Tag Archive: feminism


Wu Zetian was a concubine in the courts of Emperor Tai Tsung in Tang Dynasty China and later in the court of his son, Emperor Kao Tsung. Through cold, calculated, and brutal maneuvering she convinced the emperor that his wife had murdered his son. Wu replaced her as empress and maneuvered again to have her weakest son succeed Kao Tsung as emperor and effectively ruled in his stead until he removed himself leaving her in complete control as empress. Confucian teachings held that women were unfit to rule so Wu set about changing this view of women by elevating women to high government positions. She also replaced the existing system of government positions going to aristocratic families with testing for merit.

Elizabeth Tudor or Queen Elizabeth I was the third Queen to rule England, but things didn’t turn out so well for the two who preceded her and it was generally assumed that the best thing she could do was to find a good husband to rule as king. Elizabeth had other ideas. She remained single and reigned for 45 years. The time of her rule became known as the Elizabethan period and is known for a great flowering of arts and fashion in England. Elizabeth’s rule also saw the defeat of the mighty Spanish Armada, turning England into the mightiest sea power in the world and setting the stage for it to become a colonial power and a globe spanning empire. Elizabeth also started the Church of England, a major turning point in the crucial conflict between states and the power of the Roman Catholic Church.

At a time when the power of men and the unsuitability of women to rule were unquestioned, Elizabeth became one of the greatest rulers England ever knew and changed the course of world history.

Women’s History Month, Day 14

By special request, today’s historic woman is Emma Goldman. Goldman was a Russian Jewish immigrant who was moved by the injustice of the Haymarket affair to become an anarchist. She would become perhaps the most influential voice of anarchism in the United States. Goldman believed that violence was an acceptable means to achieve political ends and helped plan the attempted assassination of Henry Clay Frick, a manager at Carnegie Steel responsible for violent attacks on striking workers. She expressed support for Leon Czolgosz, who had killed President McKinley, but she had nothing to do with his crime. Nevertheless, she was arrested and held in jail until a lack of evidence forced her release.

Goldman’s main focus was education, and she strove especially to educate workers and women to fight against their repression. She was a strong supporter of women’s freedom, particularly reproductive freedom, but her anarchist politics led her to oppose women’s suffrage.

Women’s History Month, Day 13

How far in the past does a person have to be to qualify as a historical figure? I’ve already talked about Margaret Thatcher, who is still living, so the alive or dead threshold has been crossed. Today I’m going to talk about someone who is still actively making history. Hilary Clinton made history as perhaps the First Lady most involved in substantive policy issues during her husband’s term as president; as a senator, making her one of only 39 women to have served in the U.S. Senate; as the first serious contender for a major party’s nomination for president, and as the third woman to serve as Secretary of State. All of this has subjected her to some of the vilest sexist attacks of any modern women in the public eye. She has not defined herself as a victim though, she has instead stepped up and taken a strong role as Secretary of State, negotiating head to head with international leaders male and female and has made strong calls for women’s rights to be respected around the world. One can disagree with Ms. Clinton’s politics on any number of issues, but I don’t think anyone could reasonably deny that she is a strong and influential leader and a fierce advocate for the rights of women (see the video below) who has already earned her place in the history books.

I was planning to wait to mention Alice Paul until later in this project, even though a desire to learn more about her was part of my impetus in starting the project, but I’m so in love with this video that I can’t wait.

I’ve mentioned a few of the early suffragists already, but two of them have something rather sad in common beyond being suffragists: Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton died before universal women’s suffrage was achieved in the United States. Susan B. Anthony, who I haven’t mentioned yet, also died before suffrage was achieved. Alice Paul led the next generation of women’s suffrage activists and, while she stood on the shoulders of those who came before, she was the one who saw the job done. Stanton and Anthony had written the text of what would become the Nineteenth Amendment and it was introduced in Congress in 1878. It languished in committee until it was voted on and rejected in 1887. It was not considered again until 1914, when it was rejected again.

