The following two selections, written almost a century apart, capture similarities and differences between white women’s and black women’s encounter with sexism in the United States:
1. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a major figure in the nineteenth century women’s rights movement in the U.S., explains how educational discrimination shaped the sense of grievance that fueled her career as a pioneering feminist in her Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences, 1815-1897 (New York: Shocken Books, 1973 ), p. 23:
[Most of the boys who were my schoolmates] were much older than I. For three years one boy kept his place at the head of the class, and I always stood next. Two prizes were offered in Greek. I strove for one and took the second. How well I remember my joy in receiving that prize. There was no sentiment of ambition, rivalry, or triumph over my companions, nor feeling of satisfaction in receiving this honor in the presence of those assembled on the day of the exhibition. One thought alone filled my mind. “Now,” said I, “my father will be satisfied with me.” So, as soon as we were dismissed, I ran down the hill, rushed breathless into his office, laid the new Greek Testament, which was my prize, on his table and exclaimed: “There, I got it!” He took up the book, asked me some questions about the class, the teachers, the spectators, and, evidently pleased, handed it back to me. Then, while I stood looking and waiting for him to say something which would show that he recognized the equality of the daughter with the son, he kissed me on the forehead and exclaimed, with a sigh, “Ah, you should have been a boy!”
2. Margaret Wright, a founder of Women Against Oppression, a black women’s liberation group, expressed her views on the unique situation of black women struggling against sexism in “West Magazine,” Los Angeles Times, June 7, 1970:
Black women have been doubly oppressed. On the job, we’re low women on the totem pole. White women have their problems. They’re interviewed for secretarial instead of the executive thing. But we’re interviewed for mopping floors and stuff like that. Sometimes we have to take what’s left over in Miss Ann’s refrigerator. This is all exploitation. And when we get home from work, the old man is wondering why his greens aren’t cooked on time.
We’re also exploited in the Movement. We run errands, lick stamps, mail letters and do the door-to-door. But when it comes to the speaker’s platform, it’s all men up there blow-in from their souls, you dig?
Some white man wrote this book about the black matriarchy, saying that black women ran the community. Which is bull. We don’t run no community. We went out and worked because they wouldn’t give our men jobs. This is where some of us are different from the white women’s liberation movement. We don’t think work liberates you. We’ve been doing it so damned long.