Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.
For I conclude that the enemy is not lipstick, but
guilt itself; we deserve lipstick, if we want it, AND
free speech; we deserve to be sexual AND serious—
or whatever we please. We are entitled to wear
cowboy boots to our own revolution.”
— Naomi Wolf
From the very beginnings of what George Washington called “the last great experiment for promoting human happiness,” there were women who questioned why they were not to share in what the Declaration of Independence called “unalienable rights” to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
In 1776, Abigail Adams famously wrote to her husband John:
“. . . in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”
In 1844, Margaret Fuller’s book, Woman in the 19th Century, one of the wellsprings of the American feminist movement, was as much excoriated as it was praised, but it foreshadowed the events at Seneca Falls:
“. . . Many women are considering within themselves what they need that they have not, and what they can have if they find they need it. Many men are considering whether women are capable of being and having more than they are and have, and whether, if so, it will be best to consent to improvement in their condition . . .”
And she noted: “. . . The past year has seen action in the Rhode Island legislature, to secure married women rights over their own property, where men showed that a very little examination of the subject could teach them much ; an article in the Democratic Review on the same subject more largely considered, written by a woman, impelled, it is said, by glaring wrong to a distinguished friend, having shown the defects in the existing laws, and the state of opinion from which they spring . . .”
But these were individual voices. What the Seneca Falls Convention started was a movement, of, by, and for women, to change the place of Woman in society and win for her the same rights which the laws of the land accorded to Man, a rebellion just as far-reaching as the American Revolution.
July 19, 1848, was the opening day of the Woman’s Rights Convention, which was quickly dubbed the Seneca Falls Convention, an event attended by 300 people, mostly local residents of Seneca Falls, already a hot bed of abolitionist and temperance activity. The convention was organized by Jane Hunt, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martha Wright, and Mary Ann McClintock. The first day was for women only, but the second day was also open to men.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton gave the keynote address on the 19th of July. She began with a bit of humor:
“We have met here today to discuss our rights and wrongs, civil and political, and not, as some have supposed, to go into the detail of social life alone. We do not propose to petition the legislature to make our husbands just, generous, and courteous, to seat every man at the head of a cradle, and to clothe every woman in male attire.”
She moved on to the purpose of the convention:
” . . . But we are assembled to protest against a form of government existing without the consent of the governed – to declare our right to be free as man is free, to be represented in the government which we are taxed to support, to have such disgraceful laws as give man the power to chastise and imprison his wife, to take the wages which she earns, the property which she inherits, and, in case of separation, the children of her love; laws which make her the mere dependent on his bounty. It is to protest against such unjust laws as these that we are assembled today, and to have them, if possible, forever erased from our statute books, deeming them a shame and a disgrace to a Christian republic in the nineteenth century. We have met to uplift woman’s fallen divinity upon an even pedestal with man’s.”
Then she dropped the bombshell:
“And, strange as it may seem to many, we now demand our right to vote according to the declaration of the government under which we live.”
“. . . We do not expect our path will be strewn with the flowers of popular applause, but over the thorns of bigotry and prejudice will be our way, and on our banners will beat the dark storm clouds of opposition from those who have entrenched themselves behind the stormy bulwarks of custom and authority, and who have fortified their position by every means, holy and unholy. But we will steadfastly abide the result. Unmoved we will bear it aloft. Undauntedly we will unfurl it to the gale, for we know that the storm cannot rend from it a shred, that the electric flash will but more clearly show to us the glorious words inscribed upon it, ‘Equality of Rights.’ “
How prophetic she was. For proclaiming “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal . . .” and especially for asserting a woman’s right to vote, the Seneca Falls Convention was subjected to public ridicule, and some backers of women’s rights withdrew their support. But the convention marked the beginning of the woman’s suffrage movement in America, a struggle which continued to 1920, when the 19th Amendment was finally adopted. Yet the fight for universal suffrage and women’s equality continues to this very day.
The first meeting of feminist leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton (left) and Susan B Anthony (right), introduced by Amelia Jenks Bloomer, advocate for “rational dress” for women, after attending a William Lloyd Garrison antislavery lecture – statue in Seneca Falls, NY
For most of the women who stood on the platform at Seneca Falls, it was the first time they had spoken in public. How terrifying and yet exhilarating to stand up and speak your mind before a crowd.
