Much for Which to Be Grateful

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Today was a special Thanksgiving from beginning to end. In many ways, it was the same routine. For many years now, I begin Thanksgiving morning by joining others on the shores of Onondaga Lake at Willow Bay. Native Americans and others come to join in a circle of Thanksgiving messages and expressions of gratitude. Many of us are members of NOON (Neighbors of Onondaga Nation). This year was even more special because my good friend Wanda and her grandson Charlie also joined me. They are both Oneida Indians. It seems most appropriate to me to come together with our Native American friends on Thanksgiving as a proper commemoration of that first Thanksgiving. This year, many of us also expressed concern about the many who are protecting the waters at Standing Rock and honoring them for their persistence and bravery, while deploring the ugly tactics of the police.

Then I joined twenty-seven other people at my daughter-in-law’s home for a very traditional and heartwarming time, including the annual white-elephant gift exchange, crafts for adults and kids, and card games after dessert. But I got a call from Wanda in the middle of it. I had forgotten to deliver to her the sweet potato pie that she had purchased from a fund-raiser from our local Eastern Farmworkers Association. I was in for another treat when I drove to the next town to deliver it. Her Thanksgiving was with her sisters and brother and their family and friends at her niece’s house. I had had the honor of attending Michelle’s wedding to Neal a little over a year before at the Longhouse on the Onondaga Nation. I shared their beautiful wedding photo (I was dressed in white buckskin) with the students I was teaching on Friday—which was mentioned as a traditional clothing of Native Americans in the story of the first Thanksgiving.

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In my book, Quoting Matilda, I have a whole section of quotes from Matilda Joslyn Gage expressing her appreciation and esteem for the Indians that were her neighbors and the Mohawks, another member nation of the Iroquois Confederacy, who adopted her into their wolf clan. Many people have wondered as to why the first women’s rights convention was held at Seneca Falls in Upstate New York. It had long been attributed to the fact that abolitionists were also quite active in the area. But a truer answer was right before our eyes yet not recognized for a very long time. The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) have a matriarchate style of living. The women had equal status with the men, and there was a division of labor that, in many ways, was to the advantage of the females. They had the right and duty to choose the next chiefs. Think about it: it is the mothers who see the children in play and in growing up, and they observe who would make the best leader, the best negotiator, etc. It makes much sense to have them weigh in strongly in these matters. In addition, they had the right to own property and to their children and had many other rights that females in nineteenth-century American society lacked. No wonder they got uppity and headed to Seneca Falls for their first convention. They had seen living models of women’s successful empowerment. It is highly ironic that, at the same time Gage was being allowed to help choose the next chief, she had been fined for trying to vote in a school board election in Fayetteville, New York!

I am grateful to Matilda Joslyn Gage for all she did in her lifetime to further the rights of women and to help any others being suppressed and discriminated against. There are many other names, often unsung heroes and heroines like Matilda, to whom I also owe gratitude for their perseverance and achievements. Here are just a few of the many:

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
Christine de Pizan
Antoinette Brown Blackwell
Elizabeth Blackwell
Abby Kelley
Aphra Behn
Mary Astell
Belva Lockwood
Lucretia Mott
Esther Moore
Sarah and Angelina Grimké
Margaret W. Rossiter
Annie Kenney
Christabel Pankhurst
Lucy Stone
Virginia Durr
Mercy Otis Warren
Frances Klock
Mary Church Terrell
Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin
Florence Finch Kelly
Alice Paul
Lucy Burns
Millicent Fawcett
Carrie Chapman Catt
Mrs. Frank Leslie
Margaret Sanger
Jeannette Rankin
Shirley Chisholm

Thank you, ladies, for your lives and work! Another time, we will discuss some of the men to whom we also owe a debt of gratitude. Happy Thanksgiving!

Election 2016: Clinton Received Million Vote Majority But Loses Election!

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What I must address in this blog is what everyone is talking about: the results of the 2016 election and how we are all feeling. Maybe you did what I and much of the country did last Tuesday night. I started watching the election returns. But it was early, and only about 2 percent of the votes were in. So a friend of mine from Turkey and I went out to dinner, expecting to return to see Hillary ahead in electoral votes. I stayed up until two only to find out the result was inevitable. My body was reacting. I shook, my shoulders sagged, my heart hurt. I even screamed a bit and uttered bad words when yet another state turned red.

The next morning, I avoided getting out of bed. I didn’t want to face what had just happened. I propped myself up with pillows and buried myself in a bad novel just to avoid thinking about it. The repercussions of what would happen to our country kept poking at me however. I eventually got out of bed and turned on the TV. A sort of paralysis had set in as I sat stunned, shocked, revolted, disgusted. Eventually the tears came too.

I got on Facebook later on. There were plenty of posts about the election results. But the first one I read was posted by Sally Roesch Wagner, the historian who unearthed Matilda Joslyn Gage and has spent much of the rest of her life researching and writing about her while moving to Fayetteville, New York, and eventually doing her doctoral thesis on Gage. She ended up buying the Gage home and raising funds to turn it into an award-winning interactive museum.

