Solitude of Self – Jake Berman

Stanton’s use of religious imagery is much heavier than a modern feminist’s would likely be. Now, many view biblical texts as being against many of the modern ideas of feminism. Being written thousands of years ago, women played a very different role in society than they do today (as well as than they did in 1892), where they were subjected to men’s will. However, it is not as contradictory for Stanton to use religious imagery in her speech. Her view that everyone is essentially on their own in the world, each on our own journey through life (and death) evokes religious ideals throughout, and makes for a very strong argument. One section particularly stood out to me:

“Whatever the theories may be of woman’s dependence on man, in the supreme
moments of her life, he cannot bear her burdens. Alone she goes to the gates of
death to give life to every man that is born into the world; no one can share her
fears, no one can mitigate her pangs; and if her sorrow is greater than she can bear, alone she passes beyond the gates into the vast unknown.” (6)

This passage’s religious symbology of the “gates of death” are used to really point out not only how solitary everyone’s journey through life, but to show how noble a woman’s role is. Childbirth is not just part of ones role as a woman, but is rather facing death in the face.

She also uses religious imagery in softer, yet just as rhetorically powerful ways, with her anecdote about, “the little girl who helped to dress a Christmas tree for the
children of the family in which she served,” (3) in which she, though she decorated the tree, did not receive any gifts, and was left with the solitary feeling that threads throughout the speech. Her use of religious rhetoric, which goes as far as quoting Jesus himself, makes her arguments very powerful for her audience, at a time when Americans were becoming even more drawn to religion as a way of reaching social change.

The most strikingly powerful part, I must say, is her concluding sentence, which I think warrants repetition: “Who, I ask you, can take, dare take on himself the rights,
the duties, the responsibilities of another human soul?” (9)

One thought on “Solitude of Self – Jake Berman

  1. I agree completely with your thoughts on the content of this speech when compared to the rhetoric of modern-day feminists. After the lecture on Christianity influencing American politics and reform movements, this connection makes sense given the time period. It is still interesting to contrast this to the modern feminism movement, however, so get a sense of how the paradigm has shifted in the 100+ years since Stanton pleaded for women’s suffrage.
    More so, however, I want to build on and expand your points about religion. I feel that the arguments Stanton could be framed by any number of social issues of the time, not just the lens of feminism. With religion being a way to reach all around social change, the idea that every man comes into the world on his own and leaves the world his own person. Stanton herself states that once we understand the importance of the solitude of self, “we can…appreciate the loss to a nation when any large class of the people is uneducated and unrepresented.” Had women’s suffrage been already addressed by the time Stanton came to give her speech, it would have been just as meaningful in the quest for equality of immigrants, the poor, or perhaps even the increasingly vote deprived blacks of America.

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