Margaret Fuller, considered as the true feminist of the USA, held a distinctive place during the period of the American Renaissance. She was a transcendentalist, editor, literary critic, journalist and political activist, remembered for her revolutionary ideas as regards women and their rights, their right to employment and education. Among her many essays published in the Dial, of which she was an editor, the most noteworthy ones are ‘The Great Lawsuit: Man versus Men. Woman versus Women.’ and ‘Woman in the Nineteenth Century’, which she later expanded into a book, influencing other feminists and women's rights activists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Margaret Fuller served as an example for many women of her time to be more vocal about their rights and claim of autonomy to liberate themselves from the oppression of men. Fuller wanted women to strive for developing and educating themselves. She envisioned that women from playing the roles of "the wife and mother" should transform themselves into a "Virgin Mother, a pure, independent woman whose maternal love and spiritual gifts," when joined to developed intellect, would represent her "not only" as "the perfected Woman, but the model and the instrument of a perfected humanity" (Helsinger, Sheets, and Veeder 1983, p 52). While women like Margaret Fuller, who stood as a true inspiration for women, her next generation sisters, the emancipated lot of the 20th century, confused the idea of feminism and viewed passing hateful statements regarding men as liberating. This paper would discuss Margaret Fuller’s views on women related issues and how she with her revolutionary ideas and expressions inspired women to stand up for themselves, and how some of the women of the 20th century by throwing controversial statements against men try to hold the limelight, bringing down the image of women.
Margaret Fuller on Marriage, Social Norms and Civil Rights for Women
In the world of Fuller’s times when women were totally under the domination of men, having no right to proper education, cast vote or have a say in marriage, Fuller with her intelligence of thought, revolutionary ideas and critical mind represented women as no less than men. She dedicated her life to broadening the scope of women's roles. She with the expression of her bold ideas illustrated that thinking of the mind and intellect in the terms of gender is wrong, and that it is erroneous to consider women who "think" having "mannish mind" (Forde 2004, p 2). Through her essays in the Dial, she urged women to stand up for themselves and claim autonomy. In her revolutionary essay, the Great Lawsuit, she argued that women should be considered equal to men, particularly in the matter of intellect and marital relationships. In Woman in the Nineteenth Century, she stated that "the heart of a woman demands nobleness and honor in Man, and that, if they (men) have not purity, have not mercy, they are no longer fathers, lovers, husbands, sons of yours" (Fuller 1997).
With the way the marital institution was constructed, women were denied the fair treatment and recognition they deserved from the society, and Fuller was opposed to such inequality in marriage. In the 19th century, a woman's marital status and her gender determined her legal standing in the whole of the USA. Legally, women were considered dependent, unequal and subservient. They did not enjoy much of the rights of citizenship, and the fewer rights they enjoyed prior to marriage were taken away from them after they were married. They became puppets in the hands of their husbands who had the right to take decisions for their wives. All the rights related to the women's ownership of personal property and their earnings were transferred to their husbands after marriage (Crumrin and Prairie 2014). A man could do anything he wanted with his wife's material belongings. A woman did not have the right to distribute, sell, and will her own property. In the Great Lawsuit, Fuller raised a question regarding the justification of such inequality in marriage and the need of a woman to be married to have a legal status and argued in favor of autonomy and independence. Fuller argued that marriage is not favorable to women and women's position in marriage is inherently unequal. She posited that women were not "free" in the same sense as men were in the marital relationships. She stated that "in the world of men, a tone of feeling exists towards women as towards slaves, such as is expressed in the common phrase, “Tell that to women and children;” that the infinite soul can only work through them in already ascertained limits; that the prerogative of reason, man’s highest portion, is allotted to them in a much lower degree" (Forde 2004, p 3). Fuller questioned the inability of man to see his wife equal to him in the marital vows and nurture a relationship of reciprocal intellectual companionship with her. She conveyed her ideas regarding the reformatting of the marital institution in ways to allow women to be equal to their husbands.
