Kappa Alpha, my fraternity at Randolph-Macon.
“Treat a woman like a lady, And your lady like a queen….” Charlie Daniels
Ashley Judd’s recitation of “I’m a Nasty Woman” at the “women’s” march on Washington D.C. splashed across every media outlet in America. Judd proudly proclaimed to be a feminist and then launched into a verbal diatribe against “racism, fraud, conflict of interest, homophobia, sexual assault, transphobia, white supremacy, misogyny, ignorance and white privilege.” To Judd and the poem’s author, a sweet little Tennessee donut shop employee named Nina Donovan, the symbol of all this mischief and oppression are “Confederate flags being tattooed across my city. Maybe the South actually is going to rise again, maybe for some, it never really fell.”
Somehow being a strong woman today requires both a high level of “ignorance” and the desire to get in the gutter. Getting nasty with Ashley were Madonna and a host of other leftist activists who think the only way to get a man’s attention (and isn’t that the point?) is to grab their crotch and act like a spoiled teenager. Being a man is another thing, something Southerners of both sexes know something about.
Take Augusta Jane Evans of Mobile, Alabama for example. Neither Judd, nor Madonna, nor Donovan would consider her a feminist. She proudly waved the Confederate flag and watched hundreds of men suffer for the cause as a nurse. For her, the South never fell, because an America without the Southern tradition would have been an America without its soul. She was highly intelligent. Her books require the reader to have a level of education I’m sure Ms. Donovan—and for that matter both Judd and Madonna—lacks. She never voted, did not think it was proper for women to vote, and never jumped around on a stage grabbing her crotch and gyrating to “express yourself.”
But she did express herself, quite well in fact.
Evans was one of the best-selling authors of the 1860s. Her novel St. Elmo lined bookshelves across the United States, no small feat for an unreconstructed Southern belle. Women often required their daughters and granddaughters to read it. It might be a stretch, but one could probably assume that no nasty pink hatted woman at the Washington D.C. rally has ever cracked open the book. Their loss, for they are missing one of the more important feminist novels of the nineteenth century.
Evans held the cause of women’s suffrage in low regard and scoffed at “blue-stockings,” educated women who shunned the traditional role of wife, mother, and care-giver for politics and speaking engagements. Her anti-suffrage position puts her at odds with modern society, but she was not alone in the nineteenth century. While the modern reader may laugh at her quaint provincialism, her reasoning, made clear in St. Elmo, stemmed from her faith and her dedication to “womankind.”
Edna Earl, the main character in St. Elmo, is a devout, pious, pure, well-read, beautiful, and intelligent young woman, the model of Christian virtue. She falls in love with an immoral scoundrel, St. Elmo, but does not allow herself to express her interest because he is unworthy of her love. She pities him and prays for him, and though her heart is his, she never betrays her feelings. As a result, she spends much of her young life engaged in study, in nursing sick children, writing critically acclaimed books and articles, and fighting off suitors who boast high social status and money but who cannot win her pure heart. In the end, Edna is able to reform St. Elmo. He returns to Christ, becomes a minister, and marries Edna. While it is a great romance, St. Elmo is also a political tale interwoven with social critique.
For example, Evans, through Edna Earl, argued that women should “jealously [contend] for every woman’s right which God and nature had decreed the sex. The right to be learned, wise, noble, useful, in woman’s divinely limited sphere; the right to influence and exalt the circle in which she moved; the right to mount the sanctified bema of her own quiet hearthstone; the right to modify and direct her husband’s opinions . . . the right to make her children ornaments to their nation . . . the right to advise, to plead, to pray; the right to make her desk a Delphi, if God so permitted; the right to be all that the phrase ‘noble, Christian woman’ means.” But she cautioned her fellow woman against involving herself in anything that might “trail her heaven-born purity through the dust and mire of political strife. . .
In St. Elmo, Evans described her heroine’s writing career in words that could just as easily be applied to her own:
The tendency of the age was to equality and communism, and this, she contended was undermining the golden thrones shining in the blessed and hallowed light of the hearth, whence every true woman ruled the realm of her own family. Regarding every pseudo “reform” which struck down the social and political distinction of the sexes, as a blow that crushed one of the pillars of woman’s throne, she earnestly warned the Crowned Heads of the danger to be apprehended from the unfortunate and deluded female malcontents . . . and to proud happy mothers, guarded by Praetorian bands of children, she reiterated the assurance that “Those who rock the cradle rule the world.” Most carefully she sifted the records of history, tracing in every epoch the sovereigns of the hearth-throne who had reigned wisely and contentedly, ennobling and refining humanity; and she proved by illustrious examples that the borders of the feminine realm could not be enlarged, without rendering the throne unsteady, and subverting God’s law of order.Politics, Evans pointed out, has never proved to be the salvation of the human race. This is still true today. Women, most importantly mothers and wives, had long been the calming factor, the guiding hand, and the nurturing vessel of a prosperous and peaceful people. Evans believed neither voting nor political office were necessary when women already held such power over men.
Every nasty feminist at the Washington rally failed to understand that the “misogyny” of the nineteenth century was in fact a manifestation of a respect for the fairer sex, a realization that men were, and are, fragile creatures that need a soft hand and a moral compass that often only women can provide, and that women were, in fact, superior members of society. “Women and children first” had real meaning. Acting “nasty” appeals to the animalistic side of man, but it debases rather than elevates womankind. Women might as well put up a sign in neon lights: “Bring out your clubs and procreate, caveman. No conversation nor courtship necessary.”
This isn’t about voting. It’s about manners and refinement, of culture. Edna Earl would be a much more enjoyable challenge than Ashley Judd. But maybe that is old fashioned. Real ladies did not show up in Washington. Treating your woman like a lady and your lady like a queen is too “Old South.” Then again, maybe that is exactly what America needs from both sexes.