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Sisters in Spirit

by eloepthien on November 23rd, 2010

“[…] no rebellion has been of like importance with that of Women against the tyranny of Church and State; none has had its far-reaching effects. We note in the beginning; its progress will overthrow every existing form of these institutions; its end will be a regenerated world.
Matilda Joslyn Gage (zit. in ROESCH-WAGNER 2001)

Unequal Sisters

What was the origin of the women’s movement? According to Wikipedia the equality of the sexes came first up as a topic during the French Revolution. However, the first wave of feminism started in the USA and found its political expression in 1848 in the Seneca Falls Declaration, which was the result of a first large women’s gathering and a milestone towards women’s right to vote.

The vision of equality for women was revolutionary. Where did it come from? At that time the women had hardly more rights than slaves, no own possessions, no right to be with their children, no right for protection against violence and rape in their marriages. The vision seemed to have come literally out of nowhere to the women that were so enslaved.

What history did not tell us so far is now finally being published: The source of inspiration for the first feminists were other women, women that had more rights than their white sisters would dare to even dream about – the women of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) (ROESCH-WAGNER 2001).

In Balance

In the Haudenosaunee culture men, women and children had the same spiritual, human and political rights. Everyone could anytime voice their opinion and know that their voice would be heard, describes Jeanne Shenandoah in her introduction to the book „Sisters in Spirit. Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Influence on Early American Feminists“ von Sally Roesch Wagner. Back then there was lively exchange and friendship happening between women of both cultures. A few early feminists had even been adopted into the indigenous tribes and had native names in addition to their European names. What was it like for them to experience so much freedom and sovereignty in their neighbors?

Today it is almost impossible to imagine how different life was for women in these two cultures:

Euro-American women had to cope with:

  • children being the sole property of their fathers
  • men having the legal right and the religious responsibility to physically discipline their wives
  • unhealthy, restrictive, even dangerous clothing
  • drudgery home work, done in isolation from other women and under the authority of the husband
  • losing the right to own their land, bodies or children when they got married
  • hardly any opportunity to earn money so that they would be forced to get married
  • their own religion defining that women are fundamentally flawed and therefore need to be subordinated
  • no feminine deities and a spirituality that was totally removed from the earth
  • being not allowed to even speak in church
  • no right to vote and no right to hold political offices
  • all decisions being made by men and majorities

In contrast the Haudenosaunee women enjoyed a live as equal members of their tribes and nations:

  • children belonged to the clan of their mothers
  • violens against women was no part of the culture and seriously dealt with when it occurred
  • clothing fostered health and secured freedom of movement and independence
  • women held responsibilities that had a spiritual basis
  • their work was satisfying and done communally with other women
  • they were responsible for agriculture as well as home life
  • work was done under the direction of other women, and many women were working together
  • each woman controls her own personal property
  • ”Sky Woman“ was a spiritual being that was understood as a catalyst for the world we see
  • Mother Earth and women were seen as spiritually interrelated
  • Women held responsibilities in ceremony and these were in balance with those of men
  • Women chose who would become Chief
  • Women held key political offices (e.g. clan mothers)
  • The Law of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy ensured women’s political authority
  • All decisions were made by consensus, everyone had a voice

Where are we at today?
Where are we at in our society at large and where within our smaller cycles of influence and community?

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