If I Were a Man

By

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Compare "If I Wew a Man" with "Ain't I a Woman ?" by Sojourner Truth

 

Comparison Between “Ain’t I a Woman” by Sojourner Truth, and “If I Were A Man” by

Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

By Chantal Côté

 

Talking about feminism and women’s rights has never been outdated, and it is not such a contemporary debate. In 1851, a black woman called Sojourner Truth gave a speech at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio. Sojourner Truth’s speech, “Ain’t I a Woman” was about women’s slavery embedded with women rights. In comparison, Charlotte Perkins Gilman short story, “If I Were A Man”, written in 1914, pictures a parallel role of white women’s submission, mostly due to their gender. There is a comparison between these two women, one black, one white, and their role in a society ruled by men.

Truth was a slave; black-skinned, six feet tall, a hard worker with a physical strength equal to men’s. She spoke in public, fighting for women’s rights. “In working to free the slaves, both black and white women such as Sojourney Truth, Lucy Stone, and Lucretia Mott were also working to free themselves, as the abolitionist movement became linked with women’s rights efforts” (Matthews 8). In her speech, she highlighted the patriarchal attitude of men toward white women, and comparing these women to her, she said to the audience at the Women’s Convention, “Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman?”(Truth). On the other hand, in Gilman short story, “If I Were A Man”, the protagonist Mollie Mathewson is described as being: “Whimsical, capricious, charming, changeable, devoted to pretty clothes and always ‘wearing them well’” (Gilman 514). She is portrayed as the “true to type…called a true woman. Little, of course- no true woman may be big” (Gilman 514). Mollie represents the stereotypical ideal of women in patriarchy, the “true woman” who needs protection in an infantilized manner.

                                                                                                 

For both of Truth and Mollie, their gender had determined their social position. Mollie and Sojourner are financially dependant on men, and both dispossessed of liberty and independency. In “If I Were A Man”, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the impact of owning one’s own money on one’s freedom is experienced by Mollie, after wishing that she were a man, and being transformed into her husband’s body. The strongest feeling she has after her transformation is about money, and the power it gives to men over women, “–all at once, with a deep rushing sense of power and pride, she felt what she had never felt before in all her life-the possession of money, of her own earned money-hers to give or to withhold, not to beg for, tease for, wheedle for-hers.”(Gilman 515). She feels powerful, and her sensations are transformed, and she sees female characteristics through the lens of a male point of view, and she notices all the frivolity, and becomes judgmental about women. Having become a man, she declares: “Women have no business sense! ... And all that money just for hats- idiotic, useless, ugly things!”(Gilman 515). On the other hand, Truth wonders by what right men claim superiority of the intellect. “Intellect. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights. If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?” (Truth) this expresses the men’s fear of losing control over women, also expressed by Gilman through the protagonist Mollie who became Gerald, her husband: “Yes, we blame them for grafting on us, but are we willing to let our wives work? We are not. It hurts our pride, that’s all.”(Gilman 518). The patriarchal pattern, diminishing women capability, was in order to perpetuate the social pattern, and keep women away from the male sphere.

In fact, another aspect that maintains women in a subaltern role is commanded by Christianity. Religion was, and is still in some places, shaping the place that women have in society. On this subject, Truth states that if there were no women there would be no mankind. “Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men,’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from?...From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.” (Truth). Even Mollie questions this aspect about religion, where Eve is blamed for the suffering of the world. Being Gerald, she expressed some reserve after the priest assessed that evil was brought by women, “Seems to me that we all talk like Noah…or the ancient Hindu scriptures. Women have their limitations, but so do we, God knows” (Gilman 517). Women limitations were imposed due to the lack of choices offered to them.

Feminism is still actual, and small things remind us how fragile is the equality between men and women. When searching on the web about feminism, I discovered that in the categories of subjects, women were associated with minorities. Maybe we have gone a long way, but we have to keep demanding equality in order to keep evolving with genuine freedom.

 


Works Cited

About.Com. Women History http://womenshistory.about.com/od/sojournertruth/a/aint_i_a_woman.htm Web.8 Nov. 2010

Feminist.com. http://www.feminist.com/resources/artspeech/genwom/sojour.htm Web.8 Nov. 2010

Gilman, Charlotte, Perkins. “If I Were a Man”. Fiction 100: An Anthology of Short Fiction. Ed. Pickering, James H. 12th edition. Pearson Education, 2010. 514-518. Print.

Haney, Elisa. “The Roots of Women’s Right” http://www.infoplease.com/spot/womensrights1.html Web. 8 Nov. 2010

Matthews, Glenna. American Women’s History:A Student Companion. Student Companions to American History. OxfordUniversity Press, USA, 2000. Print

Ohio History Central. An Online Encyclopedia of Ohio History http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/entry.php?rec=385&nm=Sojourner-Truth Web.8 Nov. 2010