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Bayer on Declaration of Sentiments

Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Professor of Women's Studies Betty Bayer recently had a guest essay featured in the Finger Lakes Times on the topic of the Declaration of Sentiments, following the recent Convention Days in Seneca Falls.

"Renewed attention to the Declaration of Sentiments tells us again and again, this living and breathing document is ageless in its capacity to stir heart and mind alike," writes Bayer. She then points to a number of examples of recent projects inspired by the document.

Serving the Colleges in the Women's Studies Program, Bayer teaches courses on the body politic, psychology of women, peace and ecofeminism, and core courses such as "Introduction to Women's Studies" and "Feminist Theory." Recognized for her outstanding teaching ability, Bayer received the Colleges' prestigious Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award in 2004 and the Community Service Award in 2009. She has served as the chair of the Women Studies Program since 2001 and directed the Fisher Center for the Study of Women and Men from 2002 to 2009. Bayer earned her Ph.D., M.A. and B.A. in psychology from Carleton University.

Her recent publications include "Enchantment in an age of occupy" (2012, Women's Studies Quarterly), and two essays forthcoming on critical history and theory of feminism and on spirituality. She is also currently working on a book tentatively titled "Revelation or Revolution? Cognitive Dissonance and Persistent Longing in an Age Psychological."

Bayer's full article appears below.


Finger Lakes Times
Declaration of Sentiments still a powerful document

Betty Bayer • Guest Appearance • July 28, 2013

What's your sentiment about the Declaration of Sentiments?

This question may well be as old as the 165-year-old document itself, as recent attention to its full intent reminds us. Debate was immanent in its first reading at the 1848 convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y., organized to "discuss the social, civil and religious condition of woman." The document, drafted by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was modeled on the Declaration of Independence. I was reminded of its context as historian Melinda Grube, channeling the persona of Stanton at the 2013 Convention Days, re-read the Declaration of Sentiments.

Walking out of Wesleyan Chapel, I overheard a young girl say, "I wish I had more time here." My sentiments, exactly! More time to absorb the document's expansive vision, to discuss and debate resolutions the document might spark today on directions forward and its critics (one calling out "pagans" as we walked to the Chapel from Stanton's home), on a renewed vision of democracy and on building the road map to equality of rights across social, civil, economic, political and religious institutions as the signatories of this declaration had done over two days almost two centuries ago.

Renewed attention to the Declaration of Sentiments tells us again and again, this living and breathing document is ageless in its capacity to stir heart and mind alike. Professors of women's history invite students to engage with the document; some to turn to the matter of suffrage (including the 19th Amendment) and women's movements' visions of political rights and ask: Has suffrage been achieved? Whose suffrage? Whose rights?

The document has spurred a film project, "Sentiments and Usurpations," has inspired environmental writer Terry Tempest Williams to craft a Declaration of Sentience and, most recently, it was the motivation for "Sentimental," a digital interactive survey on the Declaration's statements similar in spirit, perhaps, to that re-visioning undertaken by Forum '98 on the occasion of the Declaration's 150th.

Those of us who teach in Women's Studies or women's history encounter routinely how the Declaration animates thinking, writing, critical analysis and imagination. What strikes many of us over and over is how little our students - female and male, U.S. citizens or not - know of the document, its history or its authors. Equally striking, as they note, is how its language resonates with them, and they find the Declaration beautiful, bold, commanding and compelling. (One student transformed Stanton's name into a verb, claiming, as he put it, the need to "Stantonize": i.e., to evidence courage). Students ask themselves: Have we tamped down our capacity to envision a future guided by equality of rights? To participate in the charting of what democracy might look like? Have we, they ask, settled for promises of equality in the place of practices, of steps forward?

Their questions flocked to mind on hearing the young girl's wish at the Women's Rights National Park and Convention Days. These questions lead to inquiries on women's earning power, place in education, religion and challenges to women's reproductive rights. This is what Lucretia Mott declared at the 1848 convention as "securing to women an equal participation with men in the various trades, professions and commerce." I (and my young compatriot) declare it now as "more time!" - more time in city council, on the legislative floors, in the media, in curricula, more representation in the face of taxation, and more time on these American and global concerns. More time and space to debate and discuss, to participate in the making of equality of rights, here in our towns and across the globe.

Maybe this is the revolutionary power of the sentimental journey envisioned by the Votes for Women Trail and the Women's History Project Act introduced by Rep. Louise Slaughter (NY-28) and then-Sen. Hilary Rodham Clinton on July 19, 2007, and signed by President Barack Obama in 2009. As the Women's Rights National Historical Park along with the Friends of the Park and other community members review criteria for this Votes for Women Trail, we all might well bear in mind that what appears at first a sentimental journey may indeed be the stirrings of declarations of sentiments. All aboard!

Betty M. Bayer is a professor of Women's Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva.

 

 


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