After it was rejected again in 1915, Alice Paul and the National Women’s Party got serious. It had been hoped that Woodrow Wilson would support the amendment, but he had not been the strong advocate many had expected. Paul led a picket in front of the White House, calling out Wilson for his failure to provide strong public support for the amendment. The picketers were arrested for “blocking traffic” and sentenced to seven months in prison. In the prison these women, arrested merely for marching with signs, were treated worse than violent criminals. Prevented from having visitors and exercise and given substandard food, Paul began a hunger strike until all the women received adequate food. Paul was taken to the prison hospital where she was offered milk and eggs by officials concerned that she would die on their watch. Paul refused until her fellow prisoners were offered similar quality food for the duration of their imprisonment. She was removed from the prison and placed in an asylum, where she was eventually force fed. As disturbing as the scene in the video above illustrating this is,  it is tame compared to the reality, in which a tube was forced into her throat and raw eggs poured down it.

The protest, arrests, and hunger strike finally had the desired effect, and Wilson appealed to the House to pass the amendment. It failed again, by one vote, but Wilson called a special session to reconsider and in 1919 the Nineteenth Amendment finally passed. It was ratified in 1920 when Tennessee became the needed 36th state in approval.

Alice Paul is still an inspiration to many protest movements. She also drafted the original Equal Rights Amendment that was introduced in congress in 1923. It would not be passed until 1972, and was never ratified. Sadly, 36 state legislatures could not be found willing to agree that: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” And we wonder why we’re still debating birth control now. Alice Paul died at the age of 93 in 1977.

A brief note about the video: It was produced by an education publisher, and I’m not really sure if they had political intent, or were just covering an important historical topic, but it is incredibly timely. The short version of my review is that I am amazed by how well they have taken the original song and video by Lady Gaga and maintained its unusual look and feel while at the same time using every element of the production, from costumes to sets, as well as the lyrics, to tell this story in a powerful way. You should really watch it, and also check out the educational resources on the company’s website.

Two of the most famous names in science are Watson and Crick. Even if you don’t recall exactly what they’re known for, they probably sound familiar. They were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962, along with Maurice Wilkins, for the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. You may not know the name of the woman whose work made the discovery possible and who probably deserves at least as much credit as Watson and Crick.

Rosalind Franklin grew up in a world where women were not supposed to seek higher education, but she earned a doctorate in physical chemistry from Cambridge. When she became a researcher at King’s College in London she was forbidden from the dining hall and the pubs where her colleagues socialized because she was a woman. When Maurice Wilkins returned from a sabbatical to find her running DNA research, he naturally assumed she was just a technical assistant and not one of his peers. Their working relationship never recovered from his gaffe.

Nevertheless, it was Franklin who made the first X-ray photographs of DNA in which its structure was visible. Wilkins apparently showed the images to James Watson, who promptly published an article in Nature describing the structure of DNA. Watson certainly knew what he was looking at and contributed plenty of his own scholarship to the work, but Franklin’s discovery was the key. By the time the Nobel was awarded Franklin had died and Nobels are never given posthumously. Those who study biology learn about Franklin, but most of the general public has never heard of this woman who was instrumental in one of the most important scientific discoveries of the twentieth century.

L.A. Theater Works has recorded a radio broadcast of their performance of a play, Photograph 51, about the competition and the relationships behind this discovery. I found it a bit hard to follow on the radio because there are so many similar voices. As a play you also have the playwright’s interpretation, the director’s interpretation, and the actors’ impersonations all between you and the facts. Still, it’s a fascinating story and worth checking out and I’d love to see a live production.

This may be the best song ever to come out of Schoolhouse Rock. I have always loved the way the backup singers sing “Lucretia” first and then the lead sings “Lucretia Mott”.

