In 1845 Emmaline Shaw tried to divorce her husband Daniel Shaw in a Connecticut court citing intolerable cruelty. She had been severely ill and apparently Danny boy couldn’t restrain himself enough to let her sleep it off and he forced her to do her, “marital duty.” Yep. He raped his wife constantly while she was sick. A real winner huh? Being desperate enough to pursue this in court, because it is not likely she would get anything out of the divorce outside of poverty, she still lost. The insane part about this is that intolerable cruelty charge was not addressing the rape, it was speaking of his verbal abuse to her and her children. The rape wasn’t rape because they were married. The courts denied it claiming that she was physically unharmed from his verbal abuse (never-mind the rape….) and there is not much else historically written about her.
We so often think of women’s suffrage from a “protesting winner winner chicken dinner, we got the vote standpoint.” We rarely understand and view it from a legal standpoint; what it meant to not be recognized as a legal person with rights to their own body. With that we don’t comprehend exactly how much these women risked in their lives. We envision these women as just historical figures that protested in long skirts and then, “boom,” we got the vote in 1920. We lack the recognition the basic mental guerrilla warfare that these ladies enacted. It wasn’t just about the vote it was about being recognized as a fellow human.The odds were not just stacked against them, they didn’t even have odds. It was so much this that women had to pick and choose for the long game. They had to look 20 plus years into the future, think outside the box more than anyone around them; at the same time worry for their own possible safety of being chucked into an insane asylum because their husband/father decided he had had enough of her girly games. Or even if he didn’t want to be that extreme he could just deny her right to see anybody. He was, after all, legally master of his home and he chose those that associated with those in his charge.
Early suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B Anthony, and Lucy Stone were tactical pioneers in rights to a woman’s body, unfortunately they barely saw any fruits of their labor. Lucy would advocate for the vote while Elizabeth geared her efforts towards, “the Marriage Question,” or rape inside of marriage. Lucy could agree with them in private but had to make the tough decision that to be adamant publicly about marital rape would pull the efforts from women getting the vote, therefore she was not necessarily a loud champion. She couldn’t detract away from something so foundational as having the right to cast a ballot. She knew once that was secured then the sky was the limit. It did not keep her from supporting her friends. Lucy once spoke about her friend whose husband basically would not get off her in a letter to Elizabeth. We are talking sickness, pregnancy, right after birth, nursing. All. The. Time. He didn’t care, her body was his. All different women, all different causes, all parts to the same tree, their love for their fellow ladies.
There were several men that supported these suffragists. John Stewart Mill, a philosopher and member of Parliament stated in 1869 the simple fact that the view of women is as low as an animal. “However brutal tyrant she may unfortunately be chained to,” men had the authority to, “Enforce the lowest form of degradation of a human being, that of being made instrument of an animal function contrary to her inclinations.” Redefining Rape
These women had everything to lose, but they did it for the love of women and future generations of daughters and granddaughters. They certainly didn’t do it for posterity, hell in my video I mention we don’t even know the first name of the wife of famous Parisian swordsman Pierre Vigny. She was a catalyst in women’s self defense and we literally only know her as Miss Sanderson. The thing about these ladies is that they all had a cause and a purpose near and dear, fighting the battle on all fronts.
I hate the reference women are given as a bunch of hens cackling. I get it and will even laugh or make the joke myself, but the idea behind it is that we are all a bunch of catty gossiping chickens. I reflect on all these women who came before us, all they risked, and how strategically they went about this and I am so humbled. Then I hear that phrase and wonder if we are doing what we can to pay homage to their sacrifice and fight.
When I first started Healthy Buffalo it was about getting women in the door for self defense. I didn’t care where they started, I just knew if they took one step they would keep going, the positive spiral up. I saw so many women being swept under the baseboards in marital arts because there wasn’t anyone there to point out that yeah, it really sucks coming out of that comfort zone, here is what I did that helped. I wanted to make it better for these ladies, the ones who needed self defense the most, but were getting overlooked.
