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Culture & Resistance Posts

Women’s Suffrage: More Than A Fight For The Vote

The video about the women’s suffrage movement highlighted areas of the movement that are usually not publicized. Firstly, it was interesting to learn that suffragettes started as abolitionists. These women were able to recognize that slavery was the biggest human rights problem that needed their support, and fighting for women’s rights had to take a backseat to fighting for those who had no voice of their own. Through the fight for abolition, women were able to realize the similarities between women and slaves. Women had no right to their own body once they were married. They were their husband’s property, much like slaves were their owners’ property. While there were obvious differences in the lives of slaves and white women, it was interesting to learn how the similarities encouraged women to fight for slaves before fighting for themselves.

There are also negative aspects of the suffrage movement that were discussed in the video. Facing a need for more support, suffragettes turned to white conservative women for support. The suffragettes were angered when black men were given the right to vote before women, and white conservative women were the angriest of them all. They believed that the reason white women should have the right to vote was to make up for the uneducated black men who had been given the right to vote. This opinion set women back in their fight for the vote because it showed that many of them were not fighting to improve the greater good, but had turned to only fight for themselves. The former abolitionists neglected their duties to the slaves that they had fought to free and the argument for their rights became racist and bitter, thus taking away from the true reasons why women should have the right to vote.

This video made me reflect on the groups of people that are still fighting for human rights in the U.S. right now. While groups such as the LGBT+, racial minorities, and women are all still battling an upward fight for equity with white men, the opinions of other often get in the way of what is actually being fought for. When people have racist, homophobic, and sexist views, they fail to see the fundamental human rights violations that are taking place in the country, much like what happened with conservative suffragettes and their views on black men. People need to focus on the bigger picture, which is that many groups in this country still are not treated equally, and it should not matter what people actually make up these groups.

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Women’s Suffrage: Breaking Out of the Yellow Wall-Paper

Women’s right to vote was obtained through no easy feat. Patriarchy was established to keep us in check, crippling women financially, civically, and most importantly, socially. Without the financial means (fair and equal access to work, personal accounts, and loans) and civic power (the right to vote and hold office) to protect our rights and personal interests, women were left entirely at the mercy of men, at a societal level and within the home. This system was justified through the disparagement of the “fairer” [read: female] sex, and it became socially instilled into men and women that women were inherently biologically different from men to the point of being “irrational” beings who should not be left in command of themselves for their own protection.

Overall, this strategy was very effective. Through social/pseudo-scientifc posturing about the way women are, and through complete financial and legal domination, women were either without the means to advocate for their own rights or pitted against their oppressors (men) and “science” in trying to fight it. Patriarchy not only stripped women of their power, but also of their voices and ability to be taken seriously. This is showcased very effectively in the work The Yellow Wall-Paper, by Charlotte Stetson, where the female protagonist is constantly forced to question her own perspective and experience of reality due to what may be mental illness but what is also certainly gaslighting by the husband who controls every aspect of her being (down to where she is allowed to be and what she is allowed to think).

Given the patriarchal norms that stripped women of the power to speak and be believed, it is impossible for them to have received their right to vote in any way other than fighting, and working alongside the Civil Rights movement for Black Americans. It is also understandable (though still wrong) that this movement became co-opted by racist white women who sought to gain power comparatively by stealing rank from black men (and obviously black women doubly so). While the narrator of The Yellow Wall-Paper may not have truly gained power by the end of the story (like women), she managed to break out of the initial binds of the wall-paper (gain the right to vote) which was certainly a first step.

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The Cost of Compromises

The element of the videos that we watched for Thursday’s class that left the greatest impression on me was the fact that in order to consolidate power and gain for followers, leaders of the women’s suffrage movement published horribly racist sentiments. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were desperate to gain support from wealthy southern women in order to forward the women’s suffrage movement. In order to gain support from this audience, though, they wrote truly heinous things against African Americans. While this tactic proved to be effective in bringing more women together in the fight for the vote, was this sacrifice really worth it? It’s hard to say, given that the Nineteenth Amendment was eventually passed by Congress and women were granted the right to vote in America. The question is that would women have won the right to vote had these feminist leaders not resorted to racist sentiment in order to gain followers?

