Women Rights Essay, Research Paper
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, women felt discriminated against by men and by most of society. Men generally held discriminatory and stereotypical views of women, which made many women dissatisfied with their lives and made them, feel their lives were unfulfilled and spinning out of control. Discrimination spurred women to take action. Women began to revolt, they began expressing the feelings they had bottled up inside all along. Kate Chopin wrote The Awakening, which helped other women to know they were not alone. In 1848, women organized the Seneca Falls convention and the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments. Later women demanded suffrage and equal rights for all. Many famous female leaders, from the Grimke sisters to Susan B. Anthony, led women to form many organizations and associations in order to preserve and uphold the rights they fought so hard for.
First, in 1848 women rebelled against men’s stereotypical views and organized the Seneca Falls convention. Seventy-two years before the 19th amendment was added to the constitution, women knew changes needed to be made. Five women: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Mary Ann McClintock, Jane Hunt, and Martha C Wright; came together in Stanton’s hometown of Seneca Falls, New York, and arranged the First Woman’s Rights Convention. They were fed up with the laws prohibiting them from the right to vote, hold office or sit on juries. “In most states they could only hold property if they were single and could secure the guardianship of a man” (DIScovering U.S. History). Their main grievances were clearly stated in a document, which was created shortly after the convention and first printed in a small town paper, that document was the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments. The declaration stated the 18 main grievances that the majority of women had with American tradition and law. It was modeled after the Declaration of Independence and the first sentence declares “men and women are created equal.” Although the convention led to some rude awakenings among politicians and officials, until the 19th amendment was finally ratified in 1920, women had to suffice with forming organizations like the National Woman Suffrage Organization while they continued to submit their demands to the government. Women fought to earn the right to vote, to be treated equally and mostly to be granted suffrage.
The chief focus of the women’s rights movement quickly moved from just being recognized as reformers to being granted suffrage. Suffrage at that time was known as the freedom to express their opinions through voting. Many suffragettes and supporters believed that once women had managed to gain the right to vote they would be able to make more headway in gaining other rights. As stated above, the Seneca Falls convention was one of the first reforming movements towards suffrage (American Journey :Women’s Rights). Because of this, women began to take more of a part in education and politics. Men believed that any women who could incite such a revolution towards the aforementioned reforms were evil and should have been stopped. They opposed women suffrage and believed that women were less intelligent and unable to make political decisions. Because of such strong opposition from the men, women did not make progress towards gaining suffrage; that is until the ratification of the 15th amendment which allowed black Americans to vote but still left women segregated from the rest of society (American Journey). It denied them the laws and principles specifically granted to all Americans. This lowered the women’s standings in society to below that of the black freemen. Women were outraged at this blatant show of disrespect from the American government and, led by strong political leaders, decided to do something about it.
Many women gained fame during this era, mainly by their strong positions on women’s rights and their demand to have their rights recognized by all. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Mary Ann McClintock, Jane Hunt, and Martha C Wright were some of the first to be distinguished nationally by newspapers and government officials (American Journey). They were recognized for their antagonistic views and their loud protests. There is no doubt that all these women were intelligent and had the ability to manage themselves as well as men did, if not better. One of the first women to be recognized was Susan B. Anthony. Susan Anthony was raised to be self-reliant and she had a sense of self-discipline that had already been instilled into her throughout her childhood. Anthony received most of her recognition from 1851 to 1920 when the fight for women’s rights was at its peak(World Book Encyclopedia). Anthony was the first to think of using the previously ratified 14th amendment to create a loophole to try to get more rights. Th fourteenth amendment to the constitution stated that:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law or deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws (14th amendment to the Constitution).
The women decided to test the amendment and demand the right to vote because they too were citizens, and according to the law, they too deserved the same rights and laws of all U.S. citizens. The same rights that the government had denied to them in the first place. Many female writers began detailing flaws in American society, much to the outrage of all men who suddenly realized they were wrong about women and just could not admit it. Women would be forced to get their points across in other ways and larger groups.
Women began forming many other groups, which supported them in their fight to gain equal rights. Some of the organizations formed were NOW, the National Organization of Women; League of Women Voters; NWSA, National Woman Suffrage Association; NAWSA, National American Woman Suffrage Association; AWSA, American Woman’s Suffrage Association (DIScovering U.S. History). Each had its own priorities; many fought for either suffrage for women or for black freemen. Many also participated in the same protests and marches on the government, while others banded together to create an even stronger wall for the government to try to break down.
