The Other Revolution

Not For Ourselves Alone:The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony

by Ken Burns, by Paul Barnes
PBS Home Video, 210 minutes pp., $29.95

Writers have long attached the word “revolution” to technological innovations such as the now current e-commerce, biotech, and information “revolutions.” But when we think of “real revolutions” we are still inclined to envision guillotines, barricades, Bolsheviks, and the execution of Tsar Nicholas II and the Romanov family. Yet when one looks carefully at the Taliban rule in Afghanistan as an example, even if somewhat extreme, of the kind of patriarchy that governed orthodox Christians, Muslims, Jews, and ancient Mesopotamians reaching back for millennia and that shaped even much later secular and socialist forms of male domination, it becomes clear that the revolution of all revolutions has been the relatively recent, peaceful, and still-continuing equalization of men and women.

Whereas the Taliban prohibit women from being educated, there are now more women than men who are students in America’s four-year colleges and universities, and the proportion of women continues to rise in American law schools, medical schools, graduate schools, and the armed forces. The Western world is still in the midst of a profound change in gender relationships, and as more women are employed or pursuing professional careers, there has also been a new sensitivity to sexual harassment and the “gender-friendliness” of the workplace.

Of course it is partly to protect Afghan women from sexual harassment that the Taliban (like the Middle Assyrian Laws from the fifteenth to the eleventh century BCE) require women to wear head-to-toe veils or burkas and forbid them from speaking to non-family males or walking outdoors except in the company of a close male relative.

Though a few isolated voices challenged Aristotle’s equation of women with slaves and domesticated animals,

The ideals and the turbulence of the American Revolution certainly raised the expectations of some women. Thus in 1777 Lucy Knox wrote a letter expressing her love for her husband …

This article is available to subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $94.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.