partner should be considered weaker, it should be him.
  3. Traditionally, the Biblical account places the Fall of Man as the advent of male supremacy. That is when God purportedly says that Adam should “rule over” Eve. But Grimke says they fell together, and should maintain equal status. So how is she going to interpret that “rule over” phrase? Here’s what she says:

 

The truth is that the curse, as it is termed, which was pronounced by Jehovah upon woman, is a simple prophecy. The Hebrew, like the French language, uses the same word to express shall and will. Our translators having been accustomed to exercise lordship over their wives, and seeing only through the medium of a perverted judgment, very naturally, though I think not very learnedly or very kindly, translated it shall instead of will, and thus converted a prediction to Eve into a command to Adam; for observe, it is addressed to the woman and not to the man. (7)

She’s right! God does say “he shall rule over thee.” It’s not to Adam: “You shall rule over her.” So it very well could be “he will rule over you,” and maybe God is even lamenting that!

[She continues the point:]

Man may just as well have endeavored by hard labor to fulfil the prophecy, thorns, and thistles will earth bring forth to thee, as to pretend to accomplish the other, ‘he will rule over thee,’ by asserting dominion over his wife. (8)

 

Here then I plant myself. God created us equal;; - he created us free agents; - he is our Lawgiver, our King and our Judge, and to him alone is woman bound to be in subjection, and to him alone is she accountable for the use of those talents with which her HEavenly Father has entrusted her. One is her Master even Christ. (8)

“Here then I plant myself” reminds me of  Martin Luther saying “Here I stand, I can do no other,” refusing to recant his criticisms that the Catholic Church had gone astray from Christ’s intentions. Grimke is taking a similar stand.

 My religious tradition is one of asking for yourself, knowing for yourself and yet also built on order and authority.  In a recent conversation, a friend expressed how she knew that she should do whatever the religious leader of her congregation asked her to do.  She looked at me expectantly for me to agree.  I appreciated her faith and her viewpoint but my own experience had also taught me how human we all are--religious leaders included.  Like Grimke I feel the need and also a huge gratitude for the opportunity to “settle it on my knees” with the Lord. 

Chapter 8

[Women believe that] to be able to keep their husband’s house, and render his situation comfortable, is the end of her being. ...to be married is too often held up to the view of girls as the sine qua non of human happiness and human existence. For this purpose more than for any other, I verily believe the majority of girls are trained. (48)

I definitely felt that way as I grew up. And boys are not taught the same way. Do you feel like it’s changing now?

 

Let no one think, from these remarks, that I regard a knowledge of housewifery as beneath the acquisition of women. Far from it: I believe that a complete knowledge of household affairs is an indispensable requisite in a woman’s education. (48)

I think housework should not be considered to be beneath anyone, man or woman, of any social class. Cooking, cleaning, and sewing on a button should be considered human skills. We should all be able to take care of our own basic needs and clean up after ourselves.

 

All I complain of is, that our education consists so almost exclusively in culinary and other manual operations. I do long to see the time, when it will no longer be necessary for women to expend so many precious hours in furnishing ‘a well spread table,’ but that their husbands will forego some of their accustomed indulgences in this way, and encourage their wives to devote some portion of their time to mental cultivation, even at the expense of having to dine sometimes on baked potatoes, or bread and butter. (49)

Imagine if Sarah Grimke had channelled all her time and energy into laundry and making meals. The world would have been a different place if she had used her gifts only in housework. John Stuart Mill will talk about this also in The Subjection of Women in 1869, and in 1949 Simone de Beauvoir will talk a lot about women devoting the precious hours of their lives in repetitious, cyclical toil, while men get to bypass all that daily labor and instead spend their precious hours in transcendant projects. Grimke is at the very beginning of this train of thought.

 

There is another and more disastrous consequence arising from this unscriptural notion - women being educated, from earliest childhood, to regard themselves as inferior creatures, have not that self-respect which conscious equality would engender, and hence when their virtue is assailed, they yield to temptation with facility, under the idea that it rather exalts than debases them, to be connected with a superior being. (51)

Fantine (especially in the BBC Les Mis). And so many girls and women. What an astute observation - I think that’s true! Less powerful people want to be associated/attached to more powerful people.

