I’m only a hundred pages into Radical Spirits, but it’s printed on such thick paper that I appear to be about halfway through. It’s a very short book on thick stock. Oh the 90s, when paper was thick.
Anyway, I’m just reading the part where the women’s rights people who aren’t Spiritualists are expressing great envy of the Spiritualists. Apparently our feminist forebears used to spend a lot of time, rightly, complaining about how softly other activists spoke. It’s interesting. White women of the middle and upper classes were literally not supposed to speak in public. Even some women’s rights advocates would write their speeches and have their brothers read them, so deep was this internalized belief that it wasn’t right for women to speak in public.
And even when some did become brave enough to speak, they often just spoke their speeches very softly, even if it meant no one could hear them. And then the women would fight because some wanted the speakers to speak up and others were like “Um, hell no, we’re not going to stand around outside and bellow.” As if giving a speech no one could hear somehow counted.
And even Elizabeth Cady Stanton is writing letters about how hard it is for her to speak in public and how she clings to the few speeches she has written (this is early on, obviously) and how she envies the Spiritualist women, who do talk loudly and with authority, even if they are in trances to do so.
I have been thinking a lot about whether Spiritualism is fake, whether it’s just wishful thinking forcefully asserted. I think you know, if you’ve read me long enough, that this is the deepest question I have about my own beliefs, even as I find incredible value in them. So, I’m not asking whether it’s fake as a way to discount it. I’m honestly trying to understand for myself.
But I have to tell you, reading about these women, so desperate for their lives to improve and how they still, even as they needed freedom, couldn’t speak in public, just couldn’t get over that ingrained hurdle, it’s hard not to believe that, fake or not, it was powerful spiritual stuff that let women speak in a voice that could be heard.