The two essays, “The Cult of True Womanhood” and Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s “Solitude of Self” are two diametrically opposite views about womanhood. The former essay, written in 1966, discussed the plight of women in the 19th century, describing a feminine role model of purity, piety, submissiveness and domesticity, a role that was widely accepted as legitimate by men and women alike. Stanton’s essay approached womanhood from a completely different perspective, focusing on the ideas of equality and the common existence of all people. This paper will contrast the two essays, which were written at approximately the same time in American history, but portrayed ideas that could not have been more dissimilar: The Cult of True Womanhood represents an antiquated, idealized, clichéd view of the role of women under the guise of their being powerful, while Stanton’s essay provides a truly feminist ideology, consisting of true equality between the sexes, with women being empowered to pursue every social, intellectual, and political achievement that is also sought by men.
In “The Cult of True Womanhood”, the cult of domesticity was described in a way that represented women as delicate flowers who were vulnerable to being corrupted by men, and who needed to focus on religiousness, their domestic roles, and submitting to the wills of their husbands in order to truly fulfill their womanly destiny. The qualities that were associated with womanhood were held by women, men, society, and neighbors, and without them, “all was ashes” as opposed to the happiness and power that women could achieve by adhering to the rigidly prescribed feminine roles of the times. Religion was particularly essential, in the view of the proponents of the cult of womanhood, because it helped to keep women from straying from their domestic sphere; in addition, church work would not make her “less submissive or domestic” (Welter.) In addition, piety provided women with their greatest challenge, i.e. bringing men back to God, so that they would prevent them from exercising the “excesses of passion” that were bound to contaminate society if men were left to their animal instincts. As a result, women were given, or saddled with, nearly complete responsibility to ensure that society remained civilized while at the same time, women who sought to achieve any kind of fulfillment outside of these areas were regarded as interfering with their God-given roles. These women were “tampering with society, undermining civilization” (Welter.)
There could not have been a greater contrast and philosophies between “The Cult of True Womanhood” and “Solitude of Self”. Stanton’s emphasis was on the participation of women in the community as equals with men; her philosophical belief was that individual people deserve equality as well as social dignity because of both their legal status, but more importantly, that they function in significant solitude from each other. Stanton was a true advocate for women’s rights, including the right to vote, but her concerns also involved the status–legal and social–of the feminine gender. In her essay, she views the individual as an abstraction, citing “our Protestant idea, the right of individual conscience and judgment” (Stanton.) She also discussed the practical world of citizenship that is based on fundamental principles, including both government and society. Stanton believed that, unlike in the “Cult of True Womanhood,” women are equal to men in civilization as well as in their aspirations for fulfillment and a desire to evolve; she also differentiated women themselves from their social roles in society.
As opposed to the role of women being at the center of the family unit as well as society as discussed in the first essay, Stanton discussed the isolation of each human soul and the need to be self reliant that provides every person with the right to determine his or her own fate. For Stanton, that meant seeking education, complete development of one’s cognitive and sensual faculties that were involved in the mind and body. Women and all people needed to be allowed freedom of thought, as well as action as well as total emancipation from every type of slavery, superstition, and custom. She believed that women should also be free from the paralyzing impact of being fearful, so that solitude as well as personal responsibility should be inherent in the life of each woman. “Solitary,” is a term that is used to represent a psychological as well as physical aspect of life, such as free will. Stanton’s beliefs were that women should take advantage of every opportunity available to men, because in the end, they will need to rely on themselves as individuals. This contrasts with the opportunities for men, who can decide to choose solitude and view it as being self-reliant when actually men are able to experience a wide network of friendship and support because of their monopoly of all institutions: social, political, financial, and academic. As a result, when they experience isolation, it is not as intense as that which is experienced by women, because men have a natural access to these institutional resources. Stanton’s beliefs are that men and women have a common fate, and both genders need to be mentally and physically ready to confront life’s challenges; she emphasizes the equality of the genders when she says. “It matters not whether the solitary voyager is a man or woman” (Stanton.)
- Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. “The Solitude of Self.” The Women’s Journal 23 January 1892: 2-9. Web.
- Welter, Barbara. “The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860.” 1966. Alamo.Instructure.com. Web. 17 July 2014.