 

I cannot close this letter, without saying a few words on the benefits to be derived by men, as well as women, from the opinions I advocate relative to the equality of the sexes. Many women are now supported, in idleness and extravagance, by the industry of their husbands, fathers, or brothers, who are compelled to toil out their existence, at the counting house, or in the printing office, or some other laborious occupation, while the wife and daughters and sisters take no part in the support of the family, and appear to think that their sole business is to spend the hard bought earnings of their male friends. I deeply regret such a state of things, because I believe that if women felt their responsibility, for the support of themselves, or their families ti would add strength and dignity to their characters, and teach them more true sympathy for their husbands, than is now generally manifested - sympathy which would be exhibited by actions as well as words. Our brethren may reject my doctrine, because it runs counter to common opinions, and because it woulds their pride; but I believe they would be ‘partakers of the benefit’ resulting from the Equality of the Sexes, and would find that woman, as their equal, was unspeakably more valuable than woman as their inferior, both as a moral and an intellectual being. (55)

Lindsay and I mentioned this in our episode on Olympe de Gouges’ Declaration on the Rights of Women and the Female Citizen. We cited a study that found that countries with egalitarian practices report higher levels of happiness for women and for men. One data point that was analyzed was lower suicide rates in Scandinavian men, and the thought is that the men don’t feel such pressure as the sole bread-winner. The women are able to share the load.

Another thought: I remember being at Girls Camp one year and seeing that my daughters and I weren’t the only ones opting out of singing one the camp songs. We opted out of several of those songs, but this one was about only marrying a boy who was rolling in money, and all a boy was good for was money, money, money. I went over to my daughter’s friend Brooke - who was scowling - and asked why she wasn’t singing, and she said “It’s sexist, and it makes me so mad to think of a girl using my brothers like that.”

 

Letter 2: Woman Subject Only to God

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 upright on that ground which God designed us to occupy.

I thought of this as a Ruth Bader Ginsburg quote! "I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks."

 

If (God) has not given us the rights which have, as I conceive, been wrested from us, we shall soon give evidence of our inferiority, and shrink back into that obscurity, which the high souled magnanimity of man has assigned us as our appropriate sphere. [But no!!!:] As I am unable to learn from sacred writ when woman was deprived by God of her equality with man, I shall touch upon a few points in the Scriptures, which demonstrate that no supremacy was granted to man. (10)

 

[God commanded] ‘Thou shalt worship the lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.’ … and not the slightest intimation is given in a single passage of the Bible, that God designed to point woman to man as her instructor. The tenor of his language is always ‘Look to ME, and be ye saved, … for I am God, and there is none else.” (11)

 

All history attests that man has subjected woman to his will, used her as a means to promote his selfish gratifications, 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; and now he looks triumphantly on the ruin he has wrought, and says the being he has thus deeply injured is his inferior. (11)

This is the exact content and tone of Seneca Falls, 10 years later (and will be discussed on the next episode)

 

[Examples of Patriarchs’ wives in the Old Testament:] Sarah was not permitted to enjoy the society of the holy visitant; and as we learn from Peter, that she ‘obeyed Abraham, calling him Lord,’ we may presume he exercised dominion over her. We shall pass on now to Rebecca. In her history, we find another striking illustration of the low estimation in which woman was held. (12)

 

The cupidity of man soon led him to regard woman as property, and hence we find them sold to those who wished to marry them. ...That women were a profitable kind of property, we may gather from the description of a virtuous woman in the last chapter of Proverbs. To work willingly with her hands, to open her hands to teh poor, to clothe herself with silk and purple, to look well to her household, to make fine linen adn sell it, to deliver girdles to teh merchant, and not to eat the break of idleness, seems to have constituted tint eh view of Solomon the perfection of a woman’s character and achievements. The spirit of that age was not favorable to intellectual improvement; (13)

 

Letter 4: Social Intercourse of the Sexes

We approach each other, and mingle with each other, under the constant pressure of a feeling that we are of different sexes, and , instead of regarding each other only in the light of immortal creatures, the mind is fettered by the idea which is early and industriously infused into it, that we must never forget the distinction between male and female. ...Nothing, I believe, has tended more to destroy the true dignity of woman, than the fact that she is approached by man in the character of a female. (22)

 

By flattery, by an appeal to her passions, he seeks access to her heart; and when he has gained her affections, he uses her as the instrument of his pleasure - the minister of his temporal comfort. He finishes himself with a housekeeper, whose chief business is in the kitchen, or the nursery. And whilst he goes abroad and enjoys the means of improvement afforded by collision of intellect with cultivated minds, his wife is condemned to draw nearly all her instruction from books, if she has time to peruse them; and if not, from her meditations, whilst engaged in those domestic duties, which are necessary for the comfort of her lord and master. (23)

 

Now I believe it will be impossible for woman to fill the station assigned her by God, until her brethren mingle with her as an equal, as a moral being; and lose… the idea of her being female. The apostle beautifully remarks, “as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female. (24)

 

Man has inflicted an unspeakable injury upon woman, by holding up to her view her animal nature, and placing in the background her moral and intellectual being. (24)

 

Letters 5-6

Concern women in Asia and Africa. Seems sticky to me for a few reasons; let’s stick to areas that Grimke knows better.


