DATA SAYS: PUNISH THE OPPRESSOR!!

 

dataRight now, I’m in the data entry phase of my project. I started in September and hope to be done by the end of this calendar year. You can see exactly what data I’m including in the data design section of this blog.

Data entry is more fun than it sounds!! I’m in the early stages of compiling contribution information for the English Woman’s Journal (EWJ)—working on Volume II, number 12 as I write this. So many EWJ articles are incredibly prescient in their discussions of women’s rights.[1]

The passage below, for instance, resonated for me, loudly. I just voted in the American presidential election, which, more than ever before, has been about gender.

I think, therefore, that as a general rule, women in happy circumstances resent the injuries inflicted on their much-enduring sisters less deeply than they ought, and that, sometimes from indifference, but oftener from timidity, they fail to punish the oppressor as severely as they could, and as it is their duty to do. I trust however that this Journal will serve to bind us closer together, till at length all English women shall form one vast society for the protection of their own sex. (II.7, p. 69-70)

This is from an anonymous letter to the editor, published in the EWJ’s recurring participation feature, “Open Council.” I like to imagine the author of this missive smiling to herself as she penned the words “punish the oppressor.” (!!!)

Exclamation marks aside, the EWJ constantly impresses me with its seriousness of purpose. Contributors to the Journal are agonizingly aware that women’s education and women’s employment are issues of life or death for many. One article puts it this way:

If only one sex is to be educated, that sex should surely be the female, for if a man be ignorant he can still earn his bread as a laborer, or soldier, or at the worst go to the backwoods, and hew his road to fortune with the axe; but the ill-educated woman has no resource but her needle, and that often fails to procure the merest necessaries of life. (II.8, p.118)

A needle is no competition for an axe! Even the worst employment available to a man is often better than the best employment available to a woman.

The EWJ relies on reason and statistics, publishing tables of the number of women enrolled in vocational training programs, or of wages for different positions, or of the composition of hospitals and workhouses. Why? Well, the same women who founded the Journal were heavily involved in National Association for the Promotion of Social Science (NAPSS).[2] They were into statistics! They never stated a fact without citing it! Their whole mode of operation is not far off from the data-driven focus of digital humanities projects, including my own.

Of course this earnest, social science-y approach is also a reflection of respectability politics. EWJ editors present their cause as rational, just, and calmly incremental. Their campaign is run by wealthy white women, several of whom are daughters of clergymen. And yet, it never stops tugging at its radical threads. Read our tables: punish the oppressor!!

 

[1] Read digitized versions of the EWJ here: nineteenth-century serials edition

[2] Including Jessie Boucherett, Barbara Bodichon and Adelaide Anne Procter.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s