Episode 23

The UN Open Letter to the Women of the World, and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by Eleanor Roosevelt

Published on: 20th April, 2021

Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Today we will be covering two speeches by Eleanor Roosevelt that were delivered to the United Nations in the aftermath of World War 2. First, an Open Letter to the Women of the World, and second, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Roosevelt referred to the declaration in particular as being a new “Magna Carta” for humanity, and it truly was a revolutionary document that continues to be a reference point for international human rights. But before we dive into these remarkable texts, I want to introduce my reading partner for today, Lucy Allebest. Hi, Lucy, thanks for being here!

Lucy: Hi! Thanks for having me!

Amy: Lucy is my second daughter. A fun fact about my three daughters is that they all have different hair and eye colors. We call them our “neopolitan pack” because we have a chocolate, a strawberry, and a vanilla, and Lucy is our strawberry, with red hair and green eyes. She’s also about 5 inches taller than I am. So Lucy, can you tell us a little more about yourself?

Lucy: Of course! I am currently a senior in high school, which means much of my time is spent doing school work and college applications. But in my free time I enjoy writing, doing theatre,  especially Shakespeare, and learning about all things History. I’m also an excellent organizer, and I’ve been told I’m good at doing accents from all over the British Isles, but no I will not demonstrate. 

 

Amy: And then I like to ask my reading partners what Breaking Down Patriarchy  means to them, or why they wanted to be a part of this project.

 

Lucy: I was so excited to be a part of this project not only because I’m so proud of my mom for all of the work that she has put in, but also because I feel like it is my responsibility as a young woman to educate myself on what’s essentially my history. As someone who loves history and wants to study it further in college, I think it is crucial that I learn the stories of half of the human  population. I honestly feel let down by how little my public education has taught me about women’s history, and I can’t imagine it’s going to get dramatically better even in college. It seems like people don’t study women’s history unless they major in Women’s studies. So in order to fill in that huge gap in my knowledge of history and do what I can to resist the patriarchy which has always frustrated me, I was eager to take these first steps on my journey towards enlightenment and empowerment. 

 

Amy: Yes it’s true - I had you show me your AP US History textbook that one time to see how many women were in there, and it’s better than when I was in HS, but still for the most part they’re just sidelined in those special blue-highlighted paragraphs.

 

Lucy: Yeah, they’re like “fun facts!” I got the sense that my teacher was adding more material to the curriculum that wasn’t in the book. Which I was really grateful for, but at the same time when she would add extra stuff about women, I kept thinking, “why isn’t this in the text book?”

Amy: Well I should thank your teacher then, because you ended up knowing a ton more than I had ever learned about History in general, and about women’s history specifically. In fact that’s why I asked you to do this episode on the UN declarations and Eleanor Roosevelt - because one day you were talking about it and teaching me all kinds of things I had never heard before.

 

So before we get into the text, can you tell us about the author and the historical context that led to Eleanor Roosevelt writing these speeches?

 

Lucy:

Yes! Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born on October 11, 1884. Sadly, both of her parents and one of her brothers died when she was young. At 15, she attended school in London, then returned to the U.S., and when she was 21 years old she married her fifth cousin once removed, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in 1905. The Roosevelts' marriage was complicated from the beginning by Franklin's controlling mother, Sara, and after Eleanor discovered her husband's affair with her secretary Lucy Mercer in 1918, she resolved to seek fulfillment in leading a public life of her own. She persuaded Franklin to stay in politics after he was stricken with a paralytic illness in 1921, which cost him the normal use of his legs, and began giving speeches and appearing at campaign events in his place. Following Franklin's election as Governor of New York in 1928, and throughout the remainder of Franklin's public career in government, Roosevelt regularly made public appearances on his behalf, and as First Lady, while her husband served as president, she significantly reshaped and redefined the role of First Lady.

Though widely respected in her later years, Roosevelt was a controversial First Lady at the time that her husband held office. FDR served four terms in office - this was before the two-term limit was put in place - making her the longest-serving first lady of the United States. She was often criticized for her outspokenness, particularly on civil rights for African-Americans. She was also the first presidential spouse to hold regular press conferences, write a daily newspaper column, write a monthly magazine column, host a weekly radio show, and speak at a national party convention. On a few occasions, she publicly disagreed with her husband's policies.

