In the biographical section on Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the editors cite Linda Kerber's Toward an Intellectual History of Women when they write "Her definition is unique and groundbreaking because all previous formulations of individualism make the implicit assumption that the individual is male (Kerber 201)" (171). This detail makes me remember going to see Peter S. Beagle on The Last Unicorn Tour last November. At the end of the prize drawings, he told an anecdote about starting that book. He wrote about a unicorn in a lilac wood, and she was all alone. His unicorn was the very first female unicorn. There remain many implicit assumptions about the sex of the characters and creatures that inhabit our imaginations and our worlds. When I get bitten by mosquitoes, I find myself calling them male even though I know that it is the female mosquitoes that drink blood.
In "The Solitude of Self" Stanton begins by listing the ways in which women as individual citizens should have the education to enable her to handle the duties and privileges of citizenship. Woman must be allowed to develop in order to support herself. No two people are alike, but we are all created equal. The idea still seems radical. I struggle to wrap my mind around the idea of equality. What does it mean for all people to be created equal? To be created equal in a literal sense would be impossible unless all people were alike. Equality in this sense must relate to our relations under the law.
And being equal under the law would play into the women's suffrage ideas - that women have a right, as citizens, to be tried by juries of their peers, rather than juries composed of men to whom all women were legally inferior by dint of not being able to vote. It is incredible that such powerful rhetoric calling for equality could then turn around and call some women less equal than others.
Whether men protect women or restrict them, Stanton argues that each woman is, in and of herself, alone. At the moment of death, we are all alone. In the extremities of our suffering, in the arms of our fellow human beings, that soul, that self, is still alone. She does not contend that women (or men) would be better off without human connection, but rather that despite any human connection, "each soul lives alone forever" (177). And, being alone, no other person can take responsibility for the soul of another. No man should be taking total responsibility for a woman, nor woman for a man.
Stanton did not live to see American women gain the legal right to vote. This piece was written 10 years before her death, and I wonder if she knew, then, that she would never see the change that she sought and fought for in her life.