Guest Author - Gina Cowley
Frances Dana Barker Gage described Sojourner Truth’s walk down the aisle to give response to a comment made by a man at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention (over which she presided in Akron in 1851) as walking “with the air of a queen.” She described what would be categorized today as an admonition against “setting back the movement” thusly: “Again and again, timorous and trembling ones came to me and said, with earnestness, “Don’t let her speak, Mrs. Gage, it will ruin us. Every newspaper in the land will have our cause (women’s rights) mixed up with abolition and n******, and we shall be utterly denounced.” To which Frances Gage replied, “We shall see when the time comes.”
Men attending the convention in protest, claimed superior rights to women based upon the “manhood of Christ” and the “sin of the first mother” in addition to their “superior intellect” among other things. The convention atmosphere was most tumultuous when Sojourner Truth rose to deliver her response to these protestations in what would become known as her “Ain’t I a Woman” speech in which she soundly reminded the men present as to their gender’s lack of involvement in the immaculate conception of Christ. “Whar did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothin’ to do wid him.” When the men claimed that women do not labor and therefore are not their equals, Truth likewise, reminded them that women can work and do work; pointing out the hard labor she herself had performed as a slave. Sojourner Truth then asked her poignant question “ain’t I a woman?”
When asked if you are a feminist – answer thoughtfully. While most often straining history through a contemporary colander is the tail wagging the dog, this is one area in which straining needs to be done. Can you articulate those events upon which the “feminist” movement was founded? Have you considered what rights some women have possessed that other women did not at any given point in history? Can you say that you are a “feminist” without considering the admonition given the daring Frances Gage when she allowed the brave Sojourner Truth to take the floor? And does this negate the good those fearful white women did in their day, though they espoused views held by many and certainly commonly accepted during those times when our country was at odds with itself?
Or do you call yourself a “womanist?” Some believe this term was born from the necessity that black women separate their “feminist” mission from the one originally led by white women given the ethnocentricity of the original movement. And is it fair to call some of history’s most visionary women ethnocentric for espousing views which were the contemporary view of their time? Or is that the contemporary colander in play? Wisdom grows after all and it did grow and it continues to grow - and one can hardly say Frances Dana Barker Gage espoused ethnocentricity when she gave Sojourner Truth the floor. And then again, the former slave herself made the ethnocentricity of the labor issue very obvious. And we know that racial inequality has existed in this country since the beginning. Add to that gender inequality – where did that leave black women then and where does it leave them now? Remembering all the while that there are women of other colors, besides black and white, in this country and presumably they can label themselves if a “need” arises.
Labels prove divisive. Sojourner Truth, given name Isabella Baumfree, asked simply and powerfully, “ain’t I a woman?” Mrs. Gage would agree that the time has indeed come, for that question, in and of itself, to be sufficient. We shall see.