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Gender Inequality Issues & Their Impact on Uncle Tom’s Cabin

An interesting anecdote from “‘Oh, what a slanderous book,’: Reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the Antebellum South” that is closely connected with our discussion involving intersectionality in class on Thursday was made by reviewer John R. Thompson. Thompson critiqued Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel beyond just its usual controversial implications about slavery in the south at the time. Thompson had additional critiques for Stowe herself. Specifically, he did not approve of her writing the novel as a woman. Hagood explains Thompson’s reaction to the novel saying “Stowe had violated the rules of nineteenth-century gender decorum and the American patriarchal order that pervaded both North and South … Thompson found her willingness to engage publicly in the slavery debate an affront, one that might ‘place woman on a footing of political equality with man.’” This critique exemplifies how the issue of women’s rights and the abolitionist movement were so tightly connected beyond the typical assumption. 

As a result of the extreme gender inequality at the time that Stowe released Uncle Tom’s Cabin, some critics discredited her writing due to her gender. Even those that commended Stowe for her work treated her differently than they would a male author. When Abraham Lincoln met her he referred to her as “the little woman,” who helped spark the civil war. Although a positive comment, these words still implied that it was extra surprising that the novel was successful given she was a woman. Although supporting the abolishment of slavery as a woman was important, in some ways it hurt the cause as many critics also discredited women’s opinions and women’s rights.

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4 Comments

  1. Katherine Fell Katherine Fell

    I found your comments on how Stowe was received on the basis of her gender both incredibly relevant and interesting. This negative attitude towards female authors is unfortunately still very present in today’s world. Countless female authors will publish works using their initials so avoid any prejudice against them or their work on the basis of their gender.

  2. David Ataide David Ataide

    I found your post very interesting. It touched upon the key factor that “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was written by a woman, a factor that both popularized and discredited the novel in the eyes of men. It is very sad that simply because this novel was written by a woman that it’s meaning was overshadowed. Most people ignored the message of the book because they couldn’t get over the fact that it represented a woman getting involved in the politics of men.

  3. Nicolette Romley Nicolette Romley

    I enjoyed how you connected this week’s readings to last week’s readings. Stowe faced a great deal of criticism purely about her gender. It would have been easier for Stowe to have not written Uncle Tom’s Cabin at all, as she most likely knew the backlash that she was going to face. Stowe saw how her book could help the greater good and ignored the outrageous opinions of society at the time because she knew abolition was a fight that needed her support.

  4. Sara Messervey Sara Messervey

    It is important to think about perceptions of gender and race and how those inform and reshape political movements, and I appreciate and wholeheartedly agree with your reflection on this from the reading. I also think it’s very important to note Stowe’s intentional focus on African American rights as opposed to the struggles of white women in writing her work, which took away from her potential audience but also (correctly) didn’t try to compare the two forms of oppression as if they were similar. I think on the point of intersectionality though, Wheatley’s work is the best example of how black women (the intersection of being black and a woman) didn’t have a voice until well after their time, as her works and story were invisible until well after her death.

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