GUESS WHO FINALLY WENT TO SEE EASY A THIS MORNINGGGG.
OH WAIT, it was me.
I must say, I was super excited for this movie to come out. A mainstream movie with feminist overtones? Sounds too good to be true, right? I know. Well, it’s not perfect, but it’s definitely several steps in the right direction, and I’m definitely purchasing it at some point because it’s a movie I know I’ll want to watch again.
The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne)–from whence Easy A draws inspiration–and Tess of the d’Urbervilles (Thomas Hardy) are two of my favorite books; I see them both as feminist masterpieces ahead of their times, especially considering they were both written by men. Both are primarily concerned with a female protagonist condemned for her sexual activity, and both authors shift the condemnation onto a cruel and unfair society.
And free love? Where does free love come into this, you ask? Allow me to share with you this small snippet of glory, extracted from this book. Two of my favorite feminist heroes are introduced under this title:
Victoria Woodhull & Tennessee Claflin
Virtue: What It Is, and What It Is Not
Victoria Claflin Woodhull (1838-1927) and her sister Tennessee Claflin (1846-1923) never had been affiliated with the organized woman’s movement when they burst upon the scene in 1870 with the publication of their radical feminist newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly. The editors discussed such topics as prostitution, venereal disease, abortion, and female sexuality, and printed news about workingwomen and their efforts to organize and better their conditions. The Weekly advocated spiritualism, socialism (it was the first American periodical to publish the Communist Manifesto) and free love (a novel by George Sand was published as a serial).
The resourceful Claflin sisters, whose background included dismal poverty and unsavory careers with a “medical” road show and as clairvoyants, had recently earned a considerable fortune in New York as Wall Street’s first female stockbrokers. (Their brokerage firm was controlled by Cornelius Vanderbilt, an ardent admirer of Tennessee Claflin.) Their uninhibited sex lives, which they made no attempt to conceal, was the subject of much gossip.
Thus, when Victoria Woodhull showed up in Washington in early 1871, just as Susan B. Anthony was about to open a convention of the National Woman Suffrage Association, her presence was probably a source of embarrassment for some delegates. Opponents of woman’s rights had long used the charge of “free love” to discredit the movement, and Woodhull frankly avowed her belief in sexual freedom.
In Washington, Woodhull was invited to address the House Judiciary Committee, a privilege never before accorded to a woman. The leaders of the National could not ignore this occasion and came to hear her speak. She made a brilliant presentation, suggesting that female suffrage was already an implied right in the Constitution as a result of the use of the word “person” in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. (This was the same argument Susan B. Anthony later employed at her trial.) The women were impressed and invited Woodhull to repeat her congressional address before the suffrage convention that very day.
To criticisms about Woodhull’s unconventional sexual behavior, Elizabeth Cady Stanton replied: “We have already women enough sacrificed to this sentimental, hypocritical prating about purity. Women have crucified the Mary Wollstonecrafts, the Fanny Wrights and the George Sands of all ages….Let us end this ignoble record and henceforth stand by womanhood. If this present woman [Woodhull] must be crucified, let men drive the spikes.”
For a time Victoria Woodhull became in the press the most talked about figure of the suffrage movement. At a National convention in New York she threatened that unless Congress gave women the vote, they would set up a new government. “We mean treason,” she proclaimed; “we mean secession, and on a thousand times grander scale than was that of the South. We are plotting a revolution; we will overthrow this bogus Republic and plant a government of righteousness in its stead.” Shortly after announcing “I am a free lover!” Woodhull was on the platform at National’s 1872 Washington convention, seated between Elizabeth Stanton and the venerable Lucretia Mott.
Finally, Susan B. Anthony called a halt to Woodhull’s spectacular ascent in the movement. By this time Woodhull had convinced Stanton that the National ought to back her as a candidate for President of the United States in the 1872 election! Anthony vetoed this idea and expelled Woodhull and her followers from the next suffrage convention when they tried to wrest control of a meeting from her. Wrote Susan Anthony in her journal afterward: “Never did Mrs. Stanton do so foolish a thing. All came near being lost.”
The flamboyance and grandiosity of Victoria Woodhull tend to obscure her and her sister’s real contribution to the ideas of feminism in their relatively brief association withthe American woman’s movement. For publicly challenging the dearly held Victorian belief in purity (that is, asexuality [NOTE FROM THE BLOGGER: Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction. While Victorian society demanded that women display no interest in sex, the majority of them would not have actually been asexual. This, my friends, is what we call sexual repression, and it’s a Bad Thing. Don’t do it.]) of women, they were certain to be isolated and silenced. However, there is no doubt that Woodhull and Claflin gave voice to the secret longings and dissatisfactions of great numbers of women. Elizabeth Stanton wrote in her confidential diary, begun at the age of sixty-five, that she had come to the conclusion that “the first great work to be accomplished for woman is to revolutionize the dogma that sex is a crime.” Later she added, “a healthy woman has as much passion as a man.”