Letter 9: Heroism of women - Women in Authority

I mention these women only to prove that intellect is not sexed; that strength of mind is not sexed; and that our views about the duties of men and the duties of women, the sphere of man and the sphere of woman, are mere arbitrary opinions, differing in different ages and countries, and dependent solely on the will and judgment of erring mortals. 

...a father and a mother, a husband and a wife, have sacred obligations resting on them, which cannot possibly belong to those who do not sustain these relations But these duties and responsibilities do not attach to them as men and as women, but as parents, husbands, and wives. (60)

Written in 1838!!! She would be seen as radical in conservative religious environments, even today!!

Letter 10: Intellect of Woman

Within the last century it has been gravely asserted that “chemistry enough to keep the pot boiling, and geography enough to know the locations of the different rooms in her house, is learning sufficient for a woman.” Byron, who was too sensual to conceive of a pure and perfect companionship between the sexes, would limit the woman’s library to a Bible and a cookery book. (61-62)

I must not omit glancing at the age of chivalry, which has been compared to a golden thread running through the dark ages. During this remarkable era, women who, before this period, had been subject to every species of oppression and neglect, were suddenly elevated into deities, and worshipped with a amad fanaticism. It is not not improbable, however, that even the absurdities of chivalry were beneficial to women, as it raised them from that extreme degradation to which they had been condemned, and prepared the way for them to be permitted to enjoy some scattered rays from the sun of science and literature. [She then lists many women European authors, only of a couple of which I have heard of] (62)

We highlighted several women during this time period in our episode on The Creation of Feminist Consciousness

 

The United States have produced several female writers, some of whom have talents of the highest order. But women, even in this free republic, do not enjoy all the intellectual advantages of men, although there is a perceptible improvement within the last ten or twenty years; and I trust there is a desire awakened in my sisters for soldi acquirements, which will elevate them to their ‘appropriate sphere’ (65)

I am so grateful for the improvements since Sarah Grimke’s time!! Would she be satisfied with the way things are now? On one hand, the Pew Research Center reports that 56% of college undergraduates are women. And the Council of Graduate Studies reported in 2017 that of the 80,000 doctoral degrees awarded that year, 53% were women! (https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2018/10/05/women-are-still-earning-more-doctoral-degrees-than-men-in-the-u-s) That’s amazing!!! I would want to dig into that data though and see who those women are, because my hunch is that certain groups of girls are still being left behind based on race, socioeconomic status, and religious ideology.

 

Letter 11 - Dress of Women

Woman, in all ages and countries, has been the scoff and the jest of her lordly master. If she attempted, like him, to improve her mind, she was ridiculed as pedantic, and driven from the temple of science and literature by coarse attacks and vulgar sarcasms. If she yelded to the pressure of circumstances, and sought relief from the monotony of existence by resorting to the theatre adn the ballroom, by ornamenting her person with flowers and with jewels, while her mind was empty and her heart desolate; she was still the mark at which wit and satire and cruelty levelled their arrows. (66)

 

‘Woman,’ says Adam Clarke, ‘has been invidiously defined, an animal of dress. How long will they permit themselves to be thus degraded?’ I have been an attentive observer of my sex, and I am constrained to believe that the passion for dress, which so generally characterizes them, is one cause why there so it little of that solid improvement and weight of character which might be acquired under almost any circumstances, if the mind were not occupied by the love of admiration, and the desire to gratify personal vanity.  (67)

I know that it is called trifling, and much is said about dressing fashionably, and elegantly, and becomingly, without thinking about it. This I do not believe can be done. If we indulge our fancy in the chameleon caprices of fashion, or in wearing ornamental and extravagant apparel, the mind must be in no small degree engaged in the gratification of personal vanity. ...I do believe one of the chief obstacles in the way of women's elevation to the same platform of human rights, and moral dignity, and intellectual improvement with her brother, on which God placed her, is her love of dress. (70)

  • Sarah Grimke was a Quaker. Quakers took very seriously the Christian ideal of simple, humble dress. And might also have been pendulum-swing reacting to the obsession she saw, which was keeping women from pursuing other, more meaningful endeavors.
  • bell hooks in feminism is for everybody points out that one thing the 1970’s Women’s Lib movement got wrong was denying the desire women have (and humans have!) to look beautiful. She says they lost a lot of women from their cause with their scorn for dressing up and looking pretty, and she is happy to see modern feminism embracing all different looks for women. 

