Anna Julia Cooper was an amazingly accomplished woman, at a time when even being mildly accomplished would have been a feat for a woman of color. And while some of her words are tied to her time, with the sense of women's innate domesticity, the text provided, from A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South, still carries feminist themes.
She begins by tracing the emergence of women learning in the 19th century. In the short span of a century, the conversation has shifted from whether women should be allowed, by law, to learn the alphabet, to the introduction of women into colleges, and even into classes meant for men. And from the many colleges that opened for women have come "women who have given a deeper, richer, nobler and grander meaning to the word 'womanly' than any one-sided masculine definition could ever have suggested or inspired" (165). And this, I think emphasizes one of her feminist tenets. Woman must define woman. She must self-define, because man can have no conception of what it is to be a woman. To let man define woman is to let man confine woman.
And to let men define the world is to allow the world to fall into barbarity and brutality. Prejudice against races is excused by calling the "other" weak and unworthy. The world praises brute strength and allows the weak to fend for themselves. Cooper demonstrates some of the influences of the time when she writes about "a real and special influence of woman" (167). She claims that the streets of Oberlin are free of crime because there are so many women in sight. This seems to indicate that criminals are afraid to do wrong in the sight of a woman, because of her influence. While I find that hypothesis difficult to accept, there may yet be something to it. Because if women do feel safe to walk around, does that not reinforce the safety of the space in which they walk? Can an attitude of owning the world around them be enough to prevent violence from impinging?
Cooper insists that the problems of the world need not be solved directly by a woman, but must be paid attention to from the feminine perspective. "All I claim is that there is a feminine as well as a masculine side to truth; that these are related not as inferior and superior, not as better and worse, not as weaker and stronger, but as complements-complements in one necessary and symmetric whole" (169). For so long, the philosophers have sought Truth, as if it could be apprehended by a single man. Cooper proposes that Truth is too large for a single man, or a single sex. She proposes that society needs more than one side of Truth in order to solve its ills.
More than one side, not the feminine over the masculine. And yet, if the masculine dominance is seen as normal, then any change in that status quo might feel like an attack to men. How do feminists convince the men's rights activists that we don't want men to have any less rights than women?