Think of a woman in the headlines that is outspoken, articulate, with bold new ideas. A woman that has the entrenched conservative male establishment ridiculing and demeaning her at every turn. I am going to bet the name that comes to mind today is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, otherwise known as AOC, the youngest member of congress pushing for Medicare for all, a Green New Deal, taxes on the super rich, and more. However, I was thinking of a woman in the 19th century, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, (ECS) who upset the status quo by proposing these radical ideas in 1848:
- Women deserved to be educated.
- Women should be able to enter any profession.
- Women should be able to control their own property, including their wages.
- Women should have an equal right to custody of children in case of divorce.
- Women should be free from husbands beating them with no repercussions.
- Women deserve the right to vote.
All of these ideas were new and radical when proposed at The Seneca Fall’s Woman Rights Convention, with ECS leading the charge. The document was called A Declaration of Rights and Sentiments.
We may look back on the list with dismay and disbelief at the list of demands.
Historian Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, in her book One Woman, One Vote, summed up the 1848 response to the Seneca Falls declaration as follows: “Outraged newspapers’ editors denounced the convention as shocking, unwomanly, monstrous, and unnatural, or ridiculed them as Amazons or love-starved spinsters.”
One man writing in the Utica Whig made this comment, “If ladies insist on voting and legislating, where, gentlemen, will be our dinners?” The writer obviously could not have anticipated the rise of the restaurant industry, frozen dinners, or pizza delivery service.
Obviously, women had it really bad in the 19th century, and it took Cady Stanton (ECS) and her fellow organizers to point out the miserable conditions under which they lived and to call for a radical reorganization of power.
In today’s public discourse, AOC has courageously called out the raw deal the lower and middle classes in our society are receiving at the hands of the elites. Waitresses pay more for health insurance coverage than members of Congress making $172,000 a year? It is outrageous. The fossil fuel, financial, and big pharma industries enjoying an outsized influence in elections and legislation?
It has been 170 years since Elizabeth Cady Stanton (ECS) proposed the radical ideas that put the conservative male power structure into apoplexy. Let us ponder this question: Was ECS the AOC of her day? And the next logical question also begs for our attention. Are the ideas proposed by AOC about today’s egregiously bad conditions such that one hundred years from now we will look back and say, “Oh, my I can’t believe some Americans had it so bad in 2019, no universal health care, seriously? No attention to caring for the environment, really?” Also outrageous.
Radical ideas can become the everyday currency of our society. And we are all better for that, for it makes equality of opportunity available to more people. Let’s celebrate the way-showers like Elizabeth and Alexandria.