In 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton delivered her “Address on Woman’s Rights,” in which she made the case that women were mocked simply for “dar[ing to] assert that woman stands by the side of man [as] his equal.” In many societies at this time, women were regarded as inferior to men in every way: intellectually, physically, and morally. Throughout her groundbreaking speech, Stanton picks apart men’s claims to superiority piece by piece—and in the process, she calls for equality between the sexes socially, politically, and economically. Stanton’s address suggests that men and women should regard one another as equals and partners—only then, she suggests, will men and women be able to live together in harmony and “see what few have seen” by achieving equality and thus an enlightened, unprecedented state of relating to one another.
First, Stanton dissects the assertion that men are intellectually or physically superior to women. She suggests that men have been “educated to believe that [women] differ from [them] so materially” that they cannot even relate to women. But this is a failing of society: by making it so that men never have to consider women’s intellectual, physical, or moral lives, men can minimize women and thus assert their own superiority. But Stanton suggests that men aren’t superior to women at all. After all, men have been given far more opportunities to better themselves intellectually and physically: men can attend universities and seminaries, they can play sports and walk freely in public, and they chase their own intellectual betterment without sharing any of their knowledge with their female counterparts. Stanton claims that it will be impossible to determine whether men are superior to women (or vice versa) until women have been, for at least a century, allowed to pursue educations and participate in public life. Only then, once the playing field has been leveled, will society be able to authentically judge men and women in relation to one another.
Next, Stanton interrogates the claim that men are morally or spiritually superior to women. As far as moral superiority, Stanton tells her audience that all men and women are made in God’s image and imbued with the “spark” of divinity He saw fit to give every one of his creatures. But over the course of human history, men have been given ample opportunities to “carry out [their] own selfishness” and made “an almost total shipwreck” of their own virtues. Men, in Stanton’s view, are drunk, vulgar, and immoral. But women, who have been held to impossible standards of morality and been shunted away from public life, have had no choice but to hone “the noble virtues of the martyr” and become utterly selfless in their prescribed roles as wives and mothers. By taking apart these claims to physical, intellectual, and moral superiority, Stanton is suggesting that “by nature,” men and women aren’t actually all that different. It is society, she believes, that has elevated men’s claims to greatness while sidelining women. This has created unevenness and unfairness between the sexes—but it doesn’t mean that men and women are inherently dissimilar.
Then, Stanton suggests that men and women must learn to see one another as equals, based on the evidence she’s provided, if they are going to improve society together. Stanton states that she and the rest of the women’s movement are united in the goal of establishing “the same code of morals for both” men and women. Women simply want to exist “upon an even pedestal with man.” The only happy partnerships between men and women, she suggests, are those in which “husband and wife share equally in counsel and government.” Until men realize that women can’t be happy as long as they’re subordinated and entrapped, men will continue to become more and more degenerate while women suffer the indignity of being excluded from education and public life. Men have, throughout history, turned to women in times of need. Stanton gives the example of Hannah More, who “was […] besought by many eminent men” to write works that would counteract the radical, atheist ideals taking hold of English society. And it was Isabella of Spain who became the “mother of the western world” by sending Christopher Columbus to discover the new world. “Man cannot fulfill his destiny alone”—history itself has shown that societies prosper most greatly when men and women work together as equals. And yet Stanton asserts that “the earth has never seen a truly great and virtuous nation, for woman has never yet stood the equal with man.” It could be the U.S.’s great triumph, she implies, to create a society that’s unparalleled by any other in the world. But that can only be accomplished if men invest in the struggle for women’s rights and permit women to become their equals.
Finally, Stanton offers a perspective on the potential men and women stand to reach together when they work together as equals. Toward the end of her speech, Stanton uses vivid language to predict what the world could look like if men and women put aside their manufactured differences and view one another as equals. The world will awaken from the dark ages, she predicts, and enter a new era of social and intellectual enlightenment and freedom once men and women recognize that “God has given [them] the same powers and faculties.” Once men and women come to this understanding, Stanton envisions that they’ll “see what few have seen [in] the palace home of King and Queen.” This suggests that there are limitless, unimaginable possibilities for a new world in which men and women, as equals, ascend to their “palace home” of mutual support and understanding. The U.S. can be the first nation to “see what few have seen” by ushering in a new era of equality unprecedented in the world.
Equality of the Sexes ThemeTracker
Equality of the Sexes Quotes in Address on Woman’s Rights
Woman alone can understand the height and the depth, the length and the breadth of her own degradation and woe. Man cannot speak for us—because he has been educated to believe that we differ from him so materially, that he cannot judge of our thoughts, feelings and opinions by his own.
