Winning the Hearts and Minds What I have learned about the world is that the social ideals worth pursuing, worth putting in place for ourselves and others, need to have their underlying fundamental character accepted first by the public to have any kind of lasting power. Take universal suffrage in America as an example. The concept of a woman did not, prior to widening the right to vote, commonly include the notion that women were inclined, skilled, or even capable of abstract thoughts about politics. European Americans “knew” this fact about women, just as they “know” things about Asian men now.
We have the benefit of hindsight to realize the error, that the insistence that this was “simply the way of the world,” was false. Think about how men bragged that this could even be “proven” as a matter of biology, anthropology, or any other method. That social narrative was that women were naturally and undeniably inferior to men; a woman’s brain and mind were enfeebled and somehow less when compared to a man’s. Does this sound familiar? After enough time had passed, Americans felt, appropriately sheepish about their claims about women. It clearly wasn’t true. For many, they did not believe. For years longer than necessary, women suffered. Instead of blindly carrrying on, we should be doing one of two things as responsible social citizens…
Write on, Bros. & Sisters Before we strove for universal suffrage, the idea that a woman even had political thoughts had to first be accepted. Women rose to the challenge, and began writing their then unpopular narrative.
From the early 1850s, when an organized national women’s rights movement emerged, to 1920, when the 19th Amendment enfranchising women was ratified, U.S. women writers from a variety of racial, ethnic, and class backgrounds published hundreds of short stories, poems, plays, essays and conversion narratives in support of woman suffrage.
In an essay entitled “The Truth of Fiction, and Its Charms”, published in the first issue of the very first American journal devoted to women’s rights, The Una (1853), for example, an anonymous editor argued that popular fiction was a valuable rhetorical form for the emergent movement. “[Fiction] brings the truth of nature—the probable, the possible and the ideal—in their broadest range and utmost capabilities into the service of a favorite principle, and demonstrates its force and beauty, and practicability, in circumstantial details, which like a panorama, presens an image so like an experience that we realize it for all the purposes of knowledge, hope and resolution” (qtd. Petty 4).
In 1892, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the President of the newly formed National American Woman Suffrage Association, reiterated this appreciation of literature’s ability to move people to embrace a “favorite principle: “I have long waited … for some woman to arise to do for her sex what Mrs. Stowe did for the black race in ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’ a book that did more to rouse the national conscience than all the glowing appeals an constitutional arguments that agitated our people during half a century” (Stanton, Pray, Sir, vi-vii). Many suffrage supporters responded to Stanton’s call…
We need to write our experiences, minority men especially. Humanity is humanity.
So the second thing we all need to do, is to listen and believe our brothers and sisters when they tell us they are in pain and that we can help it stop.