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In order to explore this question, the following section turns from Truth's representation in images to analyze two of Truth's public presentations: her "Ar'n't I a woman" address and her address at an gathering of abolitionists. In each instance, Truth uses words and her body to make a case for the equality of black women by "passing" as able-bodied.

This speech has become legendary and lies at the heart of many feminist understandings of Sojourner Truth. There are two extant versions of this speech: one was written shortly after the address in the June 21, Salem Bugle , the other was written by Francis Gage, one of the presiders at the Convention. The second version is included in Truth's Book of Life.

While several readers of Sojourner Truth, including Piepmeier and Painter, suggest that the Bugle version is more accurate to what actually occurred, the inclusion of Gage's version in Truth's Book of Life demonstrates the importance of that later version for the construction of Truth's public persona and perhaps even for Truth herself. Gage's version dramatizes the event: "Slowly from her seat in the corner rose Sojourner Truth, who, till now, had hardly lifted her head.

Look at me. Look at my arm,' and she bared her right arm to the shoulder, showing its tremendous muscular power. In both versions, Truth referred to her bodily capabilities in order to establish women's equality with men. In this address, Truth's references to her own body challenged cultural discourses on womanhood even as they sustained cultural discourses on black womanhood.

Truth's strength demonstrated that women were strong, not weak nor passive.

As Painter states: "At every step, she is the bodily equal of a farming man. Recognizing the social construction of her sexual identity, Truth attempted an alternative performance that directed attention to the constructed nature of normative performances. The female strength performed by Truth demonstrated the potential strength of all women's bodies. In this speech, Truth constructed her black body as female in order to challenge cultural understandings of "woman" among those for and against women's rights.

Truth challenged her audience, "I have plowed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me—and ar'n't I a woman? Truth definitively answered no in her attempt to shift the discourse on women's rights. By calling attention to her strength, however, Truth risked perpetuating the cultural understanding of black women as males. Black women were understood as entirely different from white women. Truth's point in this speech is that black women are just as much "woman" as white women.

According to Truth, the strength of black women demonstrates that strength and femininity can co-exist in one body. In Akron, Truth constructed not only her own body, but also the bodies of powerful biblical women to challenge the cultural discourse on women. Piepmeier suggests that Truth's intention in this speech was to construct herself within the cultural discourse of tall-tale figures. In tall-tales, as Piepmeier points out, bodies that might normally be interpreted as freakish or grotesque become heroic.

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Truth is not, however, constructing herself as "heroic because grotesque" as a tall-tale figure. Truth did not, however, draw attention to her "grotesqueness" in order to construct herself as heroic. Perhaps Truth's attention to other aspects of her body, such as her blackness, strength, and femininity, were attempts to construct herself as a tall-tale figure but, if that is the case, Truth constructed herself as "heroic because grotesque" while deflecting attention from her "grotesqueness".

Truth, thus, used her body to challenge cultural discourses on black womanhood, while sustaining cultural discourses on disability. As Truth is represented in both versions of the Akron speech, Truth's attention to her strength demonstrates her pride in her black female body while simultaneously negating her disability.

Truth also deployed feminist and racial-pride rhetoric while negating her disability in an speech on abolition in a town in Indiana. At the end of her speech, a group of men prevented the meeting from adjourning by claiming that Truth was really a man in woman's disguise. According to the men, Truth was an abolitionist who sought sympathy and recruits to her cause based on her story as a former slavewoman while she was, in fact, a man. The request, as recorded in Truth's Book of Life , was led by a doctor who requested that Truth allow her breasts to be examined by some of the ladies present in order to determine Truth's sex.

When chaos erupted among Truth's supporters and those who supported the idea of having Truth examined, Truth entered the conversation. According to her Book of Life :. Sojourner told them that her breasts had suckled many a white babe, to the exclusion of her own offspring; that some of those babies had grown to man's estate; that, although they had suckled her colored breasts, they were, in her estimation, far more manly than they her persecutors appeared to be; and she quietly asked them, as she disrobed her bosom, if they, too, wished to suck!

In vindication of her truthfulness, she told them that she would show her breast to the whole congregation; that it was not to her shame that she uncovered her breast before them, but to their shame. In this response Truth actively constructed her public persona as a former slave. While suckling white children may have been a key part of a southern slavewoman's job, it is unlikely the northern Truth actually "suckled many a white babe. Truth's body, in Truth's construction of it, represented a collection of all black slavewomen and, as such, spoke on behalf of all black slavewomen.