In an antebellum world Elizabeth, Lucy, and Susan had to be a tribe. I look at the women backing me and I am in awe. I have bounced so many ideas off my, “Home Tribe,” that I know they dread the Tuesday phone call of me forcing them to listen to my new article; or talk me off a ledge when I don’t want to post something because of fear or embarrassment. It is not lost on me that once it is out there, it is out there forever. These women support and give constructive criticism and none of them are necessarily fighters in the physical sense, but they understand a different side of what I am trying to portray. One of the biggest privileges of my life was to watch my two older daughters grow from being angry teens to adulthood and now they are two of my best friends (Tuesday phone call crew). I have a friend that is the positive reinforcement when I want to quit, another that’s in corporate business who constantly rattles off amazing ideas, my mother, sister-in- law, and sisters (one who always helps me smiling with the kids, none of this would be possible without her) who always support/share my posts and it is humbling because they believe in my cause.
I also have my warrior TCB tribe and the reason I mention these ladies is not only because they support as well but because they are all so different. I remember thinking after a few conversations, I have nothing in common with these ladies and I was right, I mean outside of training, we really don’t. It’s funny though how 2-3 hours twice a week of a physical breakdown tends to create cohesion. I am talking a spectrum of a yogi who says zen things I don’t really understand, a fifteen year old that can kick the a** of most men I know, a strong man/woman competitor, a former career protestor with a sweet face, (don’t let that fool you), a boxing mother of four, a personal trainer, a woman with rheumatoid arthritis fighting the pain each time we train…. The list goes on and scatters ages. Here is the thing, I haven’t known the women in the latter tribe that long, a little over half a year at most. What draws us close is the support, a mutual small interest, and then a stretching of seeing things from a totally different perspective. They have laughed at my kids, corrected them as well, listened to me pour out my heart on foster care, and then we roll around all willy-nilly on the mats hoping for some semblance to BJJ. I mean it helps that we are punching things most of the time too….
I realized a couple years ago that if I truly wanted to make even a minor difference in women’s safety that I had to bust through that haze of small judgment and meet people where they were in life not just when I was teaching. I am not saying I was rude or anything prior, but I definitely had no issues saying in my head, yeah we have nothing in common and aren’t likely to be friends; then go on about my day. I recognized this prejudice in myself and about faced. Had I not, I wouldn’t love and know the absolute blessing of my TCB gals as well as several other important ladies in my life.
I basically now force everyone to be my bestie. I want to be THAT person for women, their support; I want to encourage my daughters and other women to be that way as well. We must stop tearing each other down and start building each other up, then we get to step back and watch all of us grow. As I have been poured into by the precious women in my life I want to pour into others. Kindness instead of a write off. It saddens me to think of how many awesome ladies I may have written of just because their cause wasn’t my cause.
Healthy Buffalo was about getting women interested in getting out of their comfort zone on safety and the goal hasn’t changed. The great thing about getting people interested is that it’s a pretty broad topic…. I mean I just did a video on Victorian self defense with hatpins….. next week its on a muzzle loading derringer. It’s the takeaway that’s important. Sometimes the topic is heavy, sometimes you deal in it with humor, dark or light, and sometimes the topic is statistical and informative. It’s not always doom and gloom. It’s broad and reaching.
These warrior women in our history fought fear in a cage and were able to free their daughters and granddaughters and generations. They used their cage to sharpen and plan and play a long game and they won. It’s incredible.
Last week a friend from my TCB tribe gave every lady in our group a belated Christmas gift. It was a key necklace with a word on each one she had personalized for us individually. Mine read, “Fearless.” I actually cried about it on the way home because I don’t feel fearless most of the time. I bluster through with humor and hope for the best, I hem and haw and then while cringing I go for it; most of the time feeling like a fraud. But that word on that key meant to me to keep going. I may not feel fearless, I know those women faced with the entire world stacked against them for women’s rights did not feel fearless, I know most likely none of us feel fearless, but don’t let the cage stop you. Use it.
#warriorwomen#historyofwomensselfdefense #fightlikeavictorian #fightlikeamother#womensupportingwomen #selfdefense#fearless #blessed #kindnessmatters
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Author- Christun Erwin
"Thank you for your words. They make an impact and its important that, human to human, woman to woman, mother to mother... you know that you make a difference, even to those you never knew your words" -Krystal