She advocated for expanded roles for women in the workplace, the civil rights of African Americans and Asian Americans, and the rights of World War II refugees. Following her husband's death in 1945, Roosevelt remained active in politics for the remaining 17 years of her life. She pressed the United States to join and support the United Nations and became its first delegate. She served in this capacity from 1945 to 1952. She also served as the first chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights and oversaw the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Later, she chaired the John F. Kennedy administration's Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. By the time of her death, on November 7, 1962, Roosevelt was regarded as "one of the most esteemed women in the world" and in her obituary The New York Times called her "the object of almost universal respect." 

 

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Amy: And one more piece of context, which will help us understand these speeches is remembering the historical moment in which they were written.

Remember that World War 1, from 1914-1918, had been called “the war to end all wars.” The carnage that came with automatic weapons and chemical warfare was unlike anything human beings had ever done to each other before - by the end, 20 million people had died, and 21 million had been wounded. This loss of life collectively traumatized the countries involved to the point that people said that “God died in the trenches.” 

Can you imagine how veterans of World War 1 and their families must have felt as they faced another World War within their own lifetimes? 

 

And this time the human cost was absolutely staggering. By the end of World War 2, it had ended up being the deadliest military conflict in history. An estimated total of 70–85 million people perished, and an estimated 25,000,000 were wounded. 

 

Adding to the grief of death and injury, it was only gradually that the world learned of the full extent of the Nazi campaign against Jewish people (and others they deemed undesirable). After the war was over and the Allies entered the concentration camps, they saw the gas chambers and the mass graves, and learned of the “final solution” of genocide. 

 

It was in this context that the Allied countries banded together with other countries joining them, and made the goal of ending all war. They created the United Nations, and its first charter affirmed “faith in fundamental human rights, and dignity and worth of the human person,” and they committed all members to promote "universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion". The first meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations was held in London in January, 1946. During this convention, Eleanor Roosevelt addressed a meeting of women and read to them an “open letter to the women of the world,” inviting them to sign the document. 

 

And this is a really cool moment on the podcast, because for the first time, we’re going to actually hear a clip of the document, read by the woman who wrote it. We looked for a clip of Virginia Woolf’s voice for last week’s episode, but there’s only one recording of her, and it’s not of her reading her work. So this will be really special to hear Eleanor Roosevelt herself. Here she is, reading the first part of the Open Letter to the Women of the World.

 

(Insert recording)

 

Amy: Isn’t that amazing to hear her voice? 

 

So now we’re going to read An Open Letter to the Women of the World, and make some comments as we go. It’s quite a short speech, and then we’ll go to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Lucy, do you want to start us off?

 

Lucy: Yes! The speech starts:

 

“This first Assembly of the United Nations marks the second attempt of the peoples of the world to live peaceably in a democratic world community. This new chance for peace was won through the joint efforts of men and women working for common ideals of human freedom at a time when the need for united effort broke down barriers of race, creed and sex.

"In view of the variety of tasks which women performed so notably and valiantly during the war, we are gratified that 18 women delegates and advisers are representatives from 11 of the member states taking part in the beginning of this new phase of international effort. We hope their participation in the work of the United Nations Organization may grow and may increase in insight and skill. To this end, we call on the governments of the world to encourage women everywhere to take a more active part in national and international affairs, and on women to come forward and share in the work of peace and reconstruction as they did in the war and resistance.”

 

I learned quite a bit about what the women actually did during the war in my US History class last year, and it was shocking. In previous wars such as the American Revolution and the Civil War, we really only hear about women contributing to the war effort by nursing wounded soldiers, sending information through letters, and sewing uniforms and flags. But in the Second World War when most of the men were gone, women took over literally every job that the men had done before. They were in factories welding huge metal parts for planes, manufacturing weapons, and actually ended up being more productive than the men had been. At their height, they were churning out 4,000 tanks and 4,500 planes per month. This is why we now look back on symbols like Rosie the Riveter; they weren’t just sending food and managing their family’s finances, they were wielding power tools and many were even fighting! There were several civilian organizations like the Women Airforce Service Pilots and Women’s Army Corps but others were officially in the military with the Coast Guard and Volunteer Emergency Service with the Navy. But of course it was very difficult to be a woman in these male-focused environments. There were very few opportunities for women of color, the women who were hired in factories during the war were immediately fired when it ended, and there were even cases where female pilots were killed by their male counterparts. Men would put sugar or rags in the women’s engines, acid in their parachutes, or slash their tires which led to forced landings and sometimes deadly crashes. It was all because they felt threatened by women entering what they believed to be their sphere. It takes a lot of insecurity and misogyny to risk sabotaging your own military for the sake of establishing dominance. As for the women at home, there were in total about 19 million women working and until the men came home, the role of women and the family was entirely reconstructed. When the men did come home, however, everything was restored to how it had been before. Women who had fought were not given veterans status until the ‘70s, the military made no official recognition of their contributions, and the expectation of the subservient housewife was firmly reinstated. 