As a compilation of black slavewomen, Truth's body took on the stereotypes of black slavewomen as mammies, sexually loose, and males, reinventing some of these stereotypes while sustaining others. As Painter notes, "Truth had turned the challenge upside down. Her skillful remaking employed the all-too-common exhibition of an undressed black body, with its resonance of the slave auction that undressed women for sale. What had been intended as degradation became a triumph of embodied rhetoric. In other words, Truth proclaimed her truthfulness but not on the terms of her accusers. Truth, rather, employed the mammy stereotype to call attention to the public nature of black women's breasts.

In the nineteenth century, black women's breasts were available for display from the auction block to child rearing and sex. Truth's words, therefore, called attention to the public availability of black women as mammys while Truth's body called attention to the public availability of black women on the auction block.


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Truth's protest involved exaggerating the social norm. Truth made her body a protest by offering it for examination. In the process, however, Truth used her body to shame not only her accusers but also anyone participating in the system that constructed black women's bodies as available. In this context, Truth again used her body to challenge cultural discourses on race and gender that stigmatized her body.

Yet, at the same time, the construction of her body as female, black, and able maintained an ideology of ability, which assumed abled bodies to be superior to disabled bodies. In the address, Truth directed attention away from her disability by consciously drawing attention to her strength. In her response to this query regarding her gender, Truth took a different approach by using her body to demonstrate her femininity. While this latter use of her body did not directly elide her disability — as in the address — it represents another example of how Truth used her body to challenge racist ideologies of gender by directing attention to her body but away from her disabled hand.

Representations of Truth's body in images and speeches now preserved in writing served an important purpose in the nineteenth century context where ideologies of racism and sexism served to subjugate African-Americans and women. Yet, by establishing racial and gender equality on the foundation of equal ability, nineteenth century feminists and abolitionists assumed an ideology of ability — an ideology that valorized intellectual ability along with physical ability — that lay under racism and sexism.

These activists did not attempt to argue for equality by dismantling the ideology of ability, which grounded racism and sexism. Such an approach to equal rights is particularly interesting in light of the case of Sojourner Truth who fought with feminists and race activists for the rights of African-American female bodies that were marginalized for both their gender and their race. Her approach, however, maintained the equality of African-American women based on their ability. Rather than dismantling the ideology of ability which grounded racism and sexism, Truth, like the equal rights activists in whose footsteps she followed, maintained the equality of African-American women on the basis of their ability.

This line of argument, however, was particularly problematic for Truth as it required her to deny her own physical disability in order to construct herself as able-bodied. Marginalized according to her gender, race, and ability, Truth found a home for her African-American female body by alienating her disabled body.

Truth's case is important for critical studies in general and Disability Studies in particular for two reasons. First, Truth's case suggests a complex relationship between cultural expectations regarding disability, gender, and race. This complex relationship cannot be understood by exploring Truth's gender and race apart from her disability. Contemporary scholarship often focuses on how Sojourner Truth made room for African-American female bodies in a context where bodies were only recognized as white male dominant , African-American subordinate due to race , or female subordinate due to gender.

Yet, such scholarship valorizes Truth's contribution while overlooking what Truth had to alienate in order to make a place for African-American female bodies: her own disabled hand, the existence of which may have undermined her attempt to construct African-American female bodies as able and, therefore, equal. Second, Truth's case suggests a scholarly trajectory that considers the relationship between first-wave feminist understandings of disability and contemporary feminist understandings of disability. In our contemporary context, where productivity continues to govern personal understandings of self-worth, feminists must come to terms with the movement's perpetuation of an ideology of ability and establish a trajectory that refuses to equate success with productivity.

Such a trajectory has been initiated by feminist disability theorists such as Rosemarie Garland-Thomson but must extend further into feminist and Disability Studies. By continuing to study Truth solely as an African-American woman instead of an African-American woman with a disability, scholars perpetuate an ideology of ability that continues to appropriate Truth as an able-bodied woman.

Contemporary scholars must, therefore, put on multiple critical lenses in order to reveal the depth of social stigmas in a variety of historical contexts and avoid repeating those social stigmas in contemporary scholarship. By refusing to allow representations of Truth to continue to "pass" as able-bodied, contemporary scholars may consider Truth's body as a challenge to the rhetoric of ability. Moreover, calling attention to Truth's use of an ideology of ability to argue for gender and racial equality demonstrates a case where gender and racial equality are established via an ideology of ability.