 

Even those men who are superior to such a childish vanity in themselves are, nevertheless, ever ready to encourage it in women. They know that so long as we submit to be dressed like dolls, we never can rise to teh stations of duty and usefulness from which they desire to exclude us; and they are willing to grant us paltry indulgences, which forward their own design of keeping us out of tour appropriate sphere, while they deprive us of essential rights. (71)

Was that true? Was it deliberate? Is it true now?

 

Letter 12 - Legal Disabilities of Women

[Explanation of laws of coverture]

Woman has no political existence… Our kind defenders have legislated away almost all our legal rights, and in the true spirit of such injustice and oppression, have kept us in ignorance of those very laws by which we are governed. They have persuaded us, that we have no right to investigate the laws, and that if we did, we could not comprehend them; they alone are capable of understanding the mysteries of Blackstone. (74-75)

 

Such laws remind me of the reply of some little girls at a children’s meeting held recently at Ipswich. The lecturer told them that God had created four orders of begins with which he had made us acquainted through the Bible. The first was angels, the second was man, the h=third beasts; and now children, what is the fourth? After a pause several girls replied, “women.” (78-79)

 

A woman's personal property by marriage becomes absolutely her husband’s, which at his death, he may leave entirely away from her.

 

And farther, all the avails of her labor are absolutely in the power of her husband. All that she acquires by her industry is his; so that she cannot, with her own honest earnings, become the legal purchaser of any property. (79)

 

With regard to the property of women, there is taxation without representation, for they pay taxes without having the liberty of voting for representatives. And this taxation without representation, be it remembered, was the cause of our REvolutionary war, a grievance so heavy, that it was thought necessary to purchase exemption from it at an immense expense of blood and treasure, yet the daughters of New England, as well as of all the other STates of this free Republic, are suffering a similar injustice. (81)

 

[Regarding women’s punishment in society, where she has denied the right to a jury of her peers because women were not on juries and thus had no one sympathetic to them in trials]:

In ecclesiastical, as well as civil courts, woman is tried and condemned, not by a jury of her peers, but by beings, who regard themselves as her superiors in the scale of creation. (83)

This reminds me of church courts within the LDS Church, and also any church that doesn’t ordain women, including Catholicism and conservative Protestant religions, which are always composed of 100% men. Even bishop’s interviews when teenage girls confess to sins are (in my view) inappropriate. 

 

Letter 13  - Relation of Husband and Wife

Our all-wise and merciful Father made [Eve] as he made Adam, in his own image after his likeness, crowned her with glory and honor, and placed in her hand as well as in his, the sceptre of dominion over the whole lower creation. Where there was perfect equality, and the same ability to receive and comprehend divine truth, and to obey divine injunctions, there could be no superiority. If God had placed Eve under the guardianship of Adam, after having endowed her, as richly as him, with moral perceptions, intellectual faculties, and spiritual apprehensions, he would at once have interposed a fallible being between her and her Maker. He could not, in simple consistency with himself, have done this, for the Bible teems with instructions not to put any confidence in man. (85)

 

In the wealthy classes of society, and those who are in comfortable circumstances, women are exempt from great corporeal exertion, and are protected by public opinion, and by the genial influence of chritiantiy, from much physical ill treatment. Still there is a vast amount of secret suffering endured, from the forced submission of women to the opinions and whims of their husbands. ...Where confidence and love exist, a wife will naturally converse with her husband as with her dearest friend, on all that interests her heart, and there will be a perfectly free interchange of sentiment; but she is no more bound to be governed by his judgment, than he is by hers. They are standing on the same platform of human rights, are equally under the government of God, and accountable to him, and him alone. … A woman who is asked to sign a petition for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, or to join a society for the purpose of carrying forward the annihilation of American slavery, or any other great reformation, not unfrequtnly replies, ‘My husband does not approve of it.’ (87)

 

Women, among the lowest classes of society, so far as my observation has extended, suffer intensely from the brutality of their husbands. Duty as well as inclination has led me, for many years, into the abodes of poverty and sorrow, and I have been amazed at the treatment which women receive at the hands of those who arrogate to themselves the epithet of protectors.  Brute force, the law of violence, rules to a great extent in the poor man’s domicile; and woman is little more than his drudge. (88)

 

If man is constituted the governor of woman, he must be her God; and the sentiment expressed to me lately, by a married man, is perfectly correct: ‘In my opinion,’ said he,’ the greatest excellence to which a married woman can attain, is to worship her husband.’ He was a professor of religion - his wife a lovely and intelligent woman. He only spoke out what thousands think and act. 

