Sunday, April 05, 2009

Carolyn McCulley on Elizabeth Cady Stanton

On Women Boldly Praying, Carolyn McCulley writes,
    The earliest feminists largely were also opposed to marriage. As one leading 19th-century feminist wrote: “It is in vain to look for the elevation of woman, so long as she is degraded in marriage. … I feel that this whole question of woman’s rights turns on the point of the marriage relation.” Though she was a mother of seven who was married for nearly 50 years, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was vocal in her low opinion of marriage—a perspective that shaped feminist thinking through the next 150 years.
It is not in my awareness that early feminists largely opposed marriage. Let's look at what Elizabeth Cady Stanton said,
    It is vain to look for the elevation of woman so long as she is degraded in marriage. I say, it is a sin, an outrage on our holiest feelings to pretend that anything but deep, fervent love and sympathy constitutes marriage. The right idea of marriage is at the foundation of all reform.
It is not being married which degrades a woman. I am not against marriage. I am against women being degraded in marriage. Can anyone help me out here? Which early feminists were against marriage. I can't post on the site where I found this. I would hope that someone would be alerted to my question.

I am aware that Stanton called marriage "slavery" and "legalized prostitution." However, it seems that the extreme of her position was that a woman ought to be able to escape a violent marriage and take her children with her. She deplored the inequity of the wife's legal position in marriage. She depicts the woman who is dragged by the hair across the floor, kicked and pounded in front of the children. Personally, I find much sympathy in her writing.

I am sad that a published author like McCulley would provide such a misleading charaterization of the early feminists.


J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks for this important post! Thank you for setting the record straight on Elizabeth Cady Stanton and on the importance early feminism gave to the things that make marriage really marriage.

Lin said...

She could not have read a bio of Stanton and come away with just that! If she did, it was disingenuous. Perhaps there is political motivation to paint the early suffragettes in a bad light. SGM churches, were McCully works, are very Patriarchal.

Stanton was educated, had a lawyer father where she learned a lot about the laws... and worked along side her husband in abolitionist activism.

She knew first hand through her father how badly the laws were written and did not protect women at all or even give them a voice.

Yes, for women not married to loving men, it could be slavery. A women could not even seek safe haven from an abuser because of how the laws were written to protect the authority of the husband over his 'property'. She could not even open a bank account without her husband's permission.