Since Stanton and Anthony have been immortalized in American history due to their efforts in the name of women’s rights, their words will live on forever. The fact that such racist sentiments are attached to their names leaves a deep scar on their legacies, in my opinion. How are we supposed to support a cause for equality between the sexes when they don’t support equality between races? The compromises that people make for the sake of their causes can seriously alter the way in which history views their story.

These ideas are still very relevant today. Donald Trump is constantly called xenophobic, homophobic, and racist by countless people and media outlets. These accusations do have some foundations, as the language that he uses in speeches, rallies, and tweets indicates that. However, there is no way for us to truly know what Trump’s real thoughts and feeling are on minorities in this country. While there is no way for us to certainly know if he believes that white people are a superior race, we do know that these campaign tactics were very effective in the 2016 election. Trump tapped into some of the darkest sentiments that exist in this country, and was able to harness those sentiments into votes in his favor. Again, a political figure used questionable tactics to further their cause.

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Response #2 for Sept. 11

“Not every man is a tyrant, but the law gives every man the right of tyranny.” This was the most powerful sentence in the video. It’s so relevant even now, because of things in the world like the “not all men” response to the “me too” movement. Tons of men went around telling stories of how while some men are awful and don’t respect women, they do respect women so therefore not all men are deplorable. But similar to how the “all lives matter” phrase undercuts the power of the BLM movement, saying “not all men” is stripping women of their voice. The idea behind it is that no, of course it’s not all men, but it is enough men. It’s enough men that women are afraid. And that’s what I think links this quote about the law giving men the right to tyranny. Too many times, we have seen in this country a profound lack of punishment for a man who sexually assaults a woman. When the concern is greater for the fact that “this criminal accusation could ruin this young man’s life” than it is for the actual physical, emotional and psychological impressed upon a woman without her consent which will also, in fact, ruin her life. This lack of response to this specific type of violence against women is exactly what they mean when they say “the law gives every man the right of tyranny.” No, not every man is going to capitalize on the fact that he won’t be punished for assaulting a woman. But even the fact that he can is a very scary thought. And it’s powerful quotes like these which force us to acknowledge how vast the difference of right for men and women in America actually is.

The other thing that jumped out at me in the video was the fact that the 15th amendment split the supporters of women’s suffrage. This made me think of Crenshaw’s idea of intersectionality. People were talking about the rights of white women and the rights of black men. Black women were completely ignored in the conversation. And of course, we discussed in class how suffragists and abolitionists originally banded together because they were political activists fighting for social reform and they thought if everyone is equal than everyone really should be equal. But with the presentation of the 15th Amendment, it became the case where some people were being given rights and they thought, “Hey, that’s better than nothing,” but of course for those that were not receiving rights the obvious response was, “No, this isn’t what we wanted, what we were fighting for.” So the two ended up being divided when, like Crenshaw says, it’s more beneficial for them to be intertwined.

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Uncle Tom’s Cabin Popular Culture Position and Influence

Uncle Tom’s cabin acted an emotional mirror and influenced people’s perspective on slavery. The immediate backlash which followed its’ release highlighted its immense power as a ‘psychological weapon’ against the promoted system in place. In many places in the South, story tellers altered it making Tom a buffoon who enjoyed his position as a slave. However the book held a  net positive influence and highlighted many issues concerning slavery which weren’t spoken about such as detailed stories of the complex and layered relationships between slaves, both men and women and their masters. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was revolutionary for its’ inclusion of the female experience during these times. Additionally, having a female author doing with this time was rare, and having a female writer with the most popular book of its time was unheard of. Stowe became a figurehead who Lincoln regarded as a spark to the opposition of the existing institution. 