 

Women are indebted to Milton [Paradise Lost] for giving to this false notion, confirmation strong as proof of holy write. His Eve is embellished with every personal grace, to gratify the eye of her admiring husband, but he seems to have furnished the mother of mankind with just intelligence enough to comprehend her supposed inferiority to Adam, and to yield unresisting submission to her lord and master. Milton puts into Eve’s mouth the following address to Adam: 

 

My author and disposer, what thou bidst,

Unargued I obey; so God ordains - 

God is thy law, thou mine: to know no more,

Is woman’s happiest knowledge and her praise.

 

This much admired sentimental nonsense is fraught with absurdity and wickedness. If it were true, the commandment of Jehovah should have run thus: Man shall have no other gods before me, and woman shall have no other gods before man. (90)

Women hearken unto their husbands, as they hearken unto God.

Men will be kings and priests unto the most high God; Women will be queens and priestesses to their husbands.

Women’s ears are blessed to hear their husband’s counsel; men’s ears are not blessed to hear their wives’ counsel.

Women are given to their husbands in marriage; men take their wives.

Women veil their faces before the Lord; men do not.

Men call their wives forth; know their wives names. Women do not know their husbands’ names.

 

Sarah Grimke would have walked right out of the temple. 

 

The principal support of the dogma of woman’s inferiority, and consequent submission to her husband, is found in some passages of Paul’s epistles.  ...I was educated to think for myself, and it is a privilege I shall always claim to exercise. Notwithstanding my full belief that the apostle Paul’s testimony, respecting himself, is true, “I was not a whit behind the chiefest of the apostles,” yet I believe his maid was under the influence of Jewish prejudices respecting women, just as Peter’s and the apostles were about the uncleanness of the Gentiles. ‘The Jews,’ says Clarke, ‘would not suffer a woman to read in the synagogue, although a servant, or even a child, had this permission.’I do not conceive that I derogate in the least from his character as an inspired apostle, to suppose that he may have been imbued with the prevalent prejudices against women. (91)

[Paul says] ‘I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.’ Eph 5:23, is a parallel passage. ‘For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church.’ ...To understand this text, it must be observed, that it was a signification either of shame, or subjection, for persons to be veiled, or covered in Eastern countries, contrary to the custom of ours, where the being bare-headed betokens subjection, and being covered superiority and dominion. ……”the man is the image and glory of God, the representation of that glorious dominion and headship which God has over the world. It is the man who is set at the head of this lower creation, and therein bears the resemblance of God. The woman, on the other hand, is the glory of the man: she is his representative. Not but she has dominion over the inferior creatures, and she is a partaker of human nature, and so far is God’s representative too, but it is at second hand. She is the image of god, inasmuch as she is the image of the man. The man was first made, and made head of the creation here below, and therein the image of the divine dominion; and the woman was made out of the man, and shone with a a reflection of his glory, being made superior to the other creatures here below, but in subjection to her husband, and deriving that honor from him, out of whom she was made. The woman was made for the man to be his help meet, and not the man for the woman. She was, naturally, therefore, made subject to him, because made for him, for his use and help and comfort….Henry puts her exactly on a level with the beasts; they were made for the use, help and comfort of man; and according to his commentator, this was the whole end and design of the creation of woman.(93-94)

 

[Grimke then attempts to explain the following scriptures:

‘Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands as unto the Lord. ...As the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.’ (Eph 5:22)

 

‘Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.’ (Col. 3:18)

 

‘Likewise ye wives, be in subjection to your  own husbands; that if any obey not the word, they may also without the word be won by the conversation of the wives.’ (1st Peter 3:2)

 

‘Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life.’ (1st Peter 3:7)]

 

Grimke does some amazing mental gymnastics, proposing that the expression “weaker vessel” means only physically weaker (which she assures us is the better translation). And she posits that the apostles in these scriptures were writing to Christian converts who had married non-Christian spouses - “companions who clung to heathenism.” She gets into the marriage dynamics of mixed-religion marriages and needing to show your spouse respect, and it just feels like a big stretch to me. Why not just say “these guys were sexist because their culture was sexist?” That seems like the obvious explanation to me, and she doesn’t have a problem doing that elsewhere so it’s interesting that she is forcing herself to force the round peg into a square hole in this instance.

