Every year, for the last seven years, on March 1st, I have shared–via social media–the above quote from Virginia Woolf’s essay Room of One’s Own. The first time I read the quote, I thought, “Yes. That.” Until that moment, I had unsuccessfully tried to define my belief in and understanding of feminism–specifically to people who had a certain perception of ‘feminism,’ a term that has been so politicized and that its meaning has become darkened by extremism, the real “f” word. When really, feminism is rooted in advocacy. Advocacy for equality of human rights, not just women’s rights. Advocacy for the voiceless. For Humanity. For Anonymous.
When I consider feminism, I often examine the work of some of our nation’s first feminists. As a former teacher of early American history, I loved seeing the girls in my class begin to perk up at the mention of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, and others like them. Finally, faces that mirrored their own. I am particularly humbled by Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s work in feminism. Her fight for women’s suffrage and her partnership with key abolitionists of the time helped to create a world in which women and people of color would eventually participate in democracy. In Kelly Gallagher’s words, she helped “create an ecosystem that [served] to democratize opportunity.” Something feminists are still fighting for today.
In Stanton’s Declaration of Sentiments, she challenged the pervasive ideology that women shouldn’t vote, enjoy a college education, or own land; defying a system that called for a more strict moral code for women and a necessary dependency on men. After death, she even donated her brain to science to debunk the myth that the mass of men’s brains made them smarter than women.
Notice the word “debunk” and “myth.”
To be sure, her commitment to equality for all was beautiful. More beautiful than that, though, was the way Stanton empowered people with her words. Through her writing, she inspired others, men and women, to stand up for the voiceless. She put a face and a name to the silent masses, those not offered a place at the table, the anonymous.
That is the real meaning of feminism.
Because of feminism, Elizabeth Cady Stanton isn’t Anonymous. Sojourner Truth isn’t Anonymous. Virginia Woolf isn’t Anonymous.
I am not Anonymous.
You can call me Bridget, instead.