Telling It Like It Is — To Congress

April 01, 2009

Now that we’ve had the chance to work with President Obama and his staff, we thought it time to remind Congress why women’s issues are still important. The following is the beginning of a presentation; tell us what you think.

Ms. Chairperson and members of Congress,

Let’s cut right to the chase; the point we want to bring before you on this occasion is the individuality of each human being, the right of individual decision making, the right of individual judgments, the right of individual equity. When discussing the rights of women in particular, we need to consider, first, what belongs to her as an individual, in a world of her own, the arbiter of her own destiny, an imaginary Robinson Crusoe with her woman Friday on a solitary island. Her rights under such circumstances are to use all her faculties for her own safety and happiness.

Secondly, if we consider her as a citizen, as a member of a great nation, she must have the same rights as all other members, according to the fundamental principles of our government.

Thirdly, viewed as a woman, an equal factor in civilization, her rights and duties are still the same —individual happiness and development.

Fourthly, it is only the incidental relations of life, such as mother, wife, sister, daughter, that may involve some special consideration. In discussing the sphere of man we do not decide his rights as an individual, as a citizen, as a man by his duties as a father, a husband, a brother, or a son, relations some of which he may never fill. Moreover he would be better fitted for these very relations and whatever special work he might choose to do to earn his salary by the complete development of all his faculties as an individual.

Just so with women. Whether asking for you support of paid sick days legislation, to ensure a healthy and strong American workforce as well as by obtaining your support of pay equity concepts that will provide women with equal standing when facing family, work, or individual financial security. The isolation of every human being and the necessity of self-dependence must give each individual the right, to provide for her or his own surroundings.

The strongest reason for giving women all the opportunities for higher education, for the full development of her talents, forces of mind and body; for giving her the most enlarged freedom of thought and action; a complete emancipation from all forms of inequity; from all the crippling influences of fear, is the solitude and personal responsibility of her own individual life. The strongest reason why we ask for women in the government and as an equal standing in the workplace, where she may earn her salary, is because of her birthright to self-sovereignty; because, as an individual, she must rely on herself.

Even with the support of a life partner, women, to use an analogy, must guide their own craft, we must be captain, pilot, engineer; with chart and compass to stand at the wheel; to match the wind and waves and know when to take in the sail, and to read the signs in the firmament over all. It matters not whether the solitary voyager is man or woman. Nature having endowed men and women equally, leaves us to our own skill and judgment in the hour of danger, and, if not equal to the occasion, no matter the gender, we would all flounder.

To throw obstacles in the way of complete equality is like putting out the eyes; to deny the rights of access to education, labor, or healthcare is like cutting off the hands. To deny political equality is to rob the ostracized of all self respect; of credit in the market place; of recompense in the world of work; of a voice among those who make and administer the law; a choice in the jury before whom they are tried, and in the judge who decides their punishment.

Nothing strengthens the judgment and quickens the conscience like individual responsibility. Nothing adds such dignity to character as the recognition of one’s self-sovereignty; the right to an equal place, every where conceded; a place earned by personal merit, not an artificial attainment, by inheritance, wealth, family, and position. Seeing, then that the responsibilities of life rests equally on man and woman, that their destiny is the same, they need the same preparation for time and eternity. Such are the facts in human experience, the responsibilities of individual. Rich and poor, intelligent and ignorant, wise and foolish, virtuous and vicious, man and woman, it is ever the same; each person must depend wholly on itself.

But when all artificial barriers are removed, and women are recognized as individuals, responsible for their own environments, thoroughly educated for all the positions in life they may be called to fill; with all the resources in themselves that liberal though and broad culture can give; guided by their own conscience an judgment; and stimulated to self-support by the knowledge of the business world and the pleasure that fiscal independence would give; when women are trained in this way they will, in a measure, be ready for those moments of responsibility, of lively hood, of conscious that we all face.

The bottom line? Such is individual life. Who, I ask you, can take, dare take, on themselves the rights, the duties, the responsibilities of another human soul?

[Note: What is this you ask? In honor of April Fool’s Day I took the liberty to slightly modernize and edit the address delivered by Elzabeth Cady Stanton to the Committee of the Judiciary of the United States Congress Monday, January 18, 1892. It’s a sad note that we still need to advocate for equity in 2009.]

By:   |   April 01, 2009

1 Comment

  1. Ellie Johnston says:

    I was all set to say what a great first draft of a presentation to Congress – and even ready to give a few suggestions, when I read your “note”. To realize this was based on one given to Congress in 1892 made me shocked to realize how far this country has to go toward realizing our foremothers’ dream, not only of equality for women, but for all.

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