On Freedom, Feminism, and the Warriors of Gender Equality

Dawn Bevier

A reminder of your rights as a woman and of the words of the brave females who helped you achieve them

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In1791, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, a work that is still cherished today as one of the most brilliant writings about female liberty. In it, she “recommends the establishment of a national education system to operate mixed-sex schools. She also argues that it is essential for women’s dignity that they be given the right and the ability to earn their own living and support themselves.”

And now, more than at any time in history, are we living Wollstonecraft’s dream, though the pathway to female freedom is still at times fraught with roadblocks and a serious need for reconstruction.

So, it is only right that we as women continue to remember the time before the liberty bell rang for women, the time where our will was not our own, and the time where our talents and voices were unheard.

Not only should we remember these times to reflect on our current blessings, but we should also remember to uphold and re-assert those rights for which Wollstonecraft and so many other brave and dedicated females fought.

So, here’s a reminder of these rights and of the spirited souls in the past and present who worked then or work now to keep them alive.

You have the right to an identity outside of the one society forces on you.

“What dissolution of the soul you demanded in order to get through one day, what lies, bowings, scrapings, fluency and servility! How you chained me to one spot, one hour, one chair, and sat yourselves down opposite! How you snatched from me the white spaces that lie between hour and hour and rolled them into dirty pellets and tossed them into the waste-paper basket with your greasy paws. Yet those were my life.” Virginia Woolf, The Waves

Woolf’s words remind us of what it meant to be a woman in the past, what chains and restrictions were attached to our sex. Chains and restrictions that can still enslave us if we limit ourselves to the trio of womanhood that society would have us embrace.

What is this holy trinity?

Wife. Mother. These are the roles which society has decided should dictate your life as a woman. As if that was all there was to you. As if it were a recipe for the perfect female.

I can hear the great “chefs” of tradition say, “Do not change the recipe. Do not alter the perfectly balanced ratios. You will destroy the simple beauty of this dish.”

For each of these things infers that you are a possession of others, something that husbands, children, and society can “feast” on at will.

And the fact that you can be gobbled up at another’s leisure in this way implies that you are dead. For how many meals involve eating live creatures?

The sufferings of Woolf and those females of the past need no longer be endured. You have the right to refuse to lie down and be butchered by traditional labels, to refuse being chopped into lifeless pieces in order to create a tantalizing culinary masterpiece for society to consume.

You have the right to refuse to be a meal that others dine on when they feel hungry, place in the freezer when they’re not, rewarm and heat back to life when they crave leftovers and throw in the trash when they decide it is no longer appetizing.

You have the right to be an individual who nourishes yourself instead of solely being nourishment for others. To dine on the sustenance that feeds your own soul. You have the right to taste ecstasy, to savor the beauties of the world that lie both inside and outside your hearth and home. You have the right to gorge on your own dreams and aspirations.

In reference to Woolf’s quote above, you have the right to “[snatch back from others] the white spaces that lie between hour and hour.”

So use these “white spaces” to make your heart sing. Use them to create new titles for yourself such as artist, entrepreneur, or adventurer. Use them to explore and develop the powers of your body, mind, and spirit. Use them to seize the joy in life that is yours for the taking.

You have a right to be a “force of nature” to perpetuate your own fulfillment and growth.

“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.”
Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad

There are four elements of life: earth, air, fire, and water.

Typically, women are categorized into the element of earth, which represents “grounding, the foundation of life, substance, connection to life’s path, and family roots.”

And yes, this element is part of what it means to be a woman.

Part of what it means. Not the whole.

And you have a right to be “earth” or any one of life’s essential elements to manifest positive change and happiness.

You have the right to be water, the powerful yet subtle force of which Atwood proclaims above, circumventing or wearing away, drip-by drip, the forces which would present obstacles to your own self-actualization.

You have the right to be fire, an element that symbolizes “incredible energy, activity, creativity, passion, freedom, power, love, vision, anger, strength, will, assertiveness, courage, and dynamism.”

You have the right to use your anger, your force, your passion, and your strength to incinerate the tangled brush of stereotypes and submission that would ensnare you and other members of your sex into immobility and stagnancy.

You have the right to be air, rising above your earthly obstacles, quickening your force or quieting it, ever-shifting direction according to the diverse needs of your heart and spirit.

You have the right to be one of these forces or all of them, for each of their powers lie within you. And each of them holds the key to transformation and change, allowing you to no longer subjugate yourself to societal situations but to change the very nature of the situation itself.

You have a right to make your own “Constitution” and your own “Declaration of Independence.”

The preamble of the Federal Constitution says:
“”We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people — women as well as men.
— Susan B. Anthony, “On Women’s Right to Vote”

So many documents that proclaim the “inalienable” rights of men to actively embrace “life liberty and happiness.”

But if you find these manuscripts lacking, as Susan B. Anthony did, create your own “letter of liberty.”

You have the right to write your own declaration of rights, to create your own treaty between you and other forces of the universe.

You have the right to usurp the power others hold over you in order to have dominion over your own spirit, the right to create your own kingdom and be your own queen.

So, make your own rules. Create your own “Bill of Rights.” Design your own manifesto rather than living by the philosophy of others.

Here are some ideas for your own “Emancipation Proclamation.”

  • “Thou shalt not exist solely for the pleasures or comforts of another.”
  • “Thou shalt not submit to society’s authorities, only to the authorities of the heart that beats inside me.”
  • “Thou shalt not hand over power for peace’s sake when it contradicts my values, needs, and morals.”
  • Thou shalt not let others dictate my conduct, my value, and my “place.”

By creating this assertion of your own set of liberties, you acknowledge your powers as a creature of the universe. Powers that let you claim your own throne, refuse blind submission to the commands of others and employ your words and actions to make the one life you have the best that it can be.

The bottom line:

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”
— Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

Throughout history, there were many women in “cages,” and even today, many birds who refuse to fly free, even when the birdhouse door is wide open.

Don’t be that bird.

And, as a wife and mother who loves her life, I am not saying embracing feminine roles is wrong. What is wrong is a society that says that it is all we can embrace.

Being a feminist is not about being angry, it’s about females living their lives as they wish. And many wonderful females fought for these rights yet never saw them realized. So live your life in a way that honors their words and their sacrifices. Be free. Be proud. Be you.

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Sanford, NC
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