Uncle Tom’s Cabin undoubtedly sparked a conversation. Whether people were angered or intrigued, there was no avoiding it. It gained its’ place as a discussion point of the complex/inhumane nature of slavery. It told a story which communicated to the mob of society. Similar to the music, t.v., video games, social media, etc… we have today as pop culture, Uncle Tom’s Cabin acted in the realm of influence unavoidable to anyone. Just as we can’t dismiss pop culture’s icons nowadays, we can’t dismiss such avenues as Uncle Tom’s Cabin because it represented our values/motives at the time. 

We learned about Shakespeare’s notoriety for being vulgar yet he has appeared in culture, as well as pop culture since. Although it is so easy  for the masses to disregard pop culture as vapid, we have to understand the influential power of it. Uncle Tom’s Cabin opened doors of discussion which politicians couldn’t talk about. This is crazy! The fire which Stowe kindled caused a “profound cultural and ideological rebellion.” Not only do we have to be aware and respectful of such power, but further investigate the interworking of popular culture’s leadership systems in our society.

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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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The Timeless Influence of Art

When it was first published in 1852, Uncle Tom’s Cabin reached an array of audiences differently quite differently. Although only 1.5% of the non-slave population read the book, its influence was much further reaching. Reactions varied considerably, ranging from ridiculing the book for its inaccurate depiction of slavery to praising it for its message that was quite unpopular for the time. Especially considering that most slaves were illiterate, it took decades before Uncle Tom’s Cabin moved from its place in low or pop culture to the high culture it is treated as in the classroom now. 

Part of the reason the book might not have been as accepted during the time it was written is that it resonated positively with a small subset of the audience. As Hagood discusses, Stowe would have been able to reach a larger audience if she sympathized more with the plight of women. While this would have reached a wider audience and potentially received a more positive appraisal in the mid 19th century, it would have taken away from the purpose of Stowe’s writing. Humans construct their reality through storytelling, and although Stowe’s depiction of slavery illustrated “colors that make up the picture but not the world of ours,” it contributed to its overall reception, especially in the long-term. Stowe clearly did not want to accurately depict slavery because people already knew what it was like – they lived through it at the time. By exaggerating and focusing on the worst aspects, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was able to resonate more deeply with its readers, whether positively or negatively. 

The book struck the emotions of the nation. Some were outraged and some were moved to improve the world, but overall, there was a strong set of reactions, which Stowe was probably looking for. Any publicity is good publicity and Uncle Tom’s Cabin started a conversation that never ended and perhaps even influenced Abraham Lincoln’s movement towards abolition. Because of Stowe, I am even writing about her work today, nearly 150 years later. In my mind, that is a success and proves that the most influential works don’t have to be the most accurate. Digging into the purpose of a creation may take time to get the point across, but if you go deep enough, the answer lies within.

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The Influence of Popular Culture

The article, “Leadership, Culture, and Social Change,” defines the terms “culture,” “popular,” and “popular culture” respectively. These explanations hold significance as the article uses this terminology to explain the significance of the phrase “popular culture” with respect to societal conflicts and social change. Rather than simply categorizing popular culture as “vulgar entertainment,” the article encourages individuals to recognize its value to society as a whole. Popular culture has the ability to prompt introspection. Moreover, popular culture calls attention to present societal and political issues. The article describes the positive correlation between a work of popular culture’s audience size and influence: the larger the audience, the larger the possible impact. Using Uncle Tom’s Cabin as an example, the article reiterates the negative consequences of writing off popular culture as entertainment; Uncle Tom’s Cabin illustrates the atrocities of slavery and serves as a call to action. The article concludes by revealing “a profound disconnect between what influences us the most and what we identify as influential” (Bezio, 2018).