 

Amy: Wow, that is so interesting. And like I said, I had never learned about it until you were talking about it while you were taking the class. But actually since then I’ve noticed it mentioned twice in different media: they talk about it on “Call the Midwife,” and they mentioned it on the show “Agent Carter.” So it’s great that that story is being told. 

Ok, here is the next part:

"We recognize that women in various parts of the world are at different stages of participation in the life of their communities, that some of them are prevented by law from assuming the full rights of citizenship, and that they may therefore see their immediate problems somewhat differently.”

This is such an important point. Even within our own country right now, even within my own circle of women, I personally know women who believe they should “obey” their husbands, not leave the domestic sphere, and who were raised to be “ladylike” and demure their whole lives. And I personally know women who were raised by feminist activist mothers and who are leaders in their careers and in every realm of their lives. And everything in between. I know women who have chosen to have no children, and I know women who have chosen to have 11 children, and everything in between. 

And that’s just among women I know!! In my class on International Women’s Health and Human Rights  - which is offered online on Coursera if anyone is interested - it’s taught by Anne Firth Murray, and it’s really an incredible class - we studied child marriage, where girls are married off at ages 12-16 to much older men. This is still very commonly practiced in some places. We studied female genital cutting, which is still very common in some places. We studied education rates in different places - there are so many girls in our world right now who have to drop out of school to help at home at age 11 and then get married and have babies every year with no birth control for the rest of their lives. Even just a few years ago, women in Saudi Arabia were still fighting for the right to vote and to get drivers licences. In some countries women put themselves in grave danger when they advocate for greater freedom - think of Malala Yousefsai. So anyway, I think it’s really wise that Roosevelt acknowledges the different circumstances that women find themselves in, within each country, and from country to country. And we women need to learn about each other’s situations, and to support each other, at whatever point on the path we are.

 

Amy: Ok, Lucy, can you read the next part?

Lucy: Yep!

 

"Finding ourselves in agreement on these points, we wish as a group to advise the women of all our countries of our strong belief that an important opportunity and responsibility confronts the women of the United Nations:—

"1—To recognize the progress women made during the war and to participate actively in an effort to improve their standard of life in their countries, and participate in the work of reconstruction so that there will be qualified women ready to accept responsibility when new opportunities arise.

This refers to the information I just shared about women’s advances (out of necessity!) during the war.

"2—To train their children, boys and girls alike, to understand world problems and the need for international cooperation....

"3—Not to permit themselves to be misled by anti-democratic movements now or in the future.

"4—To recognize that the goal of full participation in the life and responsibilities of their countries and of the world community is a common objective toward which the women of the world should assist one another."

Amy: If it weren’t for this history project studying all of these essential texts, I don’t think I would appreciate what a big deal those statements are. Especially #2 and #4 - Roosevelt says that we need to train boys and girls alike to understand world problems. She says men and women should have the goal of full participation in the life and responsibilities of their countries and the world community. This was written just a few years after Virginia Woolf!! Look how much has changed from the time of “separate spheres” and the “angel in the house.” Women just one generation prior to this were being actively discouraged and even prohibited from full participation in the life of their country! This is really amazing, and it seems to me that the war changed things drastically in the way that women saw themselves.

And of course #3 is important too - she says women should not allow themselves to be misled by anti-democratic movements. This is of course in the wake of a fascist dictatorship nearly overrunning all of Europe, and she calls on women everywhere to be educated, critical thinkers so they won’t be vulnerable to being deceived.

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Amy: Ok, so next we have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Lucy, can you tell us a little bit about that?

