I cried when we went to Seneca Falls. It was a quiet, gray day and hardly anyone else was there. There was wall next to the visitors’ center that had the the Declaration of Sentiments etched on it and I stood there and I read every single word: the words of women who had had enough, women who just wanted to be recognized as human, and I cried. The words of the Declaration are hard words, made harder by the fact that there are still people who don’t think there’s anything wrong with the “absolute tyranny” that they describe. But they’re hopeful words; they try to conjure a better reality. And I felt them deeply, so I cried.
But I stopped crying when I reached that one infamous line, that reminder that even while demanding justice, the suffragists still couldn’t see everyone as equally human and equally deserving. “He has withheld her from rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men—both natives and foreigners.” In the middle of a litany of truths, this line lands like a gutpunch. How could someone advocate so plainly for their own humanity, for MY humanity, and still not see the full humanity of those who didn’t share their social standing? This contradiction–this hypocrisy–continues to echo so loudly.
Holding all of history’s contradictions and nuances is hard and humbling. The Distillers song is a celebration and a battle cry, but when I hear it I try to listen for that echo.