"Human Rights not founded on Sex"....but are they?

After reading Angelina Grimke's 1837 letter to her friend I was interested in the fact that some women have  felt different and lesser than men in some regards well before the organized fight for women's rights. Grimke wrote about the lack of human rights given to slaves and women, but accepts that the lack of rights for slaves as something that cannot be changed and must simply be dealt with. However, she does note that human rights should be extended to all moral beings rather than differentiating between men and women. She believes that the differences between men and women are not ingrained in their genders, but the lifestyle they live and because of that, they should not have different rights, duties and limitations based solely on their gender. She notes that men are looked at as warriors, while women were seen only as beautiful creatures, destined to wait on a man and obey his every whim.  She says that by doing this, people have been robbed of their originality and that women have lost their rights to think, speak and become something other than a man's plaything. She finds it incorrect that women are seen as the property of men and argues that women, as a whole, were never given to men, but placed on the earth just the same way as men were. She brings up the very interesting and thought-provoking point that the differences between men and women are immeasurable in that it is unclear just how far below men women are placed, but that if men and women were simply seen as equals, the confusion would disappear. She believes that women should be seen as equal to men and have the same rights and access that men do, as long as it is morally correct.

Grimke's thoughts were very well-expressed and seemed to be ahead of her time. She was very concerned about morality and expressed sadness for men who practiced immoral behavior and only wished for women to be granted access to the same moral actions that men had access to. A lot of her points about the treatment of men and women in society were important and are still seen today. It is unbelievable that the human rights issues that women faced in 1837 are still seen today, even in the United States. Women are still seen as lesser than men in many situations, including the workplace. Why is it that women cannot seem to obtain a sense of true equality, even in highly developed countries? Why are we seeing the same issues that have been around since the early 1800's? Do human rights belong first and foremost to males or will women ever be seen as 100% equal?

Grimke, Angelina. "Human Rights Not Founded on Sex." In Letters to Catherine Beecher. Isaac Knapp, 1838. (http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/abolitn/abesaegb5t.html)


  1. Great Post and questions you have bought up ! I believe that for most part our constitutional rights and human rights were not generalized for both women and men or even race. Today women have their rights violated each and everyday whether its for a career or even an education we have been itemized to look like "sex icons" to position us in certain careers. Our face and body takes over how far we can get in life or how we get potrayed.. Our Human Rights were written in a perfectly good form but if you actually take some time to read it through you will notice this is all just a piece of paper all these rights are violated each and everyday especially with Prisoners and minorities being set up to fail just like Michelle Alexander states in her new book " The New Jim Crow", Though it does not necessarily reflect on women it gives you a good stand point of the way our rights are violated and no longer exist in fact they never have.

  2. Indeed, I think Grimke was way "ahead of her time." She was an abolitionist who quickly learned that most people (including abolitionists) who were advocating for the rights of slaves had no wish to extend similar rights and freedoms to women...why do you think that might be the case? Are there similar instances of such paradoxes?

  3. The questions you brought up are very interesting. I believe that the reason why women have not received true equality today is because even though many people claim to support equal rights for men and women, many still have preference towards male figures in the work place and many other high positions in society. Therefore, when it comes to establishing their place in society men are not willing to abandon the high positions that they play in society, which is why most men do not support true equality in the workplace. It is very difficult to think that women will ever achieve true equality in todays society where very little action is taken to enforce equal rights in the workplace. Men will continue to take advantage of the positions that they have been granted in society for simply being born males even though, there is a more qualified women out there to do the same job.

  4. Samantha, just a quick question. In your opening statement about women feeling lesser before organized fight for women's rights- are you implying that women, before suffrage was granted, and before the modern days of activism, were not aware of their inferiority in society?

    In regards to Angelina Grimke's appeal, I believe that she takes a radical, "before her time," stance on two main issues regarding the religion behind sexism, and the morality of human rights. In her appeal, she discusses a possible reason behind the longstanding, insubordination of women. For her first point, she turns to the Scripture as the root cause of widespread inequality between men and women. She refers to the Bible as the "anti-Christian doctrine of masculine and feminine virtues," clearly noting that the Scripture is a main cause of the separation of the sexes. Because of the misconstrues of the story of Adam and Eve, women throughout centuries have been considered a mere "appendage," created from man, but "not recognizing her as part of man." This misconception of the origin of women has been at the root of the mistreatment of women since the beginning of time, and will continue to contribute to the sexist lens from which many still view the world.
    Grimke's appeal also focuses on the sheer disregard of humanity, where women are considered an entity rather than as human beings. She targets the "vain" efforts made by society to create a division between the responsibilities of males and females. She says, "As a moral being, whatever it is morally wrong for her to do, it is morally wrong, for him to do." Grimkes appeal is to humanity, not to two separate sexes, which again, demonstrates her progressive thinking. If she could recognize that each person should be upheld to the same moral standards, why were others still stuck in a mindset of sexism and inequality?

    One explanation for the ongoing issues in women's rights, in regards to the questions in the above posts, would be the generational construction of the family. As we know, the views and beliefs of our families have molded, or at least impacted, the way that we see the world, with traditions and customs being passed down. If one was raised in a family where women were considered and treated as inferiors, those belief systems and attitudes would be reflected outside of the family and into society. Thus, the system of oppression, exploitation, and unequal rights of women, persists in our supposed "progressive" world.

  5. Lysspo, sorry this is so late, I just noticed your comment. You bring up a good point, my opening sentence was somewhat ill written. I was trying to say that while women may have been aware of their inferiority, that they did not actively seek to change it. I feel that it was more of a norm before the women's suffrage movement really took hold and that women were less likely to really acknowledge it. This may be a misconception on my part, as I am unsure of how many women activists there were in the 1800's and how many of them actively fought for equal rights.


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