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"Ain't I a Woman," a speech given by Sojourner Truth at a women's right to vote convention, is one of my students' favorites because it's real and sensible--and humorous. Truth is a strong black woman who actually won the first court case against a white man in the nation, I believe--she sued a white man to buy her son from him after he took her money but didn't release the son, if I remember correctly. In any case, this is one tenacious woman. In this speech she is making a case for women's rights by decimating the arguments put forth by all the speakers who came before her on the podium. She makes three primary arguments.
First, she argues that the man who spoke before her, claiming women are too fragile to bear the burden and responsibility of voting, is not accurate in his assessment. She says:
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman?
She goes on to say she has ploughed and planted and has done the work of any man--and can eat as much as him if she's given the chance (an example of her humor).
Second, the argument had been made that women do not posess the same intellect as men Sojourner Truth has an answer for that, as well. Her answer:
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?
Here's her final argument in her own words:
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? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
This is a witty and determined woman who spoke effectively and intellectually, despite her pronounced dialect, about a subject she felt passionate about, clearly. She closes with this:
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Her theme is clear: women are just as capable as men and should have the right to vote. I've included a great e-notes link (below) on Sojourner Truth which I think you'd find interesting.
I would define the overall theme of the speech as the acknowledgement of voice. Truth's speech is one given out of the voice of dissent, when she challenges the authority structure's understanding of rights for all citizens and how there is a disproportionate treatment in this scheme towards women, and women of color. The idea of repeating "Ain't I a Woman" reminds the reader of two realities. The first is that women and their experiences were not fully acknowledged in the legal, social, and political sensibilities. The second is that the powerful voice of dissent can never be silenced when injustice is present. This resonates in the speech on both gender and racial levels. When Truth talks about working in the field and having "thirteen children and sold them off to slavery," she is making very clear the reality in which she operates as one that demands acknowledgement of voice on both the grounds of race and gender.
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