Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Different Tea-Party, with Cookies


           Something happened to us in Pinery Provincial Park along Lake Huron in Ontario.  Our internal urban clock shifted to rural time.  Yes, we were going to Niagara Falls.  We had to do that.  But we jettisoned the original plan of staying in Canada, heading to Toronto, then to Montreal, and perhaps grabbing a bit of Quebec City before crossing over to Burlington, Vermont.  Too much city.

in Seneca Falls, New York
            So we drove to London—and in spite of all my pleading to avoid driving the monster through a city, somehow Knightsmama’s directions landed me smack dab in the middle of London. Traffic lights, delivery trucks, left turn lanes, parallel parkers, pedestrians, things jutting out and things hanging over—the horrors.  We survived—my cussing helped, I am sure—and we made it to Niagara Falls, Ontario, where my own goofy inability to read traffic signs led me to the center of town, right in front of the Hard Rock Café cutting a left for the International Bridge, where the American toll booth guard asked the usual questions and set us free in the land of the free.  Four Mile Creek State Park, just north of town, provided us with a flat open field to settle in for a couple of days.  From the park, we were able to take our peak at Toronto—twenty miles across Lake Ontario.  It is a stunning sky line even from such a distance.
            One of the best mornings on the trip so far, was a Sunday morning jaunt over to Fort Niagara.  Somewhere in these posts, sometime, I will have to say something about the Fort and the fascinating history that we were reminded of, and a history that has needled us a few other times since; that is the years of shifting alliances among the French, English, and Native Americans.  While, supposedly La Salle wandered as far south as East Texas—after all France is one of the flags in Six Flags Over Texas, the original of the amusement franchise—the presence and influence of the French in the Americas is not something I live with daily. One of the oddest evenings we have had on the trip so far occurred in our search for dinner on the Canadian side after our visit to the Falls.  Just seeing Dr. J.’s and Captain Crunch’s eyes expand like pie plates at the crazy circus that is Clifton Hill was worth the cost of the tasty, but slightly overpriced brick oven baked pizzas at Antica Pizzaria and Ristorante.   Poor kids, they have never seen anything like it—so many thrills of such variety!  It’s like Pleasure Island in the movie Pinocchio
            After being stunned to silence by the Falls, and after taking photos of Nikolai Tesla’s statue, our mission was accomplished, and we began our somewhat unplanned jaunt across the state of New York on our way to what has been the real goal all along—Bar Harbor, Maine.  For a while Waller Grant was patient with state highway 104, heading east.  But not for long, really.  After seeing many small towns at a terribly moderate pace, we hightailed it—which really means we merely took another impatient ride south through another set of small towns eager to let us savor the experience of braking our way through them—to finally arrive at Interstate 90.  At Interstate 90, we learned what a green line on the map means:  toll road.  We traveled quickly and happily until we hit the first payment booth.   Shame on you, New York.   Knightsmama and I began a long discussion regarding the relative merits of fast and costly versus slow and cheap.  After a while, we opted for cheap and slow, and that is how we found ourselves approaching Seneca Falls.
            Seneca Falls had always been on my list of places I wanted to visit during the pilgrimage.  I had sort of hoped we would sneak it in in the middle of November as we began to pull the monster south to Pennsylvania and Maryland.  When I proposed a brief stop to see what was there, Knightsmama was only slightly hesitant, her hesitation being only time and money. Guess what?  The Women’s Rights National Historic Park is right in the middle of town.  The Nice British Lady guided us perfectly into the center of the town, and led us, unknowingly I assume, to a parking spot—really three parking places—except they were on the left side of the road.  In these cases, this is where the Dude’s knuckles turn white as his eyes nervously dart at heights of lights and bridges, the reach of poles and trees.   Knightsmama begins patiently, but slightly aggressively, offering suggestions like, “Take the next left.  I said left, not right,” as The Dude forgets the basic lessons of kindergarten body awareness.  But we were able to maneuver three lefts, each onto an even slightly narrower road.  We passed one sign saying something about Amelia Bloomer, but none of us had the attention to read it.  Then we finally made a right, back on to the road on which we came, and there, the three parking spaces still shone in the Seneca sunlight.  I grabbed them, and fed quarters to only one of the meters.
            It is not my goal to review places we visit; therefore, I will say simply that I view the Women’s Rights National Historic Park to be one of the best organized and informative stops along our road through the United States.  This trip across the United States is about pilgrimages—Seneca Falls is a perfect pilgrimage site.  Here in July, 1848, around 300 people, mostly women, piled into the   Wesleyan Chapel on relatively short notice to discuss “the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women.” How this meeting occurred is one of those long and fascinating stories of how social need and individual talents and determination combine at the same moment to change history.  This story has now been told many times, but I have found Sally G. McMillen’s Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement, which I purchased at the park, to be a fascinating read. 