Truth's case demonstrates that scholarship must be constructed on the fault lines of identity — especially where race, gender, and disability and their stigmas collide in a singular body. One of Truth's favorite cartes-de-viste Painter, Unidentified photographer. Norton and Company, In this, I follow Judith Butler and queer theorists. This means that references to "woman" cannot be assumed to refer to sex as distinct from gender while references to "female" or "femininity" cannot be assumed to refer to gender as distinct from sex. Scholarship concerning the nature of visible human difference continues today in the form of feminist, gender, and queer studies, Disability Studies, and race studies among others.

For discussions of embodiment in relation to feminist discourse, see Judith Butler, Gender Trouble , Finally, for an example of the discussion of embodied human difference from race studies, see the collection of articles in Anthony Pinn and Dwight Hopkins eds. The use of "ideology of ability" throughout this essay is related to Tobin Siebers' definition of an ideology of ability as, "at its simplest, the preference for able-bodiedness.

At its most radical, it [ideology of ability] defines the baseline by which humanness is determined, setting the measure of body and mind that gives or denies human status to individual persons. Kim Hall states, "Some white suffragists used a rhetorical strategy that relied upon rather than undermined white supremacy and patriarchy.

By contrast, feminist Disability Studies strives to show how liberation requires transforming society to include diverse embodiments. This article serves as a response to calls for work on the intersections of feminist and Disability Studies but it also demonstrates the need for more of this intersectional work to be done. During the past decade, three journals from the disciplines of philosophy, religion, and feminist studies put out special issues calling for intersectional work between disability and feminist studies.

As the edition of her Narrative edited by Olive Gilbert states, "But, ere she reached the vehicle, she says that God revealed himself to her, with all the suddenness of a flash of lightning, showing her, 'in the twinkling of an eye, that he was all over '—that he pervaded the universe—'and that there was no place where God was not.

See Piepmeier's discussion of Truth's construction of her body as a tall-tale figure. In this work, Piepmeier focuses on the bodies of five nineteenth-century women, including Sojourner Truth, by using post-structuralist and feminist theories of embodiment. This article both expands on and challenges Piepmeier's work. Specifically, this essay's attention to Truth's disability through the lens of disability theory identifies a key aspect of Truth's body that should not be overlooked in any consideration of her embodiment.

As Patricia Hill Collins states, "The economic exploitation that produced a fledgling social class system among Blacks, the gender-specific use of violence for political domination, and the use of gender-specific controlling images to justify these practices are, by now, fairly well known. Williams-Searle suggests that, during the early part of this period , "minor" disabilities among railroaders were viewed as a mark of professionalism while, at the latter part of this period , all disabilities among railroaders were increasingly considered a mark of one who is not professional — railroaders with disabilities were understood to have caused those injuries by not doing their job correctly.

While it may have been the case that "minor" injuries were viewed as a mark of professionalism around among railroaders, as we will see, Sojourner Truth's elision of her disability suggests that she did not expect her disability to be considered a mark of honor nor a mark against her slave-owners as did other former slaves who used their deformities to critique the institution of slave-holding see "A Slave Scarred From Whippings" Baton Rouge, This argument is the focus of my paper entitled " Dis Ability in Early Feminism: How feminist arguments for gender equality undermine feminist critiques of social exclusion" presented at the annual meeting of the National Women's Studies Association, November For more scholarship on disability in the nineteenth century, see the other articles in The New Disability History as well as Blanck and Song who identify a hierarchy of disabilities based on compensation to union veterans and R.

Female Stories, Female Bodies

Edwards who identifies the rhetoric of able-bodiedness at the root of different approaches to deaf education.. See Peter Blanck and Chen Song. Joan Scott is an important pioneer in regard to locating women within their broader historical context but her proposals have yet to be fully accepted in women's studies as demonstrated by the prevalence of courses on "women in fill-in-the-blank" history, religion, literature and publications which continue to deal with women who have been abstracted from their historical contexts.

Douglas M. Note that Stanton here argues for white women's rights while excluding women of other races. Consider the emergence of black liberation theology in the writings of James Cone. Emilie M. Townes Maryknoll: Orbis, , New York: Columbia University, : According to Cannon, in slavery, black women were forced into the dual role of producer-reproducer.

