Tuesday, 1 April 2014

What I Want My Daughter to Know

Reading "The Solitude of Self" by Elizbeth Cady Stanton had a great impact on me, partially because it spoke of a principle which is central to my philosophy of life. Cady Stanton was a female rhetorician who really kick-started First Wave Feminism (which was directed towards getting the vote for women). She has been criticized for using racial language when she gave reasons for why women should have the vote before black men did, but even Frederick Douglass respected her highly and wrote, "After her--silence."

This speech was given when she was already firmly established and respected as an advocate for women, and it is a piece I would class together with the greatest masterpieces of philosophical rhetoric next to "On the Peace" by Isocrates and "The Dream of Scipio" by Cicero. Her premise is simply stated: "We all have to be responsible for our own lives." Women cannot depend on a man for her happiness or protection alone, just as no other person should be wholly dependent on anyone else for the rest of their lives. I have heard and I believe the saying that "If a person cannot be alone with nature and be satisfied, that person is not happy with themselves." It is the same in matters of love. Though I am a huge believer in the importance of relationships and families, these relationships alone cannot define your worth or who you are. As Cady Stanton writes, "The isolation of every human soul, and the necessity of self-dependence, must give each individual the right to choose his own surroundings."

What then of all the talk during her age of the "weaker sex?" The talk of sheltering woman from the fierce storms of life is the sheerest mockery, for they beat on her from every point of the compass, just as they do on man, and with more fatal results, for he has been trained to protect himself, to resist, and to conquer. Such are the facts in human experience, the responsibilities of individual sovereignty. Rich and poor; it is ever the same, each soul must depend wholly on itself."

She makes it quite clear indeed that women may pass through more travail than men do in life. "Whatever the theories may be of woman's dependence on man, in the supreme moments of her life, he cannot bear her burdens. Alone she goes to the gates of death to give life to every man that is born into the world; no one can share her fears, no one can mitigate her pangs; and if her sorrow is greater than she can bear, alone she passes beyond the gates into the vast unknown . . . ."

Everyone needs a center, a focus of their being which they can call their own and which is not defined solely in relation to other people. It is this center they must rely on in the bitter and lonely moments of their life, and it is this center which may provide a security and a joy which no other source can take away. This must be the same for men and for women. The lack of nternal value leads to a constant struggle for external value, and all external value in the end will be nothing more than shadows and dust by itself.

Do not live in constant fear of what other people can give or take away. Do not wait for someone to slay your dragons or fight your demons. You are who you are, and that by itself is enough.