Lucy:

A few months after the U.N.’s first meeting in January of 1946, they decided to draft an International Bill of Rights. The whole world was reeling from the atrocities that they were learning about that had happened during the war, and the UN decided there needed to be a declaration that people could point to to define the rights of all human beings, to keep such tragedies from happening again. The committee had 18 members from various national, religious, and political backgrounds, so as to try to be representative of humanity. In February 1947, the Commission established a special Universal Declaration of Human Rights Drafting Committee, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt of the United States, to write the articles of the Declaration. The Committee met in two sessions over the course of two years.

 

Amy: The document consists of a preamble and thirty articles, some of which have multiple sub-points, so we’re not going to get through all of them. Instead, Lucy and I each chose a couple of points each, and we’ll take turns highlighting the ones that stuck out to us the most.

 

So I’ll start with the preamble.


Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948


Amy: Preamble


(Use of the word “whereas” - we were both thrown off by this word, because we think of whereas meaning “n contrast or comparison with the fact that”


But there’s a second meaning, especially in legal preambles, which means “taking into consideration the fact that.” And that’s how it’s used here.



Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable

rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice

and peace in the world,


Doing this history project has given me such perspective - having read the Declaration of Independence in the US and the Declaration of the Rights of Man in France, both of which completely neglected women and people of color who were at the time enslaved… I am really emotional reading this and thinking FINALLY.  It says all members of the human family. That means every. single. person. 




Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous

acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world

in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom

from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common People,


Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last

resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be

protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between

nations,

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their

faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person

and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote

social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,


Equal rights of men and women. Finally. Now people can choose whether or not they will work to make that ideal a reality, but at least we have now articulated it as an aspiration!!



Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in cooperation

with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of

human rights and fundamental freedoms,


Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the

greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, therefore,

The General Assembly,

Proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of

achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and

every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by 

teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by

progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and

effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States

themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.


I wonder if any countries and entities actively oppose this article? Some probably don’t know about it, some ignore it, some might think it’s condescending for a bunch of countries to get together and presume to write a code and then present it, right?


Lucy: Right. It’s the United Nations of…. Not all the nations… so there’s no reason for any country not a part of the UN to pay attention. I thought of it like a classroom of kids where some of them form a club and say “the classroom must follow the golden rule!” which is great, but they have no more power than any kid in the class who isn’t a part of the club. The club could inspire other kids to join or follow their rules, but the bully can still do whatever they want. Obviously the UN is an official organization, but they only really have influence among themselves. 


Amy: Right! And we could have a whole conversation about whether the United Nations has the right to impose its will and its values on non-participating countries. But in the interest of time I guess we’ll have to look into that later. And thinking about this proclamation about the equal rights of women, I wonder if some groups actively say “no, we do not believe in the equal rights and dignity of all people. Or if they just disagree about how “equal” should be defined. Like under the Taliban, where they have prohibited girls from going to school and women from working, do they say, as Aristotle did, “women are not equal in dignity and value,” and they have actual disdain for women? Like real misogyny, which means hatred of women? Or do they espouse benevolent patriarchy, like in the Victorian cult of domesticity, “women are equal; they do their very important job at home.”? 

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Ok, I’m also going to take Article 14 and 16.


Amy: Article 14


1. Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.


Don’t read: (2. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.)


Thinking about asylum seekers always breaks my heart. Life is just so unfair with the luck of the draw of which country we happen to be born into, which family, which neighborhood we happen to be born into. This is a constant presence in our lives because our family has a strong connection to Latin America - my husband and I each separately lived in South America when we were in college and we have many people whom we love very much who still live there. And living in California all these years, and sending you guys to Spanish immersion school, we all speak Spanish and we have just always had dear friends from all over Latin America, and we’ve had some awareness of the situation in some Latin American countries where people struggle with safety and security through no fault of their own. I am continually stunned at people’s lack of empathy and lack of willingness to ask themselves honestly what they would do if they were in someone else’s shoes. 


Rachelle Burnside, who read The Angel in the House with me, did a project on young women living in our area who were asylum seekers from San Salvador, and she asked me to translate the testimonies of teenage girls she had interviewed. These girls’ family members had been murdered, and they said they lived in constant fear of being raped by gang members. Every day, all day long, wherever they went they were scared of being raped.There is a violent, patriarchal culture of men’s ownership of women’s bodies in El Salvador which manifests itself in gang initiation rituals of gang raping teenage girls, and gang leaders choosing which virgins they want for themselves and branding them with branding irons. And several of the girls Rachelle interviewed also talked about their school teachers cornering them in the classroom and telling them they would only give them an A in the class if they slept with them. 