It was still terrifying and exhilarating in the late 20th century when Audre Lorde wrote: “Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal. And the world won’t end. And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And you will still flirt and paint your nails, dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said, ‘If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.’ And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.”
In honor of all the brave women who spoke their minds at Seneca Falls and began this still unfinished women’s revolution, here are some words only women could have written.
Ironically, Julia Ward Howe is now known only for “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” but she wrote this in 1870, during her unsuccessful campaign to establish a Mother’s Peace Day.
Mother’s Day Proclamation
by Julia Ward Howe
Arise then…women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
“We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace…
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.
“Mother’s Day Proclamation” is in the public domain.
Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910) was an American author, essayist, and poet, who wrote the words to “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” but she also was an editor and contributor (1872-1892) to the suffragist magazine Woman’s Journal, and was very active in the movements for the abolition of slavery, social reform, women’s rights, and peace. She died at age 91.
by Anne Sexton
I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.
I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.
I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
“Her Kind” from The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton, © 1981 by Linda Gray Sexton and Loring Conant, Jr. – Houghton Mifflin
Anne Sexton (1928-1974) American poet who won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1967 for Live or Die. Much of her poetry details her long battle with depression, suicidal tendencies. On October 4, 1974, Sexton had lunch with long-time friend and collaborator Maxine Kumin to revise galleys for Sexton’s manuscript of The Awful Rowing Toward God, scheduled for publication in March 1975. On returning home she put on her mother’s old fur coat, removed all her rings, poured herself a glass of vodka, locked herself in her garage, and started the engine of her car, ending her life by carbon monoxide poisoning.
by Dorothy Parker
By the time you swear you’re his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying —
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.
“Unfortunate Coincidence” from The Portable Dorothy Parker, edited by Brendan Gill, ©1926/renewed 1954 by Dorothy Parker – Viking Penguin
Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) may be the most quoted – and misquoted – woman in America. Her formal education ended at 14, but she became a celebrated wit. Parker was a founding member of the famed Algonquin Round Table (circa 1919-1929). When the New Yorker debuted in 1925, Dorothy Parker was on the editorial board. As the magazine’s “Constant Reader,” she contributed poetry, fiction — and book reviews famous for pulling no punches: “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.” She made four failed suicide attempts, and said in an interview when she turned 70, “If I had any decency, I’d be dead. All my friends are.” In 1967, Parker did die, of a heart attack, at age 73. She bequeathed her literary estate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She had never met him.
The American women’s movement was and is only one movement out of many women’s rights movements by women all over the world. In spite of the cultural, linguistic, and geographical differences of these movements, the stories of their struggles for equality are remarkably the same.
Why She Stayed
by Nikita Gill
He is a storm,
and storms devastate,
but every time he hurts you,
you hold your breath
and bear the hurricane;
repeating to yourself
One more chance
One more breath,
just one more,
and you’ll fix him
Until one day you can’t
hold your breath anymore,
and you are
half a stormy evening,
one tear stained night,
and five seconds
away from breaking down.
And you realize
you cannot fix anyone,
not until you fix yourself.
“Why She Stayed” from Wild Embers, © 2017 by Nikita Gill – Hachette Books
Nikita Gill (1987 – ), British-Indian poet and writer, was born in Belfast to Indian parents, while her father, a merchant navy man, was preparing to take his captain’s exams at Ulster University. The family moved back to India when she was a few months old. Though she wanted to be a writer from the age of 12, when her first story was published in a newspaper, her parents encouraged her to seek a more realistic career, so she studied design at university. In 2012, she moved to the UK for her Masters, and began posting her poetry online in 2015. Though her following started with a single reader, she now has over 200,000 followers, several of them celebrities, including Alanis Morissette. Her best-known published poetry collections are Wild Embers, and Your Soul is a River.
Poet as Housewife
by Elisabeth Eybers
Always a broom leaned against a wall,
meals never on time, if they come at all.
Days without dates through which she moves
empty and stubborn, slightly confused.
Ironing hung dejectedly over a chair,
gestures that come from who-knows-where.
Old letters unanswered, piled together,
papers and pills stuffed deep in a drawer.
Thankful to be part of your heart’s great whole
yet devoted to the limits of her own small skull.
O orderly biped, take heed,
leave her alone—let her read.
