Friday, 29 March 2013

Ain't I A Woman... ?

One day, long ago, I went to look around a prestigious school in Gloucester after putting in an application for the post of deputy head teacher. The head took me into his office and said, ' Don't waste your time, the governors are looking for a man..' This was the 1990's, gender discrimination was illegal, but such was the power differential  between this guy and me, that he knew he could say such a thing with impunity.

(Barnwood C of E Primary School, Gloucester, for the record.)

I soldiered on.  And when I finally got my headship (' No-one will ever appoint you as their deputy, apply, for headships,' A kindly LEA officer finally explained,  after five years.(!). ) I didn't get bitter, I got a Master's Degree, and when I finally achieved my goal, at least I had the satisfaction of knowing I'd made it on my own merits. I do wish though, that the men that were given a head-start at my (and other women's) expense, knew that they hadn't.

For many years, a highlight on the Francis Parental Pride Trail was the annual night out at The High School for Girls, Denmark Road , Prize Giving. (The high point of which was the presentation of the Cup for Netball to a young woman about seven feet tall.) My daughters would receive their prizes, then the guest speaker would give an encouraging homily to the assembly. One speaker quoted the first female mayor of the City of Toronto, who said,

'To get on in the world, a woman has to be twice as good as a man. Fortunately, this isn't difficult.'

How I laughed!

    That man over there say
         a woman needs to be helped into carriages
    and lifted over ditches
         and to have the best place everywhere.
    Nobody ever helped me into carriages
         or over mud puddles
         or gives me a best place...
    And ain't I a woman?
         Look at me
    Look at my arm!
         I have plowed and planted
    and gathered into barns
         and no man could head me...

    And ain't I a woman?
         I could work as much
    and eat as much as a man —
         when I could get to it —
    and bear the lash as well
         and ain't I a woman?

    I have born 13 children
         and seen most all sold into slavery
    and when I cried out a mother's grief
         none but Jesus heard me...

    And ain't I a woman?
         that little man in black there say
    a woman can't have as much rights as a man
         cause Christ wasn't a woman
    Where did your Christ come from?
         From God and a woman!
    Man had nothing to do with him!
         If the first woman God ever made
    was strong enough to turn the world
         upside down, all alone
    together women ought to be able to turn it
         rightside up again.
Copyright © Sojourner Truth, 1852.

The Creation of The World

The first day

   I came to in the dark cold trembling
   while I gathered twigs lit them he came out
   of the cave shivered held his hands over
   the fire and said: Let there be light

 The second day

   I woke at dawn carried water from the river
   to wet the clay ground so the dust wouldn't
   whip his face he came out I poured water into
   his palms he washed his face looked up and
   said: Let's call the roof sky the dryness earth
   and the gathered waters the seas

The third day

  I got up early picked blue red yellow fruit
  piling small seeds between two stones ground
  kneaded roast them he awoke stretched ate the
  bread the sweet fruit said: Let the earth
  bear tender grasses grasses with seeds fruit

The fourth day

  I awoke suddenly swept the yard with a branch
  of leaves soaked the laundry scrubbed the
  pots cleaned the tools he woke as I sharpened
  the scythe rolled over and said: Let heavenly
  bodies light the sky to divide day from night

 The fifth day

  I rode in the morning filled the troughs
  gave the horses hay milked the cows
  sheared the sheep grazed the goats stuffed
  the geese cut nettles for the ducklings
  ground corn for the hens cooked slops for
  the pigs threw the dog a bone poured the cat
  its milk he yawned slowly rubbed the sleep from his
  eyes and said: Let everything multiply and
  grow and cover the earth

The sixth day

  Pains woke me I gave birth to my child cleaned
  swaddled nursed him he leaned over let the
  little hand squeeze his thumb he smiled at
  his likeness and saw that truly all of his creation
  was good

The seventh day

 The baby's crying woke me I quickly changed
  his diapers nursed him he quieted down I
 lit the fire aired the apartment brought
 up the newspaper
 watered the plants dusted quietly
 made breakfast the smell of coffee woke him he turned
 on the radio lit a cigarette and blessed the seventh day

Eva Toth and Laura Schiff( Ain't I a Woman! 1987,   Linthwaite I (Ed)  Peter Bederick Books, NEW YORK)


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