While my disk utility ran diagnostics today, I was reading the book I keep on the keyboard slide out on my desk. I enjoy my well thumbed copy of Transatlantic Romanticism: An Anthology of British, American and Canadian Literature, 1767-1867 anytime, but it was particularly comforting as I waited out a fix on a software update.
Sophia Ripley, (1803-1861), ‘the forward-looking daughter of an elite Boston family’, wrote a moving essay simply called ‘Woman’. Ripley writes, ‘Is this woman’s destiny? Is she to be the only adventurer, who pursues her course through life aimless, tossed upon the waves of cricumstance, intoxicated by joy, panic-struck by misfortune, or stupidly receptive of it?’ Ripley’s essay spells out the forces pulling at women from within themselves, from their homes and their families and their husbands, and from society itself. She is not overly sentimental to a woman reader, but eloquent, even more so because she was one of few voices crying in the wilderness during her time. ‘If woman’s position did not bring out all the faculties of the soul, we might demand a higher for her; but she does not need one higher or wider than nature has given her. Very few of her sex suspect even how noble and beautiful is that which they legitimately occupy, for they are early deprived the privilege of seeing things as they are.’ Ripley’s clarity and insight show her independence, her ability to question the status quo with logic and sensitivity.
It would have been easy to assign Ripley’s words to her time and settle for the notion that things have improved for women. But then one of those odd juxtaposition of things occurred, when two things you are reading are oddly but sharply related.
When my machine finally diagnosed and repaired itself, I took the time to check my online classroom. One of my students is doing her research on gender selection and laws and left me a post asking for help with thesis development. Her research results prompted me to check out an issue I really had never thought much about.
It is really strange to me that human beings struggle with bizarre notions about gender.