Here is an excerpt from her FB post:

We didn’t see it coming. We got re-traumatized. Every one of us who has been sexually abused waited glued to the TV for our vindication . . . The predator would be stopped. Every one of us who has feared for our lives, our children, our jobs because we loved someone of the same sex, or we had no papers or we worshiped in the wrong way or we were outside in some way, vulnerable and violated . . . “I feel like I’ve been chased into a dead end alley and the people who are out to harm me are rounding the corner…I have nowhere to go…” texted one friend. We had felt a new hope, not that the world would be made perfect but that the hate that hounded us would be given a time out. We breathed deeper, thought a space was opening to move forward into freedom. We got blindsided. Kicked in the gut. That old feeling of powerlessness and despair overtook us. Reliving the trauma, we woke in Post Traumatic Stress.

It will take time to recover, heal. We need to give ourselves time. Not get out of bed too quickly. And we need each other. To hear and be heard. To mourn together. To remember caring and love.

And then we will regroup. We will remember our strengths. We have to be emotional savvy. He has no self-awareness. We now know him better than he knows himself. We know how to get to him. The arrogant meanness that whips up the old boy spirit on reality TV may not work for the leader of the free world. This will bring us together while he dismantles the party he hijacked, picking off those members who didn’t support him.

We will remember that crisis cracks open new revolutionary possibilities, and we will seize the moment to create—not Band-Aid reform but transformation.

“I’m heartsick and terrified,” I texted my grandson. And he texted back, “But I need you to rally and somehow find the positive in this. I need that. Doesn’t have to be immediate. But I can’t take this despair.”

He called me to my elderness, my responsibility. I had to find another place in me. And then I remembered the lesson of the North Vietnam. While our government dropped bombs on the caves where they fled for safety, they read United States authors so they would know not to hate us, the people. The North Vietnamese woman doctor who treated children we had napalmed thanked us, the US antiwar movement, who are her allies.

The place in me I have to find is that place where I know the enemy is not the people who voted for Trump. Some, maybe many, voted not to endorse his hatred but out of frustration, fear, or manipulated anger. I share their frustration at a system that operates for profit, not human need. I need to be open to finding common cause with them. Or at least to remember their humanity. George W. Bush refused to vote for Trump. Strange bedfellows await us: friend-enemies.

I have the strength of an ancestor, Matilda Joslyn Gage, by my side. This morning she awoke me with her words from 1852:

We need not expect the concessions demanded by women will be peaceably granted; there will be a long moral warfare, before the citadel yields; in the meantime, let us take possession of the outposts. The public must be aroused to a full sense of the justice of our claims . . . all great reforms are gradual. Fear not any attempt to frown down the revolution already commenced; nothing is a more fertile aid of reform, than an attempt to check it; work on!

The big bully may have won the battle, but we will win this war!

I replied to Sally in this way:

Thank you for stating so elegantly and precisely what I and so many others are feeling. I have felt too devastated to face much this morning. I stayed in bed and diverted my mind to reading a novel. Then I got up and listened to the news, and the tears came, and my body shook. But though I do not feel generous right now, I know we must, indeed, do what needs to be done moving forward. Hillary has just now stated that our political democracy demands our participation—and not just every four years. So like Matilda, we will eventually feel strong enough to continue fighting for women’s rights, the environment, immigrants, and all those downtrodden. I am standing in applause right now at Hillary’s statement that we owe Barack and Michelle Obama a tremendous amount of gratitude. I look forward to all the tremendous gifts that Hillary and both the Obamas will continue to rain upon us when they are unshackled from the political realm. “Fighting for what’s right is worth it” (Hillary).

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Hillary gave an amazing and gracious concession speech later that day. It is remarkable that she was able to deliver any speech at all much less such a good one. She ended with reassurances. Her words addressed the issue of being a female candidate for president: “Now, I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but someday someone will—and hopefully sooner than we might think right now.” She went on to encourage future generations, “And to all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”

Now I have always admired Hillary Clinton for her intelligence, her hard work, and her consistent dedication to improving the lives of children and women. Although despite the possible historic event of electing the first woman president of the United States, Bernie Sanders was my first choice for president. I don’t believe for a minute that we should elect any woman just because she is a woman. Yet there are so many talented and worthy women out there that should be able to hold any office in the nation, including that of being a president. There are many that I admire, and you will probably be hearing about them in this blog from me. Someday, that glass ceiling will be broken.

And I believe in silver linings. Every bad event comes with an eventual silver lining. That will happen in this case also. After we pick ourselves up and get galvanized again, despite the misogyny still obviously with us to an alarming degree, there will be a turn of events and continued gains. Many will come about because of the anger and determination that have spiked because of the election of Trump and Pence. So we’ve got to keep on pursuing the advancement of women and of all society. That desire is echoed in Matilda’s own words: “There are defeats that mean more than victories in their remote results, and the decisions against woman in all of these trials are of that character.”

Below is a photo of Matilda’s grave in the Fayetteville cemetery. Many posted “I voted” signs on her tomb on Election Day. Such a fitting gesture for one of the women who worked the hardest to get the vote for women as well as so many other rights! Also, here is a link to a video of what happened at the Gage House and grave on Election Day 2016! Check it out! http://cnycentral.com/news/local/matilda-joslyn-gage-a-local-suffrage-legend-being-remembered-on-election-day.