 

Letter 14: Ministry of Women

According to the principle which I have laid down, that man and woman were created equal, and endowed by their beneficent Creator with the same intellectual powers and the same moral responsibilities, and that consequently whatever is morally  right for a man to do, is morally right for a woman to do, it follows as a necessary corollary, that if it is the duty of man to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ, it is the duty also of woman. (98)

 

I wish to simply throw my views before thee. If they are based on the immutable foundations of truth, they cannot be overthrown by unkind insinuations, bitter sarcasms, unchristian imputations, or contemptuous ridicule. These are weapons which are unworthy of a good cause. If I am mistaken, … my supposed errors will soon vanish. (99)

 

If Christian ministers are, as I apprehend, successors of the prophets, and not of the priests, then of course, women are now called to that office as well as men, because God has no where withdrawn from them the privilege of doing what is the great business of preachers, viz. To point the penitent sinner to the Redeemer. (102)

 

It is often triumphantly inquired why, if men and women are on an equality, are not women as conspicuous in the Bible as men? I do not intend to assign a reason, but I think one may readily be found in the fact that from the days of Eve to the present time, the aim of man has been to crush her. He has accomplished this work in various ways; sometimes by brute force, sometimes by making her subservient to his worst passions, sometimes by treating her as a doll, and while he excluded from her mind the light of knowledge, decked her person with gewgaws and frippery which he scorned for himself, thus endeavoring to render her like unto a painted sepulchre. (102)

 

And when the voice of God penetrates the deep recesses of her heart and commands her to go and cry int he ears of the people, she is ready to exclaim, ‘Ah, Lord God, behold I cannot speak, for I am a woman.’ I have known women in different religious societies, who have felt like the prophet. ‘His word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing.’ But they have not dared to open their lips, and have endured all the intensity of suffering, produced by disobedience to God, rather than encounter heartless ridicule and injurious suspicions. (103)

Publishing my first piece in Exponent (and the fallout afterward)

Publishing “Dear Mormon Man” (and the fallout afterward)

Giving the talk at Stanford (and the fallout afterward)

Chloe’s note 

This project

 My patriarchal blessing (of all things!!!)

 

‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, said God, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and you're sons and your daughters shall prophesy - and on my servants and on my hand-maidens, I will pour out in those days of my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. (106) ‘In Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female.’ (106)

 

[Grimke attempts to prove the crucial role of women in the early Christian church]: 

We learn also from ecclesiastical history, that female ministers suffered martyrdom in the early ages of the Christian church. In ancient councils, mention is made of deaconesses; and in an edition of the New Testament, printed in 1574, a woman is spoken of as minister of a church . The same word, which, in our common translation, is now rendered a servant of the church, in speaking of Phebe [a woman], is rendered minister, when applied to Tychicus [a man]. A minister, with whom I had lately the pleasure of conversing, remarked, ‘My rule is to expound scripture by scripture, and I cannot deny the ministry of women, because the apostle says, ‘help those women who labored with me in the gospel. ‘ He certainly meant something more tahn pouring out tea for him.” (108) :)

 

Dear Friend, When I last addressed thee, I had not seent the Pastoral Letter of the General Association. It has since fallen into my hands, and I must digress from my intention of exhibiting the condition of women in different parts of the world in order to make some remarks on this extraordinary document. I am persuaded that when the minds of men become emancipated from the thraldom of superstition and ‘traditions of men,’ the sentiments contained in the Pastoral Letter will be recurred to with as much astonishment as the opinions of Cotton Mather and other distinguished men of his day, on the subject of witchcraft. (14)

 

This doctrine of dependence upon man is utterly at variance with the doctrine of the Bible. In that book I find nothing like the softness of woman, nor the sternness of man: both are equally commanded to bring forth the fruits of the Sprit, love, meekness, gentleness, etc. ...nowhere does God say that he made any distinction between us, as moral and intelligent beings. (18)

 

How monstrous, how anti-christian, is the doctrine that woman is to be dependent on man! Where, in all the sacred Scriptures, is this taught? (17)

‘We appreciate’ say the Association, ‘the unostentatious prayers and efforts of woman in advancing the cause of religion at home and abroad, in leading religious inquirers TO THE PASTOR for instruction.’ Several points here demand attention. If public prayers and public efforts are necessarily ostentatious, then… the whole association of Congregational ministers are ostentatious, in the efforts they are making in preaching and prayer to convert souls.