—translated from the Afrikaans by Jacquelyn Pope
“Poet as Housewife” from Winter-surplus (multi-lingual edition) – 1999 – Querido Publishing
Elisabeth Eybers (1915-2007) was a South African poet and journalist from the Transvaal who wrote mainly in Afrikaans, but she translated some of her work, and the work of others, into English. In 1943, she was the first South African woman to win the Hertzog Prize for Poetry, and then she won it again in 1971. Among her many collections of poetry are Belydenis in die Skemering (“Confession at twilight”), Die Stil Avontuur (“The silent adventure”), Helder Halfjaar (Bright half-year), and Onderdak (Under shelter). In her later years, moved to the Netherlands, and died in Amsterdam at age 92.
Women of Color were too often excluded from the Woman Suffrage movement in the U.S., but they waged their own even more difficult battles to overcome the double prejudice against their gender and the color of their skin.
A Woman Speaks
by Audre Lorde
Moon marked and touched by sun
my magic is unwritten
but when the sea turns back
it will leave my shape behind.
I seek no favor
untouched by blood
unrelenting as the curse of love
permanent as my errors
or my pride
I do not mix
love with pity
nor hate with scorn
and if you would know me
look into the entrails of Uranus
where the restless oceans pound.
I do not dwell
within my birth nor my divinities
who am ageless and half-grown
and still seeking
witches in Dahomey
wear me inside their coiled cloths
as our mother did
I have been woman
for a long time
beware my smile
I am treacherous with old magic
and the noon’s new fury
with all your wide futures
and not white.
“A Woman Speaks” from The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde, © 1997 by the Audre Lorde Estate – W. W. Norton & Company
Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, poet, feminist, lesbian, librarian, and civil rights activist. She was born in New York City, the daughter of a father from Barbados, and a mother from Grenada. Her poems and prose largely deal with issues related to civil rights, women, and the exploration of black female identity. She became an associate of the Women’s Institute for Freedom of the Press in 1977, and was a co-founder of Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press in 1980. She survived breast cancer in 1978, but died at age 58 of liver cancer in 1992.
Poem about My Rights
by June Jordan
Even tonight and I need to take a walk and clear
my head about this poem about why I can’t
go out without changing my clothes my shoes
my body posture my gender identity my age
my status as a woman alone in the evening/
alone on the streets/alone not being the point/
the point being that I can’t do what I want
to do with my own body because I am the wrong
sex the wrong age the wrong skin and
suppose it was not here in the city but down on the beach/
or far into the woods and I wanted to go
there by myself thinking about God/or thinking
about children or thinking about the world/all of it
disclosed by the stars and the silence:
I could not go and I could not think and I could not
as I need to be
alone because I can’t do what I want to do with my own
who in the hell set things up
and in France they say if the guy penetrates
but does not ejaculate then he did not rape me
and if after stabbing him if after screams if
after begging the bastard and if even after smashing
a hammer to his head if even after that if he
and his buddies fuck me after that
then I consented and there was
no rape because finally you understand finally
they fucked me over because I was wrong I was
wrong again to be me being me where I was/wrong
to be who I am
which is exactly like South Africa
penetrating into Namibia penetrating into
Angola and does that mean I mean how do you know if
Pretoria ejaculates what will the evidence look like the
proof of the monster jackboot ejaculation on Blackland
after Namibia and if after Angola and if after Zimbabwe
and if after all of my kinsmen and women resist even to
self-immolation of the villages and if after that
we lose nevertheless what will the big boys say will they
claim my consent:
Do You Follow Me: We are the wrong people of
the wrong skin on the wrong continent and what
in the hell is everybody being reasonable about
and according to the Times this week
back in 1966 the C.I.A. decided that they had this problem
and the problem was a man named Nkrumah so they
killed him and before that it was Patrice Lumumba
and before that it was my father on the campus
of my Ivy League school and my father afraid
to walk into the cafeteria because he said he
was wrong the wrong age the wrong skin the wrong
gender identity and he was paying my tuition and
it was my father saying I was wrong saying that
I should have been a boy because he wanted one/a
boy and that I should have been lighter skinned and
that I should have had straighter hair and that
I should not be so boy crazy but instead I should
just be one/a boy and before that
it was my mother pleading plastic surgery for
my nose and braces for my teeth and telling me
to let the books loose to let them loose in other
I am very familiar with the problems of the C.I.A.