The women’s movement of the 18th century had a great impact on society and the future of the United States. By fighting for all they believed in, women helped gain more rights for all of womankind. By organizing the Seneca Falls Convention and writing the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments women made sure that men understood their point of view that they would not go quietly, and they would be heard (Women’s Rights [CD-ROM]). By demanding the right to express their opinions through voting and equal rights, they managed to force the government to recognize them. In addition, by having such loud and outspoken female leaders they forced the government to continue to recognize them. These leaders helped to form many organizations and associations, which made the government, acknowledge them formally and legally. All these things helped to make the women’s movement so much stronger.
In response to the strong women’s rights protests, a classic novel, The Awakening, by Kate Chopin was written. The Awakening took on the hard issues, like equal opportunity and equal rights. This book demonstrates the life of a woman in the late 1800s to the early 1900s, it exhibits her thoughts about women’s rights.
Although in actuality, they did not exist yet, there was still thought about them. In addition, the book clarifies men’s discriminatory views on women’s rights during the time period, as well as the treatment women received from men. Women were actually treated only slightly better than slaves, because they were not beaten physically. Finally, it distinctly indicated the dissatisfaction and disillusion that women felt in their lives. Many women felt their lives were not fulfilling and others just could not handle the enormous amount of pressure to be perfect. To sum it up, many women were extremely unhappy with the state of their lives and their lack of control over themselves.
The first topic this book addressed is Women’s rights. In this book, women’s rights are directly mentioned in this quote, Leonce, Edna’s husband, is speaking to a doctor about her ‘condition’, “She’s got some sort of notion in her head concerning the eternal rights of women” (Chopin 109). In the time that this book was written, 1890-1930, the idea of women’s rights was almost non-existent. Men literally thought that women were too ignorant and lacked the intelligence to become independent.
The next topic is the idea of men’s perception of women throughout the book. There are many good examples in the book. The first comes from the doctor that Leonce spoke to in order to understand his wife better. “?has she been associating of late with a circle of pseudo intellectual women-super spiritual, superior beings” (Chopin 109)? This quote shows just how little men actually thought of women. They did not think that women could even conceive the idea of women’s rights on their own. Then, when the idea came out that women could be independent and not have to have a man to survive, the men felt threatened and tried to blame these radical ideas on anyone but themselves. “It would require an inspired psychologist to deal successfully with them. In addition, when ordinary fellows like you and me attempt to cope with their idiosyncrasies the result is bungling. Most women are moody and whimsical” (Chopin 110). Men attributed any crazy idea a woman got into her head as a mood swing and that they were just naive and could not live without men. “This is some passing whim of your wife, due to some cause or causes which you and I needn’t try to fathom” (Chopin 110). In this quote, the doctor diagnoses Edna as being moody and irrational at times which is why she is so defiant at times. Later in the book, Edna’s father visits her and she has to deal with him. They get into a fight because Edna doesn’t want to go to her sister’s wedding, “The Colonel reproached his daughter for her lack of filial kindness and respect, her want of sisterly affection and womanly consideration” (Chopin 119). He doesn’t understand why Edna wouldn’t want to go to her own sister’s wedding, but how men perceived women in that time period is much different than how they treated them.
Men often treated women as if they were chattel, nothing more than possessions or property. They had no respect for their wives or mothers, and they constantly treated them like housemaids whom were to answer to their husbands every whim. The narrator best describes this treatment and very clearly exhibits this just before Edna refuses to obey Leonce, “She would have through habit have yielded to his desire; not with any sense of submission or obedience to his compelling wishes, but unthinkingly, as we walk, move, sit, stand, go through the daily treadmill of life which has been portioned out to us” (Chopin 52). This best indicates how routine everything had become for women, and how bored they must have been to be stuck in this daily routine. The almost methodical way of life affected Edna worse than many other women due to Edna’s young age and her need for some sort of excitement. When Edna’s father is visiting, he tells Leonce that the way he treats his wife is unacceptable, but he is not talking about too harsh a treatment. “You are far too lenient, too lenient by far Leonce” asserted the Colonel, “Authority and coercion are what is needed. Put your foot down good and hard; the only way to manage a wife” (Chopin 119). This was her own father talking! He was telling her husband, his son-in-law to be harsher with her, and in front of her. Men’s views of women were severely distorted. In response to this, the narrator writes, “The colonel was perhaps unaware he had coerced his own wife into her grave” (Chopin 119). The high amount of stress caused by not allowing a wife to speak her mind, and have a little freedom occasionally this only proved just how strong much power men held over their own wives. Men thought those women, if left on their own could be extremely dangerous, they might have an independent thought, or suddenly realize just how hampered they were by men. Any of these factors could have led to many women being dissatisfied with their lives and wanting to change them.
