In her 1848 “Address on Woman’s Rights,” Elizabeth Cady Stanton aims to explain the “degradation and woe” that women have faced throughout history, due to the widespread perception that women are inferior to men. Instead, Stanton argues, woman ought to stand “by the side of man” as his equal and enjoy the same rights to suffrage, education, property ownership, and employment as men do. Men squander the very opportunities that their wives, daughters, and sisters yearn for, all the while pompously asserting their superiority. Such men must be “vanquished” in order to make room for a new era of women’s equality.
Stanton begins to critique men’s claims to moral, physical, and intellectual superiority over women. First, she argues that women are morally superior to men, since women have been forced to become self-denying and generous by the societies in which they live. Yet rather than shirk their moral duties, women have committed to prioritizing purity, caregiving, and temperance. Stanton also claims that while society attempts to use biblical arguments—such as the story of Adam and Eve—to keep women down, God has actually entitled women to the same earthly rights as men. She encourages women to focus on God’s judgment (rather than men’s judgment) and to seek comfort and fulfillment in their spirituality until they’re granted their God-given rights on Earth.
Next, she argues that men’s physical superiority to women is based on the fact that women aren’t afforded the same opportunities to romp, wander, and receive physical educations. Until women have been allowed to participate in sports and public life for at least a century, she suggests, it will be impossible to accurately gauge the physical differences between the sexes. Finally, she suggests that men are not intellectually superior to women either. Instead, they simply lord the fact that they’re able to pursue academic and religious educations over women, rather than sharing the knowledge they accrue during their studies with the women in their lives.
Global society, Stanton suggests, will remain only half-developed until women are allowed to pursue their own educations, stand beside their husbands as equals, and participate in public life through suffrage. Women throughout history—women like Joan of Arc, Hannah More, Elizabeth I, and Isabella of Spain—have forever bettered their countries and indeed global society. The United States will remain fraught with social and political divisiveness and will never prosper until a new era of women’s equality dawns, shining a “flashing sunlight” on the dark of the old world dominated by men. Only when men and women recognize their true equality will they ascend to the “palace homes” of enlightenment and harmony to rule as Kings and Queens of their own destinies.