The American women passed a long way to obtain emancipation and independence, and that way could not be easy. In 1830s there were first recorded meetings intended to discuss the issued of female role in the society. It was Margaret Fuller who in 1839 began hosting conversations in Boston being inspired by classical French salons. By that time the women are believed to have felt an urgent need to take control over their own lives and statuses. The matter is, they hardly any freedom of action in civil terms. They could not have and dispose of property, they could not sign contracts. They were not able to serve on juries and express their will at elections. What is more, there was distinctive labor discrimination while women received half of salaries pated to men at the same positions. Therefore, it is of no surprise that progressive-minded women could not stand that outright injustice and gradually moved to changes. The task was to alter the overall view of the society on the place where the woman was at that moment and where her place was to be; in other words, the essential shift in minds was necessary for them to achieve their feminist goals. However, there were discords within the movement for women rights as well. These differences came from the very philosophical views of the leaders and followers; still, on the whole the views from different points were also important to gain ultimate equality.
Thus, in summer 1848 local New York women organized one of the earliest conventions on women rights. The Seneca Falls Convention turned out to be rather influential for further events, and for a great extent that was a merit of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She is regarded as a skeptical speaker whose speech was mostly driven by logic, but not religious views like it was typical for other participants who were mostly Quakers. Elizabeth Stanton had a brilliant rhetorical gift due to which she could attract attention of the public and was skillful to sound persuasive. For that, she is often recorded for initiating and activating the movement for women rights and especially for women suffrage. At the Seneca Falls Convention Stanton was not only an active passer of several resolutions, but even prepared her own document, known as “The Declaration of Sentiments.” Its plot as well as the other significant issues raised at the convention was reflected in her “Address at the Seneca Falls Convention, and Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions.” There she vigorously defended the equal right of women for taking part in the political life of the country and made a stress that this inalienable right was first and foremost given by God, herein entitled by “the laws of nature and of nature’s God” (Stanton 100). In Stanton’s view, the fact that men and women were created equal is a piece of self-evident truth. She explains that while each citizen has a right for life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, he or she logically has a right to criticize the government that doesn’t fully secure those rights. If the government, she says, makes the citizens unhappy and threatens their safety, they may refuse allegiance and institute a new government. What is more, it is not only their right, but their civil duty. And while women have suffered so long from male governments being constrained to obey and restrained in expressing their will, the society could not function adequately. Therefore, after all the years of patient suffering and submission they have come to demand the equal station.
The sentiments Elizabeth Cady Stanton departs from include the lack of permission for women to exercise their right to the elective franchise, “first right as a citizen”; the compel to submit laws in the formation of which women had no voice; and after all, “going upon a false supposition of the supremacy of a man, and giving all power into his hands.” The author expresses her indignation against subordinate and obedient position of a woman in front of law who are obliged to tacitly support “a government which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it” (Stanton 101). And most of all, she is outraged that those rights a woman is deprived of are at the same time provided for the most ignorant and degraded men.
Elizabeth Stanton insists that being dishonestly deprived of their most sacred rights, women experienced aggravation and oppression and therein they demand immediate admission to all those rights and freedoms they possess as full-value citizens of the United States. Besides, Stanton skillfully compared gender discrimination with race one, and concluded that “The prejudice against color, of which we hear so much, is no stronger than that against sex. It is produced by the same cause, and manifested very much in the same way” (Stanton 103). And further even was opposed to providing the African American men with the right to vote and other civil rights because in that way the amount of those who would create obstacles in obtaining the women suffrage. Moreover, most of those former slaves were not educated and intelligent enough to be privileged against much more aware and progressive women; in other words, “women voters of “wealth, education, and refinement” were needed to offset the effect of former slaves and immigrants whose “pauperism, ignorance, and degradation” might negatively affect the American political system” (Stanton 104). In this way Stanton was uncompromising in defending the female right to choose their surroundings and be responsible for their choice.
By contrast, this responsibility is severely criticized and opposed by another bright female activist Emma Goldman in her essay “Woman Suffrage” (1911). Emma Goldman is regarded as the initiator of anarcha-feminism who opposed patriarchy as a hierarchical order in terms of government and class differentiations. Though Goldman was a leading activist of the women’s movement at the beginning of the 21st century, she strictly argued against woman suffrage in the way it was defended by Stanton and her followers. Goldman describes suffrage as a disastrous fetish women enthusiastically and with self-forgetful inspiration worship. They do it with the same price and sacrifice of freedom as for other historically recorded “omnipotent deities” like war and religion they were always obeying on their knees.
Further, the author critically discusses the claim that suffrage will set the women free and give her happiness she never knew before. “Life, happiness, joy, freedom, independence, – all that, and more, is to spring from suffrage,” she doubts and states that suffrage is nothing but a new idol and evil that enslaves people and robs them of their integrity and self-reliance. This right is described as the chains forged about the limbs of people and persuades the reader that if a woman would not make things worse in politics, she certainly could not make them better (Goldman 160). Goldman warns the women against being caught in a cage with golden bars and being poisoned after taking that overwhelming responsibility for all the mistakes and follies the nation will inevitably face.
She also argues that women will hardly benefit from that right to vote, and in her arguments she refers to the facts gathered from the states where women had already received that desired right. No essential changes in the lifestyles and overall level of welfare are noted. Especially ridiculous for Goldman is the equal right to property, as it also turns out to be a simulacrum in conditions under which hardly any woman is able to acquire property itself. Then, purifying politics, a notion coming from the supposition that women are better in terms of morality, is also a myth. And here Goldman candidly speaks of the very nature of a woman that actually does not provide any chance to believe she can bring any advantage to politics. Women “like to get into houses they have never been in, and find out all they can, politically and otherwise,” and “nothing satisfies the craving of most women so much as scandal,” Goldman exposes (Goldman 162). What is more, woman is believed to become a greater threat to liberty if she gets access to political power because of her egoism, self-sufficiency, and “purist attitude toward life.” In reality, women sell their voices easily and are not able to evaluate many things they are because of their life-long economic parasitism. It is stated that “those who believe in the power of the vote show little sense of justice when they concern themselves not at all with those whom, as they claim, it might serve most” (Goldman 163).
Still, Emma Goldman is not totally against women suffrage, as she does not believe that woman will make politics worse; nor does she believe that she could make it better, but taking responsibility for male mistakes is the crucial thing the author opposes. Not in the ballot, but in true inner will and endurance Goldman sees women’s way to equality and freedom. She is guided by the example of Russian women who gained “man’s esteem, his respect, his comradeship” as well as “admiration, the respect of the whole world” by their own will to be and to do, by their heroism, fortitude, and ability.
In this way, both authors, both activists Stanton and Goldman believe that woman have a right to be independent in their decisions and in determining the values of their lives, but the methods of application are seen differently. While for Stanton suffrage was the ultimate goal to provide new opportunities for each woman, Goldman turns out to be more captious and rational in her arguments, stressing that suffrage itself cannot be a value. On the contrary, it can turn into one more disaster for a woman. In turn, she proposes the way of personal development and asserting, which can make a woman free herself from the fear of public mind and condemnation and thus obtain equality in family, education, labor, and so on.
Chalberg, John. Emma Goldman: American Individualist. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1991.
Goldman, Emma. “Woman Suffrage.” People, Power and Politics. 11th ed. Ed. Astón Alonso et al. Boston: Pearson, 2010. 159-168. Print.
Marshall, Megan. The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. “Address at the Seneca Falls Convention, and Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions.” People, Power and Politics. 11th ed. Ed. Astón Alonso et al. Boston: Pearson, 2010. 97-104. Print.