Disillusion and dissatisfaction are the next big topics in this novel. In almost every chapter, Edna’s dissatisfaction with her life is clearly put on display. From considering having an affair to committing suicide, Edna wants to get out of that marriage anyway she can. She feels suffocated and suppressed, she can’t have a single thought to herself, and when she finally decides to be defiant and say whatever comes to mind first, she is either severely reprimanded or is publicly humiliated. All this tension builds up inside until after visiting a friend she realizes just how tormenting it is for her to live her life. “Edna was sobbing, just as she has wept one midnight at Grand Isle when strange new voices awoke in her” (Chopin 107). She begins to weep because she has such strong feelings of wanting to be independent and wanting to get away from all of the misery and agony she has had to withstand for the past years. She is also trying to fight and internal battle between just dealing with her life the way it is or completely changing it and becoming happy again. Edna also exhibits unhappiness with her marriage itself; she refuses to go to her own sister’s wedding and Leonce says to the doctor, is “She says a wedding is one of the most lamentable spectacles on earth. Nice thing for her to say to her husband” (Chopin 110)! Her husband senses her unhappiness in her own marriage and is actually asking for help, however, he veils it heavily so that no one would really think that this big, strong, Creole man would ever need help controlling his own wife.
Women had a rough time in the late 1800s/ early 1900s. They were expected to live up to a perfect image that society had invented, while trying to comply with their husbands’ desires. They were unhappy with their lives and had no control over themselves, they were chattel and could do nothing, and they were perceived to be nothing more than property to men, and treated exactly that way. It is not surprising that so many women were discontent with the lives they led. What is the choice if one must live or die in misery?
Many critics discussed the critical issues she raised about society’s treatment of women. Although some critics reacted negatively, and said that women should stay in the home and that, there was no need for equality among the sexes. Other critics reacted positively and said that it was about time an American version of Madame Bovary had been written. The Awakening has been compared to the French classic Madame Bovary because they both integrate the same themes: women trying to gain freedom and independence from men. The French classic Madame Bovary was said to deal so blatantly with equality issues and prove beyond any doubt that women had a need for more fulfillment in their lives. Some critics commented on the similarities and some of the differences between the two were Per Seyersted, Willa Cather, and Kenneth Eble.
First, Per Seyersted, who reviewed the novel in 1969, is quoted as saying:”[Many] similarities might justify us in calling The Awakening an American Madame Bovary. Mrs. Chopin did not use the French classic as a model, however, but only as a point of departure, giving the story an entirely new emphasis” (Seyersted 150). This quote proves that many thought of the stories as similar but different, but Mrs. Chopin claims not to have used Madame Bovary, as basis for her book, but more as a subject.
Willa Cather, who was asked to review The Awakening in 1899, after it was released, said this about the book: “There was, indeed, no need that a second Madame Bovary should be written, but the author’s choice of themes is frequently as inexplicable as his choice of wife. It is governed by some innate temperamental bias that cannot be diagrammed”( Cather 142-143). Cather said that although there was no need to have another Madame Bovary written, it was well done and was well received. Many authors could not manage to write and publish a novel on such a controversial subject, especially one that had been covered by the French already, but Mrs. Chopin certainly did. Cather also comments on Chopin’s writing style, she almost excuses anything that did not meet the critics standards by saying that every writers style is different and that once in a while one will write an excellent book from a very debatable subject that can be accepted among other writers and society.
Kenneth Eble analyzed Chopin’s novel he compared and contrasted Chopin’s novel to Madame Bovary in The Western Humanities Review written in 1956 that ” In a way, the novel is an American [Madame Bovary], though such a designation is not precisely accurate. Its central character is similar: the married woman who seeks love outside a stuff middle class marriage. It is similar too in the definitive way it portrays the mind of a woman trapped in a marriage and seeking fulfillment of what she vaguely recognizes as her essential nature? And too, like Madame Bovary, the novel handles its materials superbly well” (Eble 147). Eble obviously liked this book and although many agree that the literary world did not need another Madame Bovary this book was similar but not close enough to be considered identical to it. Many similarities fell into the situations of the character as well as the characters themselves, but the novels were treated as completely different materials and almost completely different subject matters.
Many liked the novel The Awakening and many approved of the topic and the way it was written, as stated above, not many authors have managed to pull off writing this book, but Chopin was lucky. She accomplished this task of writing and publishing a book about the lack of satisfaction in a woman’s life during the time period that was considered the hardest for women to deal with, and unlike many others she was well accepted. The Awakening was written largely in response to the enormous amounts of women dissatisfied with their lives. Much of this dissatisfaction was caused by their lack of rights and low standing in political society. Men ruled the world outside the home, women were expected to rule the children and the home, and the little amount of power they were allowed, was supposed to give them satisfaction. Kate Chopin wanted women to know that they were not alone and they were not the only people who were unfulfilled and unhappy. Many women actually believed that they were the only ones going through all this turmoil and therefore took drugs to feel better. This helped the book succeed and to be viewed by all as a new classic novel about the women’s rights movement.
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