The quotation above directly relates to a discussion I had in my Theories and Models class last Thursday. Dr. Goethals described a social science experiment that he conducted regarding attitude change and memory. The study found that individuals’ perspectives on a particular social justice issue were altered by their peers. As a result, individuals with changed standpoints were unable to correctly recall their previous opinion on the matter. These findings parallel the aforementioned disconnect as individuals in the study were unable to recognize the influence that their peers had on their perspective. This evident disconnect reveals that individuals in our society must begin to recognize what impacts us the most; specifically, starting to recognize popular culture and our peers as influencing agents.

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Similarities in Pre and Post Slavery Societies

Olaudah Equiano’s life was filled with a great deal of tragedy and oppression. Equiano looks fondly upon his homeland and displays a deep connection to his nation and his people. Having ripped from his family at the age of 11 to be sold as a slave, Equiano has many stories about the horrors he faced under his owners and how his race determined his path in life. It is quite remarkable how Equiano is able to describe, in detail, the most traumatic events of his life. Equiano’s life in slavery differed from his time in various African nations to when he finally was taken overseas. Equiano had immediate fear for the white men who he had never encountered before. They were more cruel and terrifying than the previous people he had met on his journey as a slave. While Equiano’s life in slavery was filled with unimaginable maltreatment, he also did not see much hope for the life of a free black man.

Equiano’s story culminated in him buying his own freedom. Through all of the pain and suffering he entailed, he never gave up because he knew there was a better life out there that he deserved to live. Equiano was sold to many different people in many different places, but he never forgot his roots and his self worth and knew that one day, the life of a slave would not be his anymore. He was able to appreciate those who were kind to him, even though there were so many who had not been kind. Equiano knew not to take this kindness for granted, as he was not sure if someone would ever be kind to him again. Equiano did not let the opinions of others change how he felt about himself and he always had a clear self identity that allowed him to stay strong throughout his many trades.

While reading Equiano’s story, one has to also remember the slaves whose lives did not end in freedom. Many lives have been forgotten, as their stories were deemed not important enough to tell. Equiano makes sure to recognize that he was one of the lucky ones and that there were not many lucky ones. I would imagine that Equiano would be suprised by the lack of progress made today regarding the treatment of minorities. While slavery is illegal, the same mentality behind the creation of slavery still exists today and is still suppressing black voices, in particular black women. Intersectionality reveals the reality of black women who are constantly overlooked as they fall into two minority categories. As a society, it is our duty to be aware of and change these views because one group of people should not have to fight the constant oppression from others on their own.

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Retaining Identity in the Face of Cultural Suppression

Olaudah Equiano’s to-the-point retelling of his life in slavery seems to teach a lesson about identity in the face of adversity. Throughout his biography, Equiano seems to move quickly from story to story, never showing too much emotion or hanging onto any particular event. He recounts numerous horrors he encountered during his life in servitude, while also touching upon some positive moments. One consistent trend that I noticed throughout the piece was Equiano’s consistent naivety as he discovers new cultures. Another thing I noticed was his dry sense of emotion throughout the piece until the very end when he gains his freedom and his emotion becomes more evident.

A theme that I realized as I was reading this piece was the importance of one’s identity in the face of suppression. Equiano lived in several drastically different areas throughout his life in slavery and was culturally shaped by those experiences. Yet, despite living in so many different locations, he still identifies himself as “the African.” Numerous times more in the beginning of the piece Equiano references back to his hometown in a nostalgic fashion. Despite moving around throughout his life it seems as if he never forgot where he came from. This style of cultural resistance reminded me very much of the Black Panther Party that started in the ’60s. The mantra of the Black Panthers stressed resistance to white oppression and sought after a resurgence of African culture that had long been replaced in America. Despite being several hundred years apart, it is stories like Equiano’s that were the inspiration for movements like the Black Panthers. Stories about the cruelty of slavery and oppression fueled the very cultural resistance that these movements stressed.

I think stories like Equiano’s are incredibly important because they don’t hold back at all when describing the everyday violence that slaves encountered. It lets people see the true picture of hate and cruelty that was accepted back then. Above all however, Equiano’s biography teaches a lesson about the importance of identity despite any adversity or suppression.

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