Throughout her 1848 “Address on Woman’s Rights,” Elizabeth Cady Stanton references the various sufferings—and triumphs—of women all around the world. For instance, she discusses women kept as “slave[s]” in the “harems” of the East who choose to see their bondage as proof of their worth (though modern readers might find this description racist or condescending), as well as the legacies of monarchs like Queen Elizabeth of England and Queen Isabella of Spain. In this way, Stanton uses her speech to broaden her American listeners’ perspectives on the wide-ranging struggles that women around the world face. The address argues that the fight for equality must be a global one—and that American women must learn from the pain and glory of their counterparts around the world in order to unrepentantly resolve to “be free or perish.”
In order to paint a holistic view of women’s rights around the world, Stanton compares the successes of liberated, empowered women to the struggles of women who remain constrained by their positions in society. “In all eastern countries,” Stanton claims, woman is a “mere slave bought and sold at pleasure.” Women are forced to perform physical labor other otherwise serve as “the idol of [men’s] lust” as a “toy for […] play.” By highlighting how women in far-away parts of the world struggled simply to be recognized as human, Stanton appeals to her audience’s sense of empathy—as well as their sense of superiority. Stanton goes on to claim that “[C]hristian countries” possess a “more advanced state of civilization and refinement”—and that although women still hold “inferior” positions in Europe, they can indeed advance in society. Women have led countries like Russia, England, and Spain—and women in Europe enjoy “literary attainments” and other fulfilling pursuits such as careers in science. Today, readers may find Stanton’s rhetoric offensive, since she suggests that white, Christian countries are superior. But to the American women she was addressing, her arguments would have bolstered her audience’s view of her worldliness and legitimized her entire address. By highlighting the experiences of women around the world, Stanton was helping her audience understand the stateside struggle for women’s rights in a wider context. “The feeling we so often hear expressed of dislike to seeing woman in places of publicity [is] the effect of custom very like that prejudice against colour that has been proved to be so truly American,” Stanton says in her speech. With this, she suggests that American women face a uniquely difficult struggle for equal rights because of the United States’ uniquely prejudiced stance against women and people of color.
American women, Stanton argues, must remain wary of the things that threaten the women’s movement, such as ignorance or complacency. “The most lamentable aspect our cause wears is the indifference indeed the contempt with which women themselves regard our movement,” says Stanton at one point in her speech. Here, she’s suggesting that many American women don’t wholeheartedly participate in the women’s right movement because they’re either hopeless about the possibility of changing their circumstances or have been duped into believing that their current station is acceptable. But Stanton believes both of these perspectives are harmful to the movement—and that they can be remedied by turning to the stories of women around the world. Women who “glory in their bondage” must shake themselves from their complacency and “demand” equality. Modern readers might find Stanton’s language outdated and racist, since she’s suggesting that women in less “civilized” countries—that is, places that aren’t predominantly white or Christian—actually enjoy their “bondage” (enslavement or oppression). But American women, she suggests, know themselves to a “somewhat greater degree” and so must not languish in obscurity and powerlessness. In other words, Stanton is suggesting American women learn from the ignorance of women in other parts of the world and use their comparatively easier circumstances to fight for their rights.
To fortify the women’s movement, American women should turn to the stories of powerful women throughout the world who have achieved power and helped their countries. Stanton suggests American women look to successful, impassioned European leaders and thinkers like Hannah More, Elizabeth I, Isabella of Spain, and Joan of Arc for guidance. (Again, modern readers may find this subtly racist against non-white women, since Stanton focuses on white European women as role models.) All of these women made major changes in their countries by leading battalions, commanding naval fleets, and serving as religious, moral, and intellectual authorities. In Stanton’s view, American women should look to less-civilized women’s ignorance as a cautionary tale, but they should view women who’ve ascended to greatness in the Western world as role models. She entreats her audience to look to the rest of the world for examples of how to pursue equality (though her argument arguably flawed, since it’s biased in favor of European women). Nevertheless, she encourages American women from all walks of life to learn from women around the world as they struggle for their own advancement.
Women’s Rights Around the World ThemeTracker
Women’s Rights Around the World Quotes in Address on Woman’s Rights
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.
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.
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 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.
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.