Gender IssuesHistory

Ain’t I Woman

By February 23, 2018 No Comments
As February is Black History Month, the following is the 1851 speech by Sojourner Truth, former slave and civil rights activist (1797-1883):

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

 Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.


There’s quite a difference between Sojourner Truth’s description of her life in the 2nd paragraph with the epitome of the Southern lady.


Separate sphere ideology dictated different roles for men and women. While white men embodied bravery and strength, white women personified weakness and purity. Separate sphere ideology in the South meant adherence to a strict hierarchy based on race and class as well as gender. This ideology excluded blacks from either sphere. The duties within the spheres differed due to class. Rich or poor, white women had different duties and expectations, while white men of either class had access to the public sphere. At the heart of the separate sphere ideology in the South was the duty of white men to protect white women from the public sphere. Without white men’s protection of the private sphere, the domestic sphere would not exist. Throughout the antebellum era, the rhetoric of separate spheres created ideal roles for men and women. (source, bolding for emphasis)

Wealthy white women epitomized the ideals of the domestic sphere by embodying the grace and leisure their class afforded them. The term lady was racially charged in the South. The English journalist, J. S Buckingham, wrote, “a female negro is called a ‘wench,’ or a ‘woman’; …which makes the term ‘women’ so offensive to American ears, when applied to white females, who must all be called ladies.” Lady was a term for white women exclusively and usually for wealthy white women. (source)


The contrast between the ideal of one group and the reality of another is disturbing. It is seen in history. I believe it is seen today, which is why I keep repeating what I first heard from Austin Duncan years ago.

If what we consider “biblical” is not possible across time or culture, then it is just our preference and should not be used to bind consciences.

But the dominant culture is the one with the power to call the shots, to write the books, and to pass on what they inherited as the norm.

Until other voices are added to the conversation, the depth to which an ideal is steeped in a particular culture will go unquestioned and unexamined. To shoe-horn brothers and sisters from different backgrounds into one that is not their own does a disservice to the body of Christ.

Every tribe, nation, and tongue, not conformity to a single culture.


This first appeared on Persis Lorenti’s blog Tried With Fire




Persis L

Author Persis L

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