The First Wave by Lloyd Lillie,
            An aspect of the story that I particularly enjoyed was that one of the sparks to activism was the ill treatment of a few women at a conference on abolition in England in 1840, eight years earlier.  The conference was attended by American Abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips among others, including eight women.  Some American male Abolitionists considered it important that these women attend because of their outstanding work in the States for the cause.  Well, on the opening day of the conference all hell broke loose as male privilege and chauvinism, not abolition, took center stage.  Speeches were given and proposals made, and finally the women were allowed to attend the conference but had to occupy a balcony and were required to remain silent.  Sometimes in politics, it is the unfair and ridiculous compromise that provides the energy for next battle.  Like a dirty bandage, the compromise stops the bleeding for a moment, but the infection worsens the wound. Ann Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott remembered their experiences in London. When Stanton and her Seneca Falls friends organized the meeting in Seneca Falls, Lucretia Mott was leading speaker.  And when forty men showed up at the Wesleyan Hall in Seneca Falls, they were allowed to attend but politely were asked not to speak the first day.  This was not retribution.  It was an acknowledgment that when the good-willed powerful attempt to support the organizing powerless, the powerful tend to take control and silence those desiring to help themselves.
            Most of the two days at the conference was spent discussing and editing the Ann Cady Stanton’s draft document, eventually called “Declaration of Rights and Sentiments.”  If you have not read it, I suggest you do.  Modeled on the “Declaration of Independence,” it begins, “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the cause that impel them to such a course”   Then she launches in:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident:  that all men and women are created equal . . .” [my italics]. 
            I am not going to pretend that I can read this document as a man in 1840.  I have no idea how I would have reacted.  But as a man in 2013, I can’t find much really to argue with in the document.  What?  I believe “that woman is man’s equal,” don’t I?  I believe that laws should not conflict with women’s “true and substantial happiness.”  Women should be able to vote, shouldn’t they?  Attend college?  Practice a profession?  Resist all degradation no matter whether it is prescribed by husband, public institution, governmental office, or church?  Certainly!  What kinds of people were against these rights?
            What troubles me—and it doesn’t trouble me a great deal—is the belief that women are morally superior to men.  The flip side of this belief is that men are pigs.  It's a belief men have used to their advantage. You know, the private men’s club—where all sorts of business and political dealings go on behind closed doors—it’s just too rough and tumble for the delicate nature of women, and we should not—should we?—force  men to change their behaviors.  That’s not fair.  Men are men:  which means men are gross and crude and should be free to remain that way.  Shouldn’t a professor have the right to decorate his office with photos of nude women, even when half of his students, who will visit his office, we hope, are women?  Personally, I am pretty sick of the “men can’t control themselves” argument.  Men can control themselves.
            So I am wary of the “women are morally superior to men” argument.   In the Declaration, this gets expressed as “Resolved, That inasmuch as man, while claiming for himself intellectual superiority, does accord to woman moral superiority, it is preeminently his duty to encourage her to speak, and teach, as she has an opportunity, in all religious assemblies.”  Of course, I believe—and don’t we all—that women should speak openly and strongly in all assemblies.  But, to my way of thinking, it is not because they are morally superior.  Men and women are equal, right?  I don’t believe women are any more delicate or proper than a man is.  I have known men who are shits, and I have known women who are shits.  I have known men who are angels.  
            Sorry for the editorial, but it’s something has bothered me about the women’s rights movement, whether in its late nineteenth century form or its late twentieth century form are the various expressions of Puritanical superiority that get wrapped up in the “women should be treated equally with men” argument.   At one time it is temperance; at another it's sexual behavior; another time it is political correctness and censorship: at another it is management style.  In these cases, there is something going on beyond wanting to be equal and treated equally.    
            Never the less, let’s make no mistake:  the United States is vastly improved because a few women met for tea in Seneca Falls in 1848, decided it was high-time that women had equal rights with men, sponsored two days for discussion, wrote and published a “Declaration of Rights,” and then devoted the rest of their lives to changing the nation.  Finally, in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified.  These women are heroes, role models, for all people, and I was very proud to see my sons wandering the displays detailing the long and arduous struggle. 

            Oh, wait a minute! I thought I was finished with this blog post, and then driving today to the Minute Man National Historic Park—you know, to make a pilgrimage to where brave, liberty loving colonists began the fight that created this nation—Knightsmama read aloud some of the links her Facebook friends had posted.  Now I have an answer for my question “What kind of people were against these rights?”  Have you heard of Kevin Swanson and Dave Buehner?  Well, they recently engaged in a totally enlightened and civilized and freedom loving and God fearing conversation regarding that evil offering to the false idols:  the Girl Scout Cookie.  As Swanson said on the radio, “I don’t want to promote a wicked organization that according to its own website doesn’t promote godly womanhood."  Then he pleaded with the radio audience to please not buy any of these demon cookies.    Buehner added, according to Brian Tashman, who submitted this information to rightwingwatch.org, that Girl Scouts train girls to think it is acceptable to be “a woman who is going to compete with men in the marketplace.”  Instead, girls should learn to be “a helpmeet to a man so he can compete into the marketplace.”  Overall, the Girl Scouts promote a godless, communist, lesbian, pro-choice agenda.  Didn’t know that, did you?  God, help us!  Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe men, American men, are ignorant, un-educable barbarians.
            But something does occur to me here.  The meetings between men in the 1770s in Boston that provided the intellectual, spiritual and martial direction of the American Revolution often occurred in taverns, a place where no self-respecting woman would step foot.  One important location was the Green Dragon Tavern, which was also the site of the Freemasons Lodge.  It would appear, therefore, that men behaving badly made this country free.  But the meeting that provided the intellectual and moral direction of the American Woman’s Right’s Movement was a lady’s tea-party in early July, 1848, in the home of Jane C. Hunt.  Attending this tea-party were Martha Coffin Wright, Lucretia Mott, Mary Ann McClintock, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  Most likely they talked women-talk about children, husbands, and family, until the talk turned radical, and they conceived a convention to be  held later that month.  And you know what? Maybe Swanson and Buehner are right. Maybe it was cookies that turned the talk from sweet subservient wife gossip to independent self-direction.  Women and their godless cookies are slowly undoing everything that men and their god-blessed tankards have built.  Not.

Soundtrack Double Feature. Leslie Gore:  "You Don't Own Me."

Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox:  "Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves."

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