Lucretia Mott was a Quaker minister, a teacher, a pacifist, a driving force behind the abolition and women’s suffrage movements, and a founder of Swarthmore College. Lucretia was a mentor to Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the women’s rights movement. Before that she worked in the abolition movement and sought to include women, both black and white, in the movement. She was not content with the end of slavery, seeking full equal rights for black men and all women. For her role in the anti slavery movement she narrowly escaped a violent mob after an anti slavery meeting in Philadelphia.

Lucretia never wrote down her speeches, believing in the Quaker concept of an inner divine light to guide her speeches, so very little writing by Mott exists. The Lucretia Coffin Mott Papers Project is an effort to collect her writings in the form of letters written by and to her.

*UPDATED – Now with Links!*

This will be short since I’m a day behind, but I’ll update it with some links at a later date. Our second fabulous woman in history is the suffragette, abolitionist, women’s rights firebrand, and all around badass Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Perhaps no other person was as influential in launching the women’s rights and suffrage movement in the United States. Stanton helped organize the first national convention on women’s rights at Seneca Falls, NY and wrote the Declaration of Principles that resulted. There’s an interesting piece about her work on The Woman’s Bible here. You can get the Woman’s Bible for free for the Kindle or in other formats.

In honor of Women’s History Month I’m going to try something a little different. I’m going to try to post about a different fabulous woman in history every day this month. I’m not sure how much I’ll write, but I’ll at least provide a link. Now I’m a day behind, so I owe two. Here’s my selection for March 1st, one I think should be inspiring and likely someone you’ve never heard of. Tina Strobos lived in The Netherlands during the Nazi occupation. She helped more than a hundred Jews to hide and eventually escape and also supported the resistance. She did so at great personal risk and was repeatedly arrested.

I’ve also selected her because she was an atheist. People often don’t know that atheists aren’t and we don’t worship Satan, we just don’t believe in God. Here is an atheist woman who showed tremendous courage and morality in the face of perhaps the greatest evil known to modern man. She should be an inspiration to everyone, an example that one can be good without God, and an example of a woman showing courage that many powerful men of the time did not.

Tip of the hat to Hemant Mehta

Imagine you work for a large corporation, and it provide you with health insurance. Let’s also say that, like Facebook, the corporation has no board of directors and its CEO also holds a controlling interest in the company. Now imagine that the CEO one day became a Jehovah’s Witness. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in blood transfusions, so the CEO goes out and changes the company health insurance to a special JW plan that doesn’t provide coverage for transfusions. Now if you need a blood transfusion to save your life you’re going to have to pay out of pocket for it. I don’t know what that costs, probably a lot.
Absurd? Yes. Ridiculous? Yes. Your employer is forcing you to live by his religious views. That’s fundamentally wrong and essentially discriminatory.

So why is coverage for birth control different? It’s not. Birth control has medical uses far beyond contraception, but even if it didn’t, it’s still basic preventative health care that saves a lot of money down the line. And employers shouldn’t come between patients and their doctors, even if the employer is associated with the Catholic Church. So as long as we’re mandating that plans cover certain items, birth control should be one of them, and all plans should cover it, even if that means that at some multi-layered distance, a Catholic is paying for something he doesn’t like. Because you wouldn’t let a Jehovah’s Witness get away with not covering a blood transfusion he didn’t like.

In the Cincinnati area Catholic affiliated hospitals and health care groups employ over 17,000 people. Now I don’t know the complexities of those groups, how strongly they are affiliated, and how many employees would be affected by Catholic hospitals being exempted from covering birth control, but it would absolutely be thousands of doctors, nurses, orderlies, technicians, cafeteria workers, and janitors of varying beliefs and needs. And most of the women in that group use some form of birth control. Not only that, the Catholic bishops want every employer who happens to be Catholic (or any other religion) exempted from covering birth control, not just Catholic hospitals and universities.

Requiring employers to cover birth control is not religious discrimination. Employers forcing their employees to pay for coverage based on some religious belief of the employer is discrimination. It is discrimination against employees with different beliefs and it is discrimination against women.

Now, if you can handle some NSFW language and a lot of righteously angry feminism, there’s a lot more about this topic starting here, and she’s dead on.