So the parents or in some cases the grandparents or other family members of these teenage girls had taken them and escaped and somehow gotten to the United States to seek asylum from this gender-based violence.


Because that’s what you do when you’re a parent and you see that your daughter  is in daily danger of being raped, and your son is in daily danger of being murdered, or being recruited to be in a gang that commits rape and murder. You get your kids out of danger, and you do whatever it takes to get somewhere safe. 


So that’s what I think about when I read that the asylum-seeker has the right to “seek and enjoy asylum.” And again, imagining how I would feel if I had been born somewhere that wasn’t safe for me or especially for my children, I would do anything to keep them safe. I would go anywhere. Legal or not. 


And when we’re thinking about the ethics of immigration and asylum, I think we need to run that philosophical test that I mentioned on the episode on The Vindication of the Rights of Woman with Lindsay, where I talked about the “veil of ignorance.” Where you ask yourself whether you would be willing to get dropped onto the globe and be born anywhere, in anybody else’s circumstances. If not, then the system isn’t just. And I think that’s what this article is trying to address and mitigate the damage for. If I were born into a gang-infested neighborhood in San Salvador, I would need to be able to get out. So it’s only fair to make a law that other people can get out if they need to, because those people could just as easily have been me.


I completely agree and something that I thought of was the hypocrisy of white Americans telling especially non-white immigrants that they are not welcome here. Every single white American came from immigrants. I think about my own heritage and because my people came from Ireland during the Potato Famine and the Netherlands after WWII, I have no right to look at another person escaping poverty or war and say they deserve asylum less. 


https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/03/el-salvador-women-gangs-ms-13-trump-violence/554804/


https://psmag.com/magazine/violent-femmes




Amy: Article 16: Marriage

1. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.


What?? How did I never hear this referenced when marriage rights for the LGBTQ+ community were being debated in the US?


I think it’s just another case of language that isn’t as inclusive as we would like nowadays. It protects the marriage rights of individuals “without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion” but it says nothing about sexual orientation or gender identity. In this case we have to celebrate the win for interracial couples and remind ourselves that this was written in 1948. 


2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.


I don’t have time here to talk about child marriage, but if listeners are interested, please look up the work of National Geographic photographer Stephanie Sinclair, and her project, “Too Young to Wed” in the New York Times. Also, the New York Times published an article about child marriage in the United States, which was really eye-opening.


https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2011/06/child-brides/

https://www.nytimes.com/series/too-young-to-wed

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/14/opinion/americas-child-marriage-problem.html


3. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.


Families should never be separated. Children should never, ever, ever, be separated from their parents for any reason.



Lucy:  Article 18

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.


This is such an important article because of the persistence of discrimination and hate crimes especially against the Jewish and Muslim communities. This declaration of religious rights is another thing that really impresses me and I wish people would reflect more on this issue. 


One part of these articles that I’ve noticed is the use of only he/him pronouns, and while this does not surprise me in the slightest, I still find it frustrating. Men don’t think about it, but every time non-male people hear only those pronouns, we notice and we - or at least I - think “that does not apply to me. I am not included in that.” We actually talked about it briefly in my Civics class because some people have used that as a justification for not having a female president, because in the Constitution the president is always referred to as “he.” And Article I, which we skipped over, talks about treating one another “in a spirit of brotherhood” which should be siblinghood! Of course in cases like these it’s just because the writers are used to this grammar, but the fact that our language is set up in this exclusive way makes me frustrated. The way we talk about people has always been focused on men. 


Like Simone de Beauvoir pointed out in The Second Sex, the man is “primary,” he is the main character of the whole human story. The woman is a secondary, supporting character. So our language is male because the protagonist speaker is male.


Lucy: Article 19

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.


My question here is what happens when someone’s opinion involves denying another person their rights? We see this controversy often today with the sometimes ambiguous line between free speech and hate speech. Free speech is so important to democracy and it has been taken away on several occasions in American history. There was censorship in the late 1790s when the Adams administration found newspaper articles on the government too unflattering, and there have been instances where the freedoms of speech and press have been limited like during the Civil War and with the Sedition Act during the first Red Scare. That being said, speech that incites violence should not be protected. But then we have to ask how to define violence and who gets to decide? This is all to say it’s difficult to firmly establish universal rights if there’s a paradox in which someone has the right to take away another person’s right. 