But woman may be permitted to lead religious inquiries to the PASTORS for instruction. Now this is assuming that all pastors are better qualified to give instruction than woman. This I utterly deny. The Lord Jesus says “Come unto ME. ...He points his followers to no man.” (19)

 

The General Association say, that ‘when woman assumes the place and tone of man as a public reformer, our care and protection of her seem unnecessary; we put ourselves in self-defence against her, and her character becomes unnatural.’ Here again the unscriptural notion is that there is a distinction between the duties of men and women as moral beings; that what is virtue in man, is vice in a woman, and women who dare to obey the command of Jehovah, ‘Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression,’ are threatened with having the protection of the brethren withdrawn. If this is all they do, we shall not even know the time when our chastisement is inflicted (funny!) (19)

 

The page of history teems with woman’s wrongs, and it is wet with woman’s tears - For the sake of my degraded sex every where, and for the sake of my brethren, who suffer just in proportion as they place woman lower in the sclae of creation than man, lower than her Creator placed her, I entreat my sisters to arise in all the majesty of moral power, in all the dignity of immortal beings, and plant themselves, side by side, on the platform of human rights, with man. (45)

A call to action! 

 

My present object is to show that, as woman is charged with all the sin that exists in the world, it is her solemn duty to labor for its extinction; and that this she can never do effectually and extensively, until her mind is disenthralled of those shackles which have been riveted upon her by a ‘corrupt public opinion, and a perverted interpretation of the holy Scriptures.’ Woman must feel that she is the equal, and is designed to be the fellow laborer of her brother, or she will be studying to find out the imaginary line which separates the sexes, and divides the duties of men and women into two distinct classes, a separation not even hinted at in the Bible, where we are expressly told, ‘there is neither male nor female, for ye all all one in Christ Jesus.’ (116)

 

I do not ask anyone to believe my statements, or adopt my conclusions, because they are mine; but I do earnestly entreat any sisters to lay aside their prejudices, and examine these subjects for themselves, regardless of the ‘traditions of men,’ because they are intimately connected with their duty and their usefulness in the present important crisis. (119)

Now whether our brethren have defrauded us intentionally, or unintentionally, the wrong we suffer is equally the same. For years they have been spurring us up in the performance of our duties. The immense usefulness and the vast influence of woman have been eulogized and called into exercise, and many a blessing has been lavished upon us, and many a prayer put up for us, because we have labored by day and by night to clothe and feed and educate young men, whilst our own bodies sometimes suffer for want of comfortable garments, and our minds are left in almost utter destitution of that improvement which we are toiling to bestow upon the brethren. (120)

One of the duties which devolve upon women … is to prepare themselves for more extensive usefulness, by making use of those religious and literary privileges and advantages that are within their reach, if they will only stretch out their hands and possess them. By doing this, they will become better acquainted with their rights as moral beings, and with their responsibilities growing out of those rights: they will regard themselves, as they really are, FREE AGENTS, immortal beings, amenable to no tribunal but that of Jehovah, and bound not to submit to any restriction imposed for selfish purposes, or to gratify that love of power which has reigned in the heart of man from Adam down to the present time. (122)

[Grimke points out that most churches do not take all of Paul’s injunctions literally. Paul said, ‘Let your women keep silence in the church,’] ...if the apostle meant what his words imply, when taken in the strictest sense, then women have no right to teach sabbath or day schools, or to open their lips to sing in the assemblies of the people; yet young and delicate women are engaged in all these offices; they are expressly trained to exhibit themselves, and raise their voices to a high pitch in the choirs of our places or worship. ...Why, then, are we permitted to break this injunction in some points, and so sedulously warned not to overstep the bounds set for us by our brethren [emphasis Grimke’s] in another? Simply, as I believe, because in the one case we observe their views and their interests, and act in subordination to them. (118)

This is true in so many ways. Patriarchal church leaders of all denominations choose which scriptural passages to overlook, which to re-frame, and which to keep strictly according to what they think is best. They are acting according to their own understanding and their own biases, but they claim their authority rests in scripture. 


This phenomenon is pointed out in Rachel Held Evan’s A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband 'Master.’ She used these scriptures as her guide, and followed them exactly for a whole year, which made her wonderful husband extremely uncomfortable.