Cannon demonstrates how this role continued after Civil War "liberation" and how the current situation of black women is a result of the stereotypes forced upon them during the historical period of formal slavery. The combined arguments of Cannon and hooks demonstrate the problematic construction of black female sexuality in the nineteenth century.

Shawn Copeland connects the hyper-sexualized black woman with the de-sexualized black woman. Copeland states, "On the one hand, the black woman was thought to be 'sly,' 'sensual,' and 'shameless'; but these characteristics were valued in relation to a libidinous economics: after all, such a woman made a good brood sow.

In this quote, the polarization constructed by Cannon and hooks although hooks does note that sometimes the two stereotypes are combined as we saw above break down as Copeland demonstrates the dependency of the stereotypes on one another. In addition to the stereotypes that constructed black women as hyper-sexualized and de-sexualized, black women were sometimes constructed as alternately sexed males. Black women, because their sexuality was exploited and they performed hard labor in the fields, could not be considered "real women". See Oyeronke Oyerwumi, "Multiculturalism or multibodism: On the impossible intersections of race and gender in American white feminist and black nationalist discourses.

The construction of black women as males was rooted in the understanding of black woman as producer.

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White women were not constructed as producers so the reality of black women as producers challenged the status of black women as "real women" rather than allowing the reality of black women as producers to challenge the construction of white femininity — a challenge Sojourner Truth addresses as we will see below. Exploring women's narratives from an innovative feminist perspective, Female Stories, Female Bodies combines theory and textual commentary in a wide-ranging interrogation of representation and identity, gender and genre.

Cultural critic Lidia Curti takes us through a diverse range of texts in a broad spectrum of media and genres, drawing on feminist, psychoanalytic, postmodern, and postcolonial theory in a challenging and rigorous discussion of such themes as hybridity and monstrosity, the male and female gaze, melancholia, desire, and paranoia. Following de Certeau's dictum that "our stories order our world, providing the mimetic and mythical structures for experience," she argues that women must retrace their way in the interminable plurality of female narrative texts as a strategy for resisting the "official" closure of female identity.

Female Stories, Female Bodies takes us on such a journey, bringing the body of female narrative to bear on the lived experiences of women everywhere. Visit Seller's Storefront. Orders usually ship within 2 business days. Shipping costs are based on books weighing 2. Though Dog-Woman apparently knows about them, she is not prepared to come up to any gender expectations.

On "Gender Critical" Women and Female Fear

When I was a girl I heard my mother and my father copulating. Later my mother told me that men take pleasure and women give it. By seemingly ignoring what framework of adequate behavioural patterns the patriarchal society has allocated to women, Dog-Woman lives outside those gender boundaries. Her second break with gender expectations is her hugeness. All her features are ultimately female but extremely over-sized; she is attributed with a pair of breasts between which she tries to choke men on several occasions, her vagina is so large that no penis is able to fill it, and her clitoris resembles an orange.

What is traditionally considered to exist only for pleasuring men either visually breasts or physically vagina or to be connected to childbearing and nursing offspring turns into a weapon and into a source for making men feel inadequately equipped. Bourdieu These assumptions can be taken to their logical consequence: The currently preferred slender female body is customised to meet current male desires.

By being slim a woman does not consume too much space in both its literal and figurative meaning. In her book Jungfrau und Monster. Frauenmythen im englischen Roman der Gegenwart, Susanne Schmid describes Winterson as one of those contemporary female authors who consciously and repeatedly confront their readership with myths to both expose them as myths as opposed to facts and to unveil their potential comp.

Schmid Myths work on three levels: On an anthropological level, myths are culturally specific interpretations of certain basic events or archetypes. On a formal level, myths consist of a number of parts in German: mytheme that can be re-combined to form new versions of a myth that will, consequently, refer to one another.

They are models construed to stand for the essence or the ideal of a group. The archetypical mother, for instance, would incorporate all the characteristics a community would ideally demand from any mother and be stripped of any characteristics that are of no relevance to a mother. According to Schmid, the characters of both Dog-Woman and of the female environmentalist do not fit into any of the archetypical categories traditionally used for woman: the virgin, the lover, the mother, and the sister. With regard to Gilbert and Gubar, she opens a new category: the monster comp.