Suffice it to say for the present, that wherever we turn the history of woman is sad and drear and dark, without any alleviating circumstances, nothing from which we can draw consolation. As the nations of the earth emerge from a state of barbarism, the sphere of woman gradually becomes wider but not even under what is thought to be the full blaze of the sun of civilization is it what God designed it to be.
[Satan] thought that [Adam] could be easily conquered through his affection for [Eve]. But the woman […] could be reached only through her intellectual nature. So he promised her the knowledge of good and evil. He told her the sphere of her reason should be enlarged […] so he prevailed and she did eat. […] Eve took an apple went to Adam and said "Dear Adam […] if you love me eat." Adam stopped not so much as to ask if the apple was sweet or sour. […] His love for Eve prevailed and he did eat. Which I ask you was the "creature of the affections"?
In my opinion he is infinitely woman's inferior in every moral virtue, not by nature, but made so by a false education. In carrying out his own selfishness, man has greatly improved woman's moral nature, but by an almost total shipwreck of his own. Woman has now the noble virtues of the martyr, she is early schooled to self denial and suffering. […] Then [man] says by way of an excuse for his degradation, God made woman more self denying than us, it is her nature, it does not cost her as much to give up her wishes, her will, her life even as it does us. We are naturally selfish, God made us so. No!
Now your strongest men are […] very often the small man who is well built, tightly put together and possessed of an indomitable will. Bodily strength depends something on the power of will. The sight of a small boy thoroughly thrashing a big one is not rare. Now would you say the big fat boy whipped was superior to the small active boy who conquered him? You do not say the horse is physically superior to the man—for although he has more muscular power, yet the power of mind in man renders him his superior and he guides him wherever he will.
We did assemble to protest against a form of government existing without the consent of the governed, to declare our right to be free as man is free.
But say some would you have woman vote? What refined delicate woman at the polls, mingling in such scenes of violence and vulgarity—most certainly—where there is so much to be feared for the pure, the innocent, the noble, the mother surely should be there to watch and guard her sons, who must encounter such stormy dangerous scenes at the tender age of 21. Much is said of woman's influence, might not her presence do much towards softening down this violence—refining this vulgarity?
In nothing is woman's true happiness consulted, men like to […] induce her to believe her organization is so much finer more delicate than theirs, that she is not fitted to struggle with the tempests of public life but needs their care and protection. Care and protection? such as the wolf gives the lamb—such as the eagle the hare he carries to his eyrie. Most cunningly he entraps her and then takes from her all those rights which are dearer to him than life itself.
Let woman live as she should, let her feel her accountability to her Maker— Let her know that her spirit is fitted for as high a sphere as man's and that her soul requires food as pure as refreshing as his—let her live first for God and she will not make imperfect man an object of reverence and idolatry— Teach her her responsibility as a being of conscience and of reason—that she will find any earthly support unstable and weak, that her only safe dependence is on the arm of omnipotence.
Wives obey your Husbands in the Lord. Now as the command is given to me, I am of course to be the judge of what is in the Lord and this opens a wide field of escape from any troublesome commands.
I think a man who under the present state of things has the moral hardihood to take an education at the hands of woman and at such an expense to her, ought as soon as he graduates with all his honours thick upon him take the first ship for Turkey and there pass his days in earnest efforts to rouse the inmates of the Harems to a true sense of their present debasement and not as is his custom immediately enter our pulpits to tell us of his superiority to us "weaker vessels" his prerogative to command, ours to obey—his duty to preach, ours to keep silence.
The only happy households we now see are those in which Husband and wife share equally in counsel and government. There can be no true dignity or independence where there is subordination, no happiness without freedom.
The feeling we so often hear expressed of dislike to seeing woman in places of publicity and trust is merely the effect of custom very like that prejudice against colour that has been proved to be so truly American.
There seems now to be a kind of moral stagnation in our midst. […] War, slavery, drunkenness, licentiousness and gluttony have been dragged naked before the people and all their abominations full brought to light. Yet with idiotic laugh we hug these monsters to our arms.... […] And how shall we account for this state of things? Depend upon it the degradation of women is the secret of all this woe—the inactivity of her head and heart. The voice of woman has been silenced, but man cannot fulfill his destiny alone—he cannot redeem his race unaided[.]
A new era is dawn<ing upon the world, […] when the millions now under the iron heel of the tyrant will assert their manhood, when woman yielding to the voice of the spirit within her will demand the recognition of her humanity, when her soul, grown too large for her chains, will burst the bands around her set and stand redeemed….
The slumber is broken and the sleeper has risen.