and the problems of South Africa and the problems
of Exxon Corporation and the problems of white
America in general and the problems of the teachers
and the preachers and the F.B.I. and the social
workers and my particular Mom and Dad/I am very
familiar with the problems because the problems
turn out to be
I am the history of rape
I am the history of the rejection of who I am
I am the history of the terrorized incarceration of
I am the history of battery assault and limitless
armies against whatever I want to do with my mind
and my body and my soul and
whether it’s about walking out at night
or whether it’s about the love that I feel or
whether it’s about the sanctity of my vagina or
the sanctity of my national boundaries
or the sanctity of my leaders or the sanctity
of each and every desire
that I know from my personal and idiosyncratic
and indisputably single and singular heart
I have been raped
cause I have been wrong the wrong sex the wrong age
the wrong skin the wrong nose the wrong hair the
wrong need the wrong dream the wrong geographic
the wrong sartorial I
I have been the meaning of rape
I have been the problem everyone seeks to
eliminate by forced
penetration with or without the evidence of slime and/
but let this be unmistakable this poem
is not consent I do not consent
to my mother to my father to the teachers to
the F.B.I. to South Africa to Bedford-Stuy
to Park Avenue to American Airlines to the hard-on
idlers on the corners to the sneaky creeps in
I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name
My name is my own my own my own
and I can’t tell you who the hell set things up like this
but I can tell you that from now on my resistance
my simple and daily and nightly self-determination
may very well cost you your life
“Poem About My Rights” from Directed By Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan © 2005 by The June M. Jordan Literary Trust – Copper Canyon Press
June Jordan (1936-2002) was born in Harlem, New York, the only child of Jamaican immigrant parents. She was a poet, essayist, teacher, feminist, civil rights activist and self-identified Bisexual. While the students at most of the schools she attended were predominately White, at Barnard College, “No one ever presented me with a single Black author, poet, historian, personage, or idea for that matter. Nor was I ever assigned a single woman to study as a thinker, or writer, or poet, or life force . . . Nothing showed me how I might try to alter the political and economic realities underlying our Black condition in white America.” She left without graduating, but returned later. Her first book, Who Look at Me, a collection of poems for children, was published in 1969. She wrote 27 more books, the last three published posthumously. Jordan was the librettist for the musical Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky. She taught at several colleges and at SUNY at Stony Brook, then founded the Poetry for the People program at UC Berkeley in 1991. She died of breast cancer at age 65.
And now, for something completely different, Rhonda Ganz puts a 21st century twist on an ancient Greek myth.
Persephone Tries Internet Dating, But Every Man Reminds Her of Hades
by Rhonda Ganz
…Demeter insists I go on blind dates;
get used to life above ground.
Says I had a fever, but seem to be
much better now.
Emails me the latest stack
of compatible matches.
Don’t be fussy, she says.
They can’t all be Greek.
“Persephone Tries Internet Dating, But Every Man Reminds Her of Hades” from Frequent, Small Loads of Laundry, © 2017 by Rhonda Ganz
Rhonda Ganz is a Canadian poet, graphic designer, and editor who was born in Kenya. Her debut poetry collection, Frequent, Small Loads of Laundry, won the 2018 ReLit Award for poetry. Her poems have appeared in The Malahat Review, and in several anthologies, including Rocksalt and Force Field.
Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale has been called “the women’s 1984,” and Atwood “the patron saint of feminist dystopian fiction.” Her poetry is far less well known, but it’s just as memorable. Here, she looks back into Canadian history rather than into the future: Jean Cololère, a drummer in the colonial troops at Québec, was imprisoned for duelling in 1751. In the cell next to his was Françoise Laurent, who had been sentenced to hang for stealing. Except for letters of pardon, the only way at the time for someone under sentence of death to escape hanging was, for a man, to become a hangman, or, for a woman, to marry one. Françoise persuaded Cololère to apply for the vacant (and undesirable) post of executioner, and also to marry her.
Marrying the Hangman
by Margaret Atwood
She has been condemned to death by hanging. A man
may escape this death by becoming the hangman, a
woman by marrying the hangman. But at the present
time there is no hangman; thus there is no escape.
There is only a death, indefinitely postponed. This is
not fantasy, it is history.
To live in prison is to live without mirrors. To live
without mirrors is to live without the self. She is
living selflessly, she finds a hole in the stone wall and
on the other side of the wall, a voice. The voice
comes through darkness and has no face. This voice
becomes her mirror.
