I read the transcript of a speech by Elizabeth Cady Stanton recently that gave me the chills. Go check it out here, but there are a few parts that stood out to me that I’ll share:
The male element is a destructive force, stern, selfish, aggrandizing, loving war, violence, conquest, acquisition, breeding in the material and moral world alike discord, disorder, disease, and death. See what a record of blood and cruelty the pages of history reveal! Through what slavery, slaughter, and sacrifice, through what inquisitions and imprisonments, pains and persecutions, black codes and gloomy creeds, the soul of humanity has struggled for the centuries, while mercy has veiled her face and all hearts have been dead alike to love and hope!
[. . .] The male element has held high carnival thus far; it has fairly run riot from the beginning, overpowering the feminine element everywhere, crushing out all the diviner qualities in human nature…
In speaking of the masculine element, I do not wish to be understood to say that all men are hard, selfish, and brutal, for many of the most beautiful spirits the world has known have been clothed with manhood; but I refer to those characteristics . . . the love of acquisition and conquest, the very pioneers of civilization, when expended on the earth, the sea, the elements, the riches and forces of nature, are powers of destruction when used to subjugate one man to another or to sacrifice nations to ambition.
That’s amazing writing and oration… but, more importantly, the sentiments in it…
I, imprisoned by that dark and selfish force, was nearly lost to the destructive violence… I almost became diseased by the discord and disharmony of a male unchecked.
I stood over my sleeping father, softball bat in-hand.
Earlier that evening, he had yanked my mother – a full foot shorter and a hundred pounds lighter – around the house, fueled by his own insecurity, the hurt child within lashing out against his perceptions of life’s injustices.
It had almost become a habit, we had grown accustomed to living under the oppression of his stifling anger. Our opinions and commentary of the state of affairs in our house were not welcome, as they would UNDOUBTEDLY by unflattering to him, and the barrenness of our souls matched the pawned barrenness under the roof.
He despised my mother’s success, rather that it didn’t fit the social norms he had already spent a lifetime fighting to overcome.
He despised that it remined him of his utter failure… a failure of character, not of performance.
He hated my astuteness even raging when I’d ask if he was sad, the implacability of an honest child who no longer saw him as perfect was infuriating… no matter how much he tried to bend and break that childlike innocence which was shining too bright a light on his absolute wrongness, he couldn’t force it to fit the confines of his ego.
When I came to my mother’s side, time after time, he used the only thing he could: physical force. Typical of the war-loving side, he had no better or more-creative recourse.
And, still, he could not win.
And, yet, my mother did nothing to end his pathetic attempt at tyranny. They killed Julius Caesar. They exiled Napoleon. And my dad was neither of the two, no matter how many times he read The Prince.
His empire crumbled around him (a process begun when his poor choices in college wiped away his potential’s fruition).
And, no matter the obvious fault, he was never taken to task. Nobody ever checked his nonsense, possibly because of pity at his downfall, or because of the social and religious norms that keep so many people from rising above their current circumstances.
I was exhausted by it.
I couldn’t handle the stress of being ignored or pooh-pooh’ed, and the monotonous cycle that returned us to his clutches…
So, that night, I was going to do something about it.
Or so I thought.
I had set my alarm for the wee hours of the morning, hours I – having always been a light sleeper, prone to waking up at 2 or 3AM – knew my parents would be sleeping the soundest.
His strength meant nothing when he was asleep.
Arriving home that evening, I had taken my softball bag to my room. I didn’t take my bat out, for fear that it might give my dad ideas if he got angry – it had happened before with an extension cord. But, I unzipped the bat compartment in case I decided to follow through with my plan.
Can you imagine the place a 12-year-old has to be in to think, ‘I could bash his skull in, and all our problems would be over’?
I don’t even remember the thought process.
But I remember standing at his side of the bed, gripping the handle of my Lisa Fernandez, trying to conjure up the hate and malice necessary to end not only my, but my mother’s, suffering.
My muscles tensed.
But my brain stopped me.
‘Wait,’ I thought, ‘You’ll get in a lot of trouble for this,’ because we’re not supposed to hurt each other (so why didn’t the same apply to him? I should do it), ’And what happens if you miss? And won’t Mom be scared? Or what if it’s really gross and scary?’
And I had watched so many westerns with my Papaw that I knew sucker-punching or shooting someone in the back was for punks. Honor, and what-not… (so why didn’t the same apply to him? Do it.)
I clenched my jaw…
…but, my grip loosened.
My body relaxed, and I realized that I didn’t want to do it.
Not that I didn’t want to do it to him, but I didn’t want to do it at all and have that stain on my mind (and “soul”) for the rest of my life. (Even though any jury would understand.)
I tiptoed back to my room, slid the bat back into its place, and sat on the floor.
Leaning back against my bed frame, I understood more in that moment than I’m even aware of. I had the chance to meet his destruction with my own destruction, to sink to that level of baseness… but I didn’t want to.
I wanted to be better.
I wanted to win, outright, in whichever way that would be, to show him that he was nothing more than sad and piteous and – for as much as he tried to make me smaller – beneath me.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton said that women would have to “beat” men by being better than them at their game. But we can’t afford to devolve into madness any more than we have by trying to out-violence them. The real fight is much more subtle, the game before the game, and it’s one that doesn’t always require physicality.
Once women see the objective game beyond the façade of engagement, the systems and processes that create the outcomes we loathe, and start to play THAT game, we’ll see some real changes.
Also, this was spooky, but a lovely arrangement of words and thoughts:
Nature, like a loving mother, is ever trying to keep land and sea,
mountain and valley,
each in its place, to hush the angry winds and waves,
balance the extremes of heat and cold, of rain and drought,
beauty may reign supreme.
There is a striking analogy between matter and mind,
and the present disorganization of society warns us that
in the dethronement of woman we have let loose the elements of violence and ruin
that she only has the power to curb.