Gender wars are not limited to conflicts between employed women and homemakers, for American women are not divided into two dichotomous groups. Instead, they are on a continuum. Some are as devoted to success at work as the most “high-powered” men; others do no market work. But most American women lie somewhere in the middle, or shift between various points on the continuum at different stages in their lives. These infinite gradations are divisive, as each woman judges women more work-centered than herself as insensitive to her children’s needs, and those less work-centered as having “dropped out” or “given up.”
Joan Williams, Unbending Gender
I recently watched a documentary about Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Anthony and Stanton were born at an age where women had no rights. At all. This is not an exaggeration. Not only could women not vote, they had no property rights. No rights to their own children. No rights to an education.
So these two women had their work cut out for them. And they couldn’t have been more different. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was married and would eventually have seven children. Susan B. Anthony was single and wanted to stay that way. Stanton liked to write. Anthony preferred speaking and forging alliances with other groups.
But their differences made their partnership ideal in many ways. Stanton could put pen to paper and deliver emotional appeals to other mothers. Anthony could take those words and travel all over the country with them, urging other women to join their cause.
They often didn’t agree. Stanton’s children would watch their mother argue so forcefully with “Aunt Susan” that they were sure, more than once, that their years of friendship would come to an end at any moment. Stanton and Anthony argued over their duties—Anthony wanted Stanton to travel to conventions and was devastated whenever her friend refused. They argued over issues—Stanton published a Women’s Bible which Anthony believed to be a distraction to their cause.
But, even when they disagreed, their friendship remained. They forgave each other and stayed friends their whole lives. Anthony sometimes looked after Stanton’s children. She also defended Stanton against NAWSA when the association denounced Stanton and her book.
That’s the point I think women sometimes miss. Women are different, it’s true. We may have different lives and different roles. But, like Stanton and Anthony, if we recognize our common goals, we can work together to achieve them despite differences of opinion. It’s not us against the feminists or the stay-at-home moms or the evangelical women or the liberal women or the young women or the old women or anyone else.
I think sometimes we denounce others who do or think differently than we do because we’re afraid that their choices invalidate our own, that if we don’t fight to defend our way of life, that the other will gain so much power we’ll lose our rights or become invisible.
The problem with this mentality is that we forget what we’re fighting for. When women accuse each other of making the wrong choice, we don’t always look at the forces that caused that “choice” to happen in the first place. Sometimes there was no choice at all, or sometimes the choice was between a rock and a hard place.
I think most of us want the same things. We want to make our own choices, and we want our choices to be respected, especially when it comes to family. We want the freedom to spend time with our families, whatever that means to us. We want to provide the best for them however we can.
If Stanton and Anthony could overcome their differences in order to achieve a common goal, surely we can do the same. They were only two women, but they changed the history of a nation. Imagine what a few hundred or a few thousand women with a common purpose could do.