In order to avoid her death, her particular death, with
wrung neck and swollen tongue, she must marry the
hangman. But there is no hangman, first she must
create him, she must persuade this man at the end of
the voice, this voice she has never seen and which has
never seen her, this darkness, she must persuade him
to renounce his face, exchange it for the impersonal
mask of death, of official death which has eyes but
no mouth, this mask of a dark leper. She must
transform his hands so they will be willing to twist
the rope around throats that have been singled out
as hers was, throats other than hers. She must marry
the hangman or no one, but that is not so bad. Who
else is there to marry?
You wonder about her crime. She was condemned
to death for stealing clothes from her employer, from
the wife of her employer. She wished to make herself
more beautiful. This desire in servants was not legal.
She uses her voice like a hand, her voice reaches
through the wall, stroking and touching. What could
she possibly have said that would have convinced him?
He was not condemned to death, freedom awaited
him. What was the temptation, the one that worked?
Perhaps he wanted to live with a woman whose life
he had saved, who had seen down into the earth but
had nevertheless followed him back up to life. It was
his only chance to be a hero, to one person at least,
for if he became the hangman the others would
despise him. He was in prison for wounding another
man, on one finger of the right hand, with a sword.
This too is history.
My friends, who are both women, tell me their stories,
which cannot be believed and which are true. They
are horror stories and they have not happened to me,
they have not yet happened to me, they have
happened to me but we are detached, we watch our
unbelief with horror. Such things cannot happen to
us, it is afternoon and these things do not happen in
the afternoon. The trouble was, she said, I didn’t
have time to put my glasses on and without them I’m
blind as a bat, I couldn’t even see who it was. These
things happen and we sit at a table and tell stories
about them so we can finally believe. This is not
fantasy, it is history, there is more than one hangman
and because of this some of them are unemployed.
He said: the end of walls, the end of ropes, the opening
of doors, a field, the wind, a house, the sun, a table,
She said: nipple, arms, lips, wine, belly, hair, bread,
thighs, eyes, eyes.
They both kept their promises.
The hangman is not such a bad fellow. Afterwards he
goes to the refrigerator and cleans up the leftovers,
though he does not wipe up what he accidentally
spills. He wants only the simple things: a chair,
someone to pull off his shoes, someone to watch him
while he talks, with admiration and fear, gratitude if
possible, someone in whom to plunge himself for rest
and renewal. These things can best be had by marrying
a woman who has been condemned to death by other
men for wishing to be beautiful. There is a wide
Everyone said he was a fool.
Everyone said she was a clever woman.
They used the word ensnare.
What did they say the first time they were alone
together in the same room? What did he say when
she had removed her veil and he could see that she
was not a voice but a body and therefore finite?
What did she say when she discovered that she had
left one locked room for another? They talked of
love, naturally, though that did not keep them
The fact is there are no stories I can tell my friends
that will make them feel better. History cannot be
erased, although we can soothe ourselves by
speculating about it. At that time there were no
female hangmen. Perhaps there have never been any,
and thus no man could save his life by marriage.
Though a woman could, according to the law.
He said: foot, boot, order, city, fist, roads, time,
She said: water, night, willow, rope hair, earth belly,
cave, meat, shroud, open, blood.
They both kept their promises.
“Marrying the Hangman” from Two-Headed Poems, © 1981 by Margaret Atwood –
Simon & Schuster
Margaret Atwood (1939 – ) Canadian poet, novelist, short story writer, essayist, and environmental activist, widely regarded as one of Canada’s greatest living writers. Known for her novels, especially The Handmaid’s Tale, published in 1985. She has been honored with numerous awards, including the Booker Prize, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the Governor General’s Award, twice.
i’ll be quiet when
we can say sexual assault
stop screaming liar
– rupi kaur
what’s the greatest lesson a woman should learn?
that since day one. she’s already had everything
she needs within herself. it’s the world that
convinced her she did not.
– rupi kaur
“i’ll be quiet” and “what’s the greatest lesson a woman should learn?” from home body © 2020 by rupi kaur – Andrews McMeel Publishing
rupi kaur (1992 – ) a Canadian poet, photographer, and author, who was born in the Punjab, India. Her family immigrated to Canada when she was a child, and she began learning English as a second language at age 10. kaur started performing her poetry in 2009, and posted her poems on Instagram, where they became very popular. She has published three poetry collections: milk and honey, the sun and her flowers, and home body.