So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Woman, Church and State by Matilda Joslyn Gage

Woman, Church and State by Matilda Joslyn Gage

I am currently re-reading in PDF downloaded from Google Books Woman, Church and State by Matilda Joslyn Gage on a tablet computer.

Matilda Joslyn Gage was raised in an Abolitionist home that was a stop on the Underground Railroad. A mother of four, she was a founding member of the National Woman Suffrage Association along with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Her life's work was the struggle for the complete liberation of women. Carved on her gravestone are the words she lived by: "There is a word sweeter than Mother, Home or Heaven; that word is Liberty."

Originally published in 1893, this book is a major feminist work of the Nineteenth Century that identifies the sources of women's oppression as the church and its offspring, the state. Alarmed by the conservative religious movement of the time that tried to amend the Constitution to declare the U.S. a Christian state, Gage wrote this book to articulate her views that christianity was the oppressor of women.

In the first chapter called The Matriarchate, the author tells of the rights women had in pagan pre-christian times. She talks of the Mother-rule, that preceded Patriarchy. She then shows that christianity from its beginning has worked to undermine women's rights.

The following seven chapters outline the oppression of women in the west and its sources in first the church, and later in the state that developed its ruling principles from canon law. These chapters deal with Celibacy, Canon Law, Marquette (a term that Gage uses for jus primae noctis, the right of lords to the sexual favors of their peasant women), Witchcraft, Wives, Polygamy, and Work. These chapters are filled with examples from history as well as the contemporary 19th century. The documented examples of women's oppression at the hands of ministers of the church and the law in this section are an impressive collection that makes this book a valuable source for feminist herstory.

In the last two chapters, Gage looks at the church of her day and shows that it is still bogged down in the same dogma of women's oppression. She predicts a great revolution which will liberate women and give them equal rights with men in both religion and society. I am sure the women's movement of the 1970s with its emphasis on women's spirituality and the Equal Rights Amendment would have convinced her that she was right.

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