In her times, the thought of an intellectual woman marrying a man inferior to her in intelligence and status and younger than her was not acceptable, but Fuller broke that convention by marrying Angelo Ossoli, who was not only younger than her by 10 years but was also "penniless" and "dissipated". Thus, she challenged the social norms that allowed men to marry women, who were "intellectually inferior" to them and were more concerned with taking care of the family and home, but did not allow the same right to women to marry men, who were intellectually inferior to them and played the role of care providers (Forde 2004, p 3). Alice Rossi (1988) pinpoints that "The Fuller-Ossoli relationship is an exact replica of the typical marriage of her day, except that it is the woman rather than the man who would have to gratify intellectual needs outside the marriage". This way, Fuller, in her fight for gender equality, not only voiced her opinion against unequal marriages and women's liberation, but also through her own marriage demonstrated the act of liberation.
Some Contemporary Feminists and Changing Image of Women
While women like Margaret Fuller with the expression of her bold ideas and acts fought for elevating the status of women, thereby serving themselves as embodiments of true feminism that speaks for the rights and liberation of women, there are, however, many 20th century women, who with their controversial statements and actions brought the image of women down, raising questions as to whether feminism is all about hating men or liberating women.
Marilyn French, a 20th century best-selling novelist of the USA, was controversial opinionist who, in her goal "to change the entire social and economic structure of Western civilization, to make it a feminist world", overstepped the boundary of feminism and misandry (Sulzberger and Mitgang 2009). Her controversial statement in her novel 'The Woman's Room', "All men are rapists and that's all they are. They rape us with their eyes, their laws and their codes" generalizes all men to be capable of raping women (Jennes 1978). This is a sexist and discriminating comment which, if believed to be true, would misrepresent all the men in the world as rapists. Just because the majority of rapists are men does not mean that all men have the potentiality to rape women. It is like validating that just because a majority of a certain section is committing a crime, the whole section is capable of committing crimes. Statistically, black men commit most of the violent crimes, but it would be wrong to generalize all black men to be violent because of that. Marilyn French's denigration of men labelling them as all rapists takes us back to the century old period when women were generalized as less intellectual and inferior to men.
Not only Merilyn French, there are many like her such as Valerie Solanas, another 20th century feminist writer who passed a comment like "To call a man an animal is to flatter him; he’s a machine, a walking dildo" (Solanas 1968). Comparing men with a heartless machine and calling them "a walking dildo" come under the category of the same kind of views that were held against women that reduced them to the means of procreation and homemaking. Andrea Dworkin is another 20th century American radical feminist whose statement "I want to see a man beaten to a bloody pulp with a high-heel shoved in his mouth, like an apple in the mouth of a pig" is as bad as men who beat their wives (Huffington Post 2014). Feminists like Marilyn French, Andrea Dworkin, and Valerie Solanas, thus, contrast the goal of the 19th century feminists like Margaret Fuller, whose goal was to elevate the status of women to the equal level as men, without making either of the gender to look inferior. But the goal of the radical feminists of the 20th century seems to make controversial derogatory statements about men to prove their point of views. Labelling all men as rapists and machine like is as bad as labelling all women as unintellectual and inferior. By such acts, women do not take their gender ahead or represent themselves as the “model and instrument of a perfected humanity”, rather they show their gender as unfair as men were during the time of Margaret Fuller.
Margaret Fuller, who is viewed as the true feminist of the USA, was an advocate of women's liberation and their rights to employment and education. By publishing her essays in the Dial and her book, she inspired women to speak up for their own rights and develop themselves intellectually. She wanted women to break out of their roles of a mother and wife by entering into the realm of intelligence through self-development. She spoke against the unequal marriage system of her times in which women had no voice in their marital relationships with their husbands. She wanted the reformatting of marital institutions so that women could enjoy their marriage being an equal to their husbands and not remaining as subordinates. By her act of breaking the marriage convention of her times, she represented herself as a liberating woman free from the bondage of restrictive social norms. However, the next generation feminists of the 20th century completely misconstrued the idea of feminism, which means liberation, and they, by passing bold, controversial derogatory statements against men, tried to revert the position of women back to the level of the 19th century men, who considered women as inferior, but instead of men, this time it is the women considering men as inferior. Unlike Fuller, whose ideas were inspiring for women to take a stance for themselves without denigrating men, the 20th century feminists misguided women by their discriminating and unfair statements, thereby pulling down the image of women as a whole.
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