The following excerpts from two articles [I’m just including the first one here] printed in Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly in 1871 and 1872 were written by Tennessee (sometimes written “Tennie C.”) Claflin, who was a better writer and clearer thinker than her more famous sister. In the first article Claflin urged women to gain their sexual freedom by defying oppressive social customs; in the second, she pointed out that woman’s economic dependence forces her to submerge her own nature and become little more than a sexual snare for men.
Words have different and sometimes contradictory meanings….These different meanings of words…reveal a whole history and a whole philosophy….Notably does this happen in respect to the words free and virtuous as applied to men and to women.
A free man is a noble being; a free woman is a contemptible being. Freedom for a man is emancipation from degrading conditions which prevent the expansion of his soul into godlike grandeur and nobility, which it is assumed is his natural tendency in freedom. Freedom for a woman is, on the contrary, escape from those necessary restraining conditions which prevent the sinking of her soul into degradation and vice, which it is all unconsciously assumed is her natural tendency. In other terms, the use of this one word, in its two-fold application to men and to woman, reveals the unconscious but ever present conviction in the public mind that men tend, of course, heavenward in their natures and development, and that women tend just as naturally hell-ward….freedom is a condition desirable and favorable for men, because men are naturally good, and require only the opportunity to show that fact; but a condition undesirable and unfavorable for women, because women are naturally bad, and require only the opportunity to show their innate tendency to vice or wickedness.
Insulting as this estimate is to our sex, it is the basis on which the whole question of social freedom is argued by the outside world. It is naively and continually assumed that if social restraints were removed, all women, the mothers and sisters and wives and daughters of our virtuous male citizens, would immediately and incontinently go to the bad. Men are every day virtually saying this of their own mothers, and women are thoughtlessly chiming in and pronouncing the ban of reprobation upon the name of their own womanhood….
In the same striking way the two uses of the word virtue tell the same sad tale of the popular estimate of the character of nature of the two sexes.The very word virtue is, I believe, partly derived from the Latin vir,the distinctive name of man, and meant originally “manliness.” It was natural in a crude age that all questions of womanliness should be left out of account. Even in respect to man it was the warlike quality of mere physical strength which was first prized, and which first received the name of virtue. We retain this general idea of strength or efficiency as the first meaning of virtue still, as when we speak of the virtue of a medicine, of a public measure, and the like. But in this more spiritual and cultured age, virtue, as applied to man, has risen to a higher degree of significance, and now means moral goodness, or a general conformity of the whole life to high moral ideas and purposes. But, applied to woman, it is confined to a narrow and insulting specialty. It means that woman has never been approached in a special way by man, and nothing but that. Apart from that special idea of virtue, the woman may have all the nobler qualities of her sex–be a pattern of generosity, inspiration, religious emotionality even–and yet she is not virtuous, and never can become so; but if she is sound in that matter, she may be a virago, a thief, or a fiend, but she is perfectly virtuous–she possesses that which is “prized above rubies.”
All this is simply execrable. It is degrading, insulting mockery to define female virtue in this way, or in any way different from man’s virtue. And women are constrained to accept these disparaging discriminations by an organized social opinion which is excessively tyrannical. From the mere imputation of impropriety in this one particular women shrink and cower with the most abject terror. This slavery to opinion must be abolished; women must vindicate their right to an absolute freedom in their own conduct, exceptthat they shall have no right to encroach on others. The revolt against any oppression usually goes to an opposite extreme for a time; and that is right and necessary. We cannot render the terms “libertine”and “rake” as opprobrious as men have made “mistress” and “courtesan”….Let us, then, resort to the opposite tactics, and take the sting out of these bad words by having a consciousness of rectitude, and then not shrinking from any imputation whatever. The world enslaves our sex by the mere fear of an epithet; and as long as it can throw any vile term at us, before which we cower, it can maintain our enslavement. It is not “freedom” alone, but every other epithet intended to degrade, that women must grow strong enough to defy before she will be free. I do not mean that she shall be what these words are meant to convey, but merely that she shall let the world know that female virtue means hereafter something different–that it means, in a word, just what would make a man virtuous and good. He or she who would be free must defy the enemy, and must be ultra enough to exhaust the possibilities of the enemy’s assault, and it will not be until women can contemplate and accept unconcernedly whatsoever imputation an ignorant, bitter, lying, and persecuting world may heap on them that they will be really free.
And this in a nutshell is what Easy A is all about. Treat yourself. <3