Lucy: Article 25

1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.


2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.


I absolutely agree that all children are entitled to special care and assistance. And motherhood is beautiful and I love you, Mama. But it has always been weird to me that women and children are grouped together. I thought of the movie Titanic where in the state of emergency they say “women and children first.” Like yes put the children on the boats. But then prioritize people who can’t swim or something like that but dividing it by gender doesn’t make sense to me. There are some circumstances where a bigger, stronger person is better able to do the job and generally speaking, men are taller and have more muscle mass. Those cases of physical safety used to be really relevant for our ancient ancestors, but those situations are very very rare now. But society still makes rules based on that! Women are still grouped in with the kids as if they’re not adults.  


That’s absolutely true! And I feel the same way - I bristle at things like that too. But I was just reading The Sacred Hoop, about gender practices in Native American traditions, and I read that in the Laguna tradition, the penalty for killing a woman is twice as severe as the penalty for killing a man, because they consider all the lives that that woman might have brought into the world. So they revere women because of their potential for giving life. Contrast that against the passages that we read in the Bible where that man gave a gang of rapists his wife for them to do what they wanted with her, and then when she died from the injuries, he treated it like they had killed his cow or something. Do women have special status as life givers? We are smaller, on average, we do have smaller muscles, on average. So we are  more physically vulnerable. And the life-giving function of our bodies is pretty amazing. But maybe we just frame it as “all human life is precious and sacred.” In the case of the Titanic I’m afraid it’s true though that I would have frozen to death before Dad, just because he’s so much bigger than me. :(


Yeah that makes sense. I’ve noticed that there are so many issues that people turn into issues of gender that really don’t need to be. Especially many girls- including myself- grew up hearing boys say “oh so if boys and girls are equal then I can hit a girl?” Dude NO but that’s because no one should be hitting anyone. That’s an issue of violence. Men should not be hitting men either. Unless someone wants to be hit like in martial arts or something but then again that’s to do with consent. My brother’s Jiu Jitsu studio is about ⅓ girls so sure, if a boy and a girl want to fight, go for it. If any combination of any gender wants to fight, that’s fine as long as they consent. You can only hit a person if they want to be hit. But my guess is that the majority of boys who are hit by other boys did not give consent. And that needs to change too. A major argument against the Equal Rights Amendment since it was first introduced has been that women shouldn’t be drafted. And many women backed that too because most people don’t want to go to war. I know I don’t, but I also don’t want special treatment if I’m just as capable of doing something. In this case, I don’t entirely understand why anyone should ever have to be drafted anyway but that’s because I think war is stupid. So once again, an issue of violence. And if you establish equality, you can’t have it both ways. If you’re a woman and you don’t want to be drafted, then channel your activism into anti-war efforts and take the power away from the aggressive men who are starting wars. You can’t give women all the privileges that men have and then give them special treatment because that’s not equality. I don’t want to be treated like Adam’s rib and I also don’t want to be treated like a weird angel baby. I just want to be a person. 


  • Amy:

So going back to the original article, where it says Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance,  I think that that’s because mothers and little children really are at a very vulnerable stage of their lives. For example in any refugee situation, women and children are at far greater risk of starvation and of violence, just because in general their bodies are so taxed by physical hardship - just by virtue of pregnancy or of being small. But on the other hand, I just watched the documentary on Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and one of her cases makes me think that maybe it’s  “parenthood and childhood” that should be protected.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued a case before the supreme court in 1975, Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, where she represented a man whose wife had tragically died in childbirth, and he wanted to be able to stay home and take care of his newborn baby. He was denied survivor benefits under Social Security, which permitted widows but not widowers to collect special benefits while caring for their. So if he had died, his wife would have been able to get that help, but he couldn’t because he was a man. Ginsburg argued that the statute discriminated against male survivors of workers by denying them the same protection as their female counterparts.


  • So going back to the original article, where it says “ more time off after the birth of a baby because the body needs to heal. We would also give time off of work to a man whose body needs to heal from a car crash or from cancer. And after the baby is born, society should rally around the family and give the parents time to take care of the baby - maybe the mother is going to breast-feed. Great! Or maybe the father is going to bottle-feed. Great! They should be supported.



