because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Elsie Parsons

As the daughter of a wealthy New York City banker, the wife of a U.S. Congressman, and a scholar in her own right with a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Elsie Parsons might not have made a blip on the in-your-face women radar. If she hadn't chosen to teach Sex Roles and the Family at Columbia in 1905. If she hadn't joined a radical feminist network called Heterodoxy. And if she hadn't written a book entitled The Family that was so controversial, she had to publish two of her subsequent books under a male pseudonym to keep from destroying her husband's career.

Her main ideas (in the very early 1900's!) covered such topics as how religion teaches sexual repression, how women are socialized to accept a reduced position in life, and what part fear plays in all this. She and her husband both had sexual relations with others throughout their marriage, despite the fact that they had four children and were constantly held in the public view.

Parsons was convinced that the patriarchal belief that men are superior and ought to be dominant stifles not only women, but men, keeping both from fulfilling their full potential. She pushed for the practice of trial marriage, no-fault divorce, and easy access to contraception. Needless to say, religious leaders thought she was going to take the whole country to hell in a handbasket. But that's what Those-With-The-Power-To-Define always think about in-your-face women.

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