Very Early Feminists: Mary Wollstonecraft

 

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Virtue can only flourish among equals.—Mary Wollstonecraft

In the introduction of my book Quoting Matilda, I mentioned several early feminists. Some of them are not all that well known. Yet later feminists stood on their shoulders to further their arguments for equality under the law. Matilda Joslyn Gage researched women all the way back to the eras of mother goddesses. They were revered for their ability to create new life and give birth.

Appropriately, the early feminist I am writing about this week has a connection to Halloween. You feminists out there probably know already to whom I am referring: Mary Wollstonecraft. The connection, of course, is that her daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, who was married to the poet Percy Shelley when she was barely seventeen, wrote the iconic Frankenstein, Prometheus Unbound. Wollstonecraft died ten days after her daughter was born.

She was born in 1759 in London. Today Wollstonecraft is regarded as one of the founding feminist philosophers. She lived in a very revolutionary age. The rights of man were being fought for on American soil and later in France. Mary Wollstonecraft decided to craft her own declaration of independence. This time it was a female version called The Vindication of the Rights of Woman. She wrote it in 1792. Women had been viewed as docile, someone to put on a pedestal (if you belonged to the right class), and visions of femininity. But Mary, this hyena in petticoats (as she was dubbed by Walpole), declared a war for independence through the principles she listed for emancipation. These included education for girls, as well as boys, and an end to prejudice. In this age when women were defined by their husbands, she felt they should become defined by their profession instead. No wonder she is called the mother of modern feminism. Of course, Wollstonecraft’s England became outraged at such pronouncements. Nonetheless, she was admired.

Her father was abusive, and Mary set out to earn her own livelihood after her mother’s death. With her sister Eliza and her best friend, Fanny, she established a school. From her experiences in teaching, Wollstonecraft wrote the pamphlet Thoughts on the Education of Daughters. This book caused a lot of controversy as it was filled with revolutionary ideas. Wollstonecraft also wrote Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman, which asserted that women had strong sexual desires and that it was degrading and immoral to pretend otherwise.

Given her own history, she urged parents to strengthen their children’s characters so as to enhance their capacity to survive personal tragedies. She felt that self-mastery should be the aim of education and that it was the duty of parents to ensure that their children received it. Her main theme in much of her writings seemed to be that mind and body needed to be exercised and shaped so as to face the hardships of life.

I have had many adversities in my lifetime. I agree with Wollstonecraft. It does make you stronger. And you don’t sweat the small stuff, as it is such a pittance compared to what you have already lived through. Perhaps, you also have experienced a less-than-wonderful upbringing that you feel has shaped your adulthood and made you stronger in character and enhanced your capacity to survive personal tragedies. Perhaps, you would like to share your thoughts about this and your experiences on this blog. I hope you do.

Mary Wollstonecraft received little support from fellow intellectuals in her lifetime. Very few of the foremost women writers gave Wollstonecraft their wholehearted support in the eighteenth century. Many mocked her, but only very rarely were her ideas genuinely assessed in the way they have come to be since the second half of the twentieth century.

These attitudes are reminiscent of what Gage experienced. Even her close relationships with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton proved in the long run to become a disappointment and a bitter pill to swallow when she, after so many leading positions in the National Woman’s Suffrage Association, was kicked to the curb for being too progressive and wanting to work on so many other women’s issues besides getting the vote. She was not willing to compromise with those who wanted to intertwine Christianity and our United States government. She knew from studying her history of the Judeo-Christian religions that women were denigrated and thought to be the source of sin. She was unwilling to compromise her decision on the absolute necessity of religious freedom as a prerequisite for authentic women’s liberation.

On the topic of religion, she said, “If religion has a lesson to teach mankind, it is that of personal responsibility; it is that of worth and duty of the individual; it is that each human being is alone accountable for his or her course in life; it is the lesson of the absolute equality of each human being with every other human being.” These words from Gage were written in her own magnum opus, Woman, Church and State: A Historical Account of Women through the Christian Ages; with Reminiscences of the Matriarchate. In voicing these sentiments, she was echoing the thoughts of Mary Wollstonecraft a century earlier.

 

The Vote!

Gage argued that women were equal under the constitution and had proved themselves in many walks of life. Women deserved the vote. Gage did not live long enough to experience suffrage, though she had fought for the right most of her adult life. A special irony occurred when she was allowed to help choose the next chief after she had been adopted into the Wolf Clan of the Mohawks—yet at the same time, she had been arrested for attempting to vote in a school board election in her home town of Fayetteville, New York. She said, “No more momentous hour has arisen in the interest of freedom, for the principles of the republic, its warp and its woof alike, is the exact and permanent political equality of every citizen of the nation, whether that citizen is native born or naturalized, white or black, man or woman.”

So go vote on Tuesday. I sincerely hope you vote for the candidate that both Mary and Matilda would have voted for if they’d only had the chance: Hillary Clinton.