  1. Thou shalt submit to thy husband’s will in all things. (Genesis 3:16; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1; Ephesians 5:22; 1 Corinthians 11:3; Colossians 3:18)
  2. Thou shalt devote thyself to the duties of the home. (Proverbs 14:1; 31:10– 31; 1 Timothy 5:14; Titus 2:4– 5)
  3. Thou shalt mother. (Genesis 1:28; Psalm 128:3; 1 Timothy 5:14)
  4. Thou shalt nurture a gentle and quiet spirit. (1 Peter 3:3–4; Titus 2:3–5; 1 Timothy 3:11)
  5. Thou shalt dress modestly. (Genesis 24:65; Deuteronomy 22:5; 1 Timothy 2:8– 10; 1 Peter 3:3)
  6. Thou shalt cover thy head when in prayer. (1 Corinthians 11:3– 16)
  7. Thou shalt not cut thy hair. (1 Corinthians 11:15)
  8. Thou shalt not teach in church. (1 Corinthians 14:33– 35; 1 Timothy 2:12)
  9. Thou shalt not gossip. (Numbers 12:1– 10; Proverbs 26:20; 1 Timothy 5:13– 14)
  10. Thou shalt not have authority over a man. (1 Timothy 2:12)

The point is, of course, that no one follows all the scriptures’ statements literally. And so then we have to ask, whose interpretations do we follow, and why? Why do they have more of a right to know than we do? Oftentimes it’s because we’re trained to trust authority, and in most Christian denominations, authority = men.

This ties back to Grimke’s earlier letters on education--an educated person can think, question, interpret for themselves.   They can read the Bible themselves. What Grimke’s father said when he found out Sarah was teaching the Bible and educating slaves makes the exact point can can be applied to us all--it would make them unfit for slavery--I would add mentally and physically.

 

Now whether our brethren have defrauded us intentionally, or unintentionally, the wrong we suffer is equally the same. For years they have been spurring us up in the performance of our duties. The immense usefulness and the vast influence of woman have been eulogized and called into exercise, and many a blessing has been lavished upon us, and many a prayer put up for us, because we have labored by day and by night to clothe and feed and educate young men, whilst our own bodies sometimes suffer for want of comfortable garments, and our minds are left in almost utter destitution of that improvement which we are toiling to bestow upon the brethren. (120)

One of the duties which devolve upon women … is to prepare themselves for more extensive usefulness, by making use of those religious and literary privileges and advantages that are within their reach, if they will only stretch out their hands and possess them. By doing this, they will become better acquainted with their rights as moral beings, and with their responsibilities growing out of those rights: they will regard themselves, as they really are, FREE AGENTS, immortal beings, amenable to no tribunal but that of Jehovah, and bound not to submit to any restriction imposed for selfish purposes, or to gratify that love of power which has reigned in the heart of man from Adam down to the present time. (122)

They will be enabled to see the simple truth, that God has made no distinction between men and women as moral beings ;that the distinction now so much insisted upon between male and female virtues is as absurd as it is unscriptural, and has been the fruitful source of much mischief - granting to man a license for the exhibition of brute force and conflict on the battle field...fostering selfishness, and the exercise of irresponsible power in the circle of home- and to woman a permit to rest on an arm of flesh, and to regard modesty and delicacy, and all the kindred virtues, as peculiarly appropriate to her. Now to me it is perfectly clear, that WHATSOEVER IT IS MORALLY RIGHT FOR A MAN TO DO, IT IS MORALLY RIGHT FOR A WOMAN TO DO;  and that confusion must exist in the moral world, until woman takes her stand on the same platform with man, and feels that she is clothed by her Maker with the same rights, and of course, that upon her devolve the same duties.(122-123)

 


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Breaking Down Patriarchy
An Essential Texts Book Club
Breaking Down Patriarchy is a podcast for everyone! Learn about the creation of patriarchy and those who have challenged it as you listen to bookclub-style discussions of essential historical texts. Gain life-changing epiphanies and practical takeaways through these smart, relatable conversations.

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Amy Allebest

I grew up in Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, reading, writing, drawing, singing, and practicing the piano and violin. I attended Brigham Young University, where I met Erik Allebest during my first week of freshman year, studied abroad in Israel, lived in Chile for a year and a half as a missionary, and married Erik all before graduating with a degree in English. Erik and I moved around - to Colorado, Southern California, Utah, Spain, and Northern California - while Erik started and ran chess businesses for a living (primarily chess.com) and I stayed home to raise our four children. Those four kids have become brilliant, hilarious people and are our very best friends. I am a long-time trail runner, a recent CrossFitter, a lifelong reader and writer, and an almost-graduate of Stanford University's Master's of Liberal Arts program.