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Amy: So as we come to the end of our discussion, what would you say is a takeaway that you will remember from these documents?


Lucy: I’m so impressed and frankly shocked by how progressive so many of these arguments are, specifically related to gender of course but also race, religion, and education. What Roosevelt and the general UN outline here sound like they could have been written yesterday. But the fact that these ideas are not new, that they’ve been introduced time and time again and are still debated and ignored… is incredibly frustrating. It makes me both hopeful for our future and disappointed that we still seem so far away from the same ideals we’ve had for decades. 


Amy: One takeaway for me was the video of watching the “Open Letter to the Women of the World” on YouTube. Again, because I’ve read all these books I have this sense of the timeline in my head - how the system of male dominance kept women from leadership, from civic engagement - literally kept them out of the locked room where all the decisions and laws were made about human life. So seeing Eleanor Roosevelt leading an international meeting of female delegates from all over the world was really moving for me. And then not only that, not only did she read the women’s letter in the women’s meeting, she led the committee that produced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so she actually led a group of men and women, and read that letter as well. And that’s maybe an even bigger deal, because it wasn’t just a woman leading women and children, it was a woman leading a group of adults, including men. 


Lucy: I think that’s so powerful. We are so used to seeing men in charge of men and women and women in charge of women, but women in charge of mixed groups is much needed. People of all genders should be looking up to wise and compassionate leaders, period. 


Amy: I agree! 

Well that wraps it up! Thank you so much for doing this, Lucy. I learned so much and I think you’re amazing.


For our next episode of Breaking Down Patriarchy, we’ll be reading The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics, by Riane Eisler, who you’ll remember also wrote our very first essential text of the podcast, The Chalice and the Blade. The Real Wealth of Nations was written in 2007 - so it’s out of order chronologically in terms of its publication - but we’re doing it now because we’re kind of at an inflection point in history between the era of Virginia Woolf and Eleanor Roosevelt in the first half of the 20th Century… and the gigantic seismic shift that will happen when Simone de Beauvoir publishes her world-changing book, The Second Sex, in 1949 in France, 1953 in the US. So we’re going to insert The Real Wealth of Nations right here. This book applies Eisler’s framework of partnership vs dominator models to systems of economics, and it shows how those economic frameworks impact everyday human life. It’s an amazing book, so see if you can buy a copy or check it out from the library, and then also get very excited because my reading partner for this book is the incredible Dr. Julie Hanks, who is not only a famous thought leader in the field of mental health, but also wrote her PhD dissertation on the work of Riane Eisler, and is an expert on the partnership model. So keep reading, keep sharing the podcast with family and with friends - especially friends outside of your own faith tradition and community - and join us for The Real Wealth of Nations, next time on Breaking Down Patriarchy.



Notes we didn’t get to


Article 1

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.


Article 2

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.


Article 3

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person.


Article 4

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall beprohibited in all their forms.


Article 5

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. 


Article 6

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.


Article 7

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such Discrimination.


Article 8

Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.


Article 9

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.


Article 10

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.


Article 11

1. Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

2. No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.


Article 12

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.


Article 13

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.


2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.


Article 15

1. Everyone has the right to a nationality.

2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.


Article 17

1. Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.

2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.


Article 20

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

2. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.


Article 21 

1. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

2. Everyone has the right to equal access to public service in his country.

3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

During this time in the United States, Black voters were being severely suppressed. I think it’s powerful that it says “universal and equal suffrage.” Everyone’s vote counts the same as everyone else’s.


Article 22

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international cooperation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.


Wow, I’ve never heard anyone talk about the free development of personality. When I think about the people I love, that’s what I want for them. For them to be the best version of their true selves.


Article 23

1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.


WOW. Equal pay for equal work. A living wage that ensures dignity. We are still so far from this.




Article 24

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay. 


Article 26

1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.


Again, WOW. How is this not talked about more??


2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.


This speech was given 6 years before Brown v. the Board of Education - the Southern states were still blatantly segregated.


3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.



Article 27

1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits. 

2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the Author.


Article 28

Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.


Article 29

1. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

2. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

3. These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the

purposes and principles of the United Nations.


Article 30

Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.



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About the Podcast

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.

About your host

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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.