‘Tis the season for coming together in celebration and thanksgiving! Lately I’ve been reflecting on the people and blessings for which I am most grateful. So many things come to mind; a large and warm family, the blessings of good health, and the locally grown food I’ve come to rely on… my freedom…
As I’ve made my journey with The Breast Archives project, I’ve begun discovering the pivotal role of certain determined and brave women. Through their daring enlightenment, they have paved the way for me, and for all of us to live lives that are independent, purposeful, and powerful. I’ve referenced just a few of these women; models for courage and character, below.
A Suffragist, Lucretia Mott traveled to upstate New York in 1848 to address the first Conference to Address Women’s Rights and Issues. Using the US Declaration of Independence’s proclamation, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…” as a model for the Conference, the aim for delegates and attendees was “to forthrightly demanded that the rights of women as right-bearing individuals be acknowledged and respected by society.”
Out of this gathering of The Women of Seneca Falls, came the Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances, one of the earliest and most influential statements of Feminism. The culminating Treatise was signed by sixty-eight women and thirty-two men, and marked the beginning of the women’s suffrage movement in America. The passions-and frustrations-expressed at the gathering are encapsulated by the following (selected) bullet points:
- After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government, which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it.
- He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration.
- He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction, which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known.
- He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education—all colleges being closed against her.
- He allows her in church, as well as State, but a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church.
- He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated but deemed of little account in man.
- He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and her God.
- He has endeavored, in every way that he could to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.
At the Conferences’ close, its Leaders declared,“This entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation--in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of these United States.”
Thank you, Lucretia Mott, for your leadership and vision.
Simone de Beauvoir
One hundred years later, in 1949, France’s Simone de Beauvoir published her book The Second Sex, which detailed the “unethical” treatment of women throughout history and which sought to understand femininity from a philosophical perspective. Simone de Beauvoir analyzed the male rationale, which postulated that “the man of the human species was the norm,” and women, “an inferior, less-desirable model,” and developed a philosophical and intellectual platform arguing, among other things, against the institution of marriage and for the right of women to obtain an abortion. Her well-reasoned, much-admired book was condemned, and even “prohibited” by the Vatican immediately upon its publication.
The Second Sex has influenced the platforms and writings of many feminist thought-leaders since, and continues to be a model for those who dare to confront the duplicitous social systems in which women are undeniably embedded.
Thank you, Simone de Beauvoir, for your clarity and intelligence.
bell hooks was a philosopher, poet, and scholar. Born Gloria Jean Watkins in 1952, she took the name (and lower case spelling) of her Kentuckian great-grandmother as homage, and to compel readers to prioritize her words and ideas over her personal identity. Her first book, Ain't I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism, was published in 1981, and called out the feminist movement as one incapable of addressing “the needs of lower income women of color,” and criticized feminist organizations as “comprised of affluent white women.” From this point, she began a lifelong exploration of the intersectionality of race, gender, money and social inequality.
Thank you, bell hooks, for your demand for truth and real equality.
When Madonna Ciccone first burst onto the scene in the early 80’s she knew what she wanted, where she was headed, and the required calculations involved with the process. "When I lost my virginity, I considered it a career move.” When she arrived in NYC in 1978, she famously told a cab driver to, "Take me to the center of everything." She was “insanely jealous” of her brothers, who could take off their shirts in summer."
Madonna’s catchy pop tunes were initially underestimated (more noticed were her lace, rubber bracelets and penchant for hiccupping), several astute journalists, notably Rolling Stone’s Debby Miller, sensed the undercurrent of ambition and knew she was after more; much more.
Through the years, Madonna’s work has been bolder and more cunning. “It's as if she recognizes the discomfort we feel when sensing the human character of a woman whose function is purely sexual,” said Arion Berger, (who probably missed several key points in his review of her Erotica Tour). A lot can be explained by this quote, from the Queen of Pop: "I take what I need and then I move on."
Thank you, Madonna, for your sensuality, creative vitality – and endurance.
Plucky Hermoine Granger waved her wand and cast a spell on us all in the Harry Potter series. After earning 13 million for her award-winning portrayal of a feisty young wizard, Emma enrolled in Brown University and graduated with a bachelor's degree in English literature.
In 2014, she was awarded British Artist of the Year, and later that year was appointed as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. She immediately pushed to launch the UN Women campaign, an initiative to call men to advocate for equal rights and opportunities for both men and women and making them feel comfortable calling themselves feminists. Characterizing the feminist movement as “an unstoppable current,” Emma has globalized the project; aimed at challenging gender stereotypes “from the ground up.” She has also established the Emma Watson Scholarship, and now selects budding activists from around the world, including Jordan, Angola and Albania.
Yet the road hasn’t been easy. In launching her HeForShe gender equality solidarity movement she said, “My best hopes and my worst fears were confirmed all at once. I had opened a Pandora's Box to a standing ovation and almost simultaneously to a level of critique I had never experienced in my life and the beginning of a series of threats.”
At the One Young World summit in 2016 Emma was philosophical, and offered audiences a clue in how she has navigated her work to secure real progress towards a gender equal world.
“Take a moment,” she said. “You can keep your eyes closed or keep them open, and ask yourself if these have any truth for you in them:
I am willing to be seen.
I am willing to speak up.
I am willing to keep going.
I am willing to listen to what others have to say.
I am willing to go forward even when I feel alone.
I am willing to go to bed each night, at peace with myself.
I am willing to be my biggest, best-est, most powerful self.”
Continuing, she explained, “These seven statements scare the absolute shit out of me. But I know that they are at the crux of it all. At the end of the day, and when all is said and done, I know that these are the ways that I want to have lived my life.”
Thank you, Emma Watson, for your mix of spunk and grace, and for your willingness to lead.
What about you? Who are the people whose lives and works have influenced and inspired you?
Please let us know, and from everyone at The Breast Archives, Happy Thanksgiving!