To declare women who try to find a way to articulate themselves as abnormal and, thus, exclude them from the community means to discourage women from trying for fear of ending up as outcasts. It is a patriarchal strategy aimed at keeping the patriarchal world in the accustomed order. If judged from the outside, the environmentalist who is the contemporary continuation of 17th century Dog-Woman might be in line with the appearance of a stereotypical woman. She fits, even though she is so big. Their huge bodies, either being openly visible or hidden inside, are merely the symptoms of, not the cause for their monstrosity.

Female Stories, Female Bodies - Narrative, Identity, and Representation

That they are considered to be monsters, i. None of these features play a role in any of the traditional myths regarding women. On the contrary, especially the independence would counteract most of them. I agree with Lidia Curti who makes the following optimistic remark on monsters in her book Female Stories, Female Bodies:. The monsters that have recently invaded female fiction may be instances of a new freedom, signs of the possibility of bringing them to life, after the times when monsters..

The Dog Woman, a huge and monstrous creature with a powerful right hook and a wide vocabulary. She is perhaps the only woman in English fiction confident enough to use filth as a fashion accessory.


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They call me Dog-Woman and it will do. That Winterson attributed the character of Dog-Woman with a name that is narrated as given to her after she had grown up and claimed a domain that was to support herself seems to reflect her public identity more appropriately than any name given to her before she could start developing any identity of her own. I know that people are afraid of me, either for the yapping of my dogs or because I stand taller than any of them. It is with this frankness that Dog-Woman talks about herself throughout the novel.

Her style of speech is matter-of-fact and the only figurative language she indulges in consists of comparisons of herself to either animals or mountains. When she tells her story, conveys her opinion or questions something, it is usually laconically said; as if with a shrug. A balloon looks big and weighs nothing. She approaches her looks with the same pragmatic manner she approaches everything else around her:. My nose is flat, my eyebrows are heavy. I have only a few teeth and those are a poor show, being black and broken. I had smallpox when I was a girl and the caves in my face are home enough for fleas.

But I have fine blue eyes that see in the dark. There is no glossing over and no trying to find excuses. This way of representing her appearance makes the reader aware of her bodily features but we do not view or rather read her as a spectacle, a freak in a circus [5] ; an impression that an omniscient narrator describing Dog-Woman might have evoked.

Dog-Woman as a first person narrator uses anecdotes, factual descriptions and accounts of events to relate her hugeness. In a pun on corpses she conveys that the body is of no importance to her. The body might not mean anything to Dog-Woman but her body certainly is vital to her independent identity and to her strong physical presence in the novel. There simply is nothing to pity Dog-Woman for: That she is gigantic helps her to get heard, to be taken seriously, be it only for fear. That she is not concerned about being dirty proves her confidence. That she lives on her own by the river shows her independence.

Rather, the narrative invites the reader to sympathise with Dog-Woman; to be on her side and sometimes to even envy her for her seemingly boundless possibilities. The cumbersome way of referring to her may have suggested already that the second female protagonist remains nameless throughout the novel.

The environmentalist is in fact presented as consisting of two identities though I would argue that her inner and her public identity put together form a united identity which is more comprehensive than the two taken separately would constitute. In contrast to her, however, the environmentalist is prone to withdraw from the outer world to another one.

Perhaps this is the only one and the rest is rich imaginings. They seem to be interdependent. While Dog-Woman can perceive of things and events in an unrestricted way as her thoughts were not directed by education, the environmentalist, by virtue of formal education, has to seek refuge in daydreams and hallucinations in order to escape natural and cultural laws.

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She appears to be resigned to the fact that her perception of and acting in the world is not met with much sympathy. A re-occurring sign that suggests that she also has lost patience with the people around her is the fact that she does not even openly respond to what is said to her.

The environmentalist is clearly a postmodern character; weary of the world around her with its outdated but persistent structures, tirelessly pursuing a task that is bound never to be accomplished, and having more questions than answers. She is aware of what strength she has and knows how to use it. The reader is presented with a number of actions carried out by Dog-Woman that would justify condemning her. There were more to come. On a day that can only be described as a killing spree, she murders 60 men and keeps their eyeballs and teeth.

But the reader does not condemn her as the acts that are being narrated are violent acts but the way in which they are narrated is less lurid than comical; even slapstick-like. The playfully exaggerated presentation of the scenes determines the way in which they are perceived. One part of her violent acts is a result of Dog-Woman not getting heard or of her being afraid of not getting heard.

She does not accept any authority except the King and God.