Helen Hamilton Gardener took on 19th century hypocrisies and double standards in gender roles in her fiction, her essays, and her strategizing on behalf of woman’s suffrage.
But on this day in 1893, she used her public voice.
In a powerhouse speech at the Chicago World’s Fair, called “Woman as an Annex,” she attacked the unquestioned assumption that men were the societal norm — and women a mere appendage.
“Sex bias, sex arrogance, sex pride, sex assumption is so ingrained that it simply does not occur to the male logician, scientist, philosopher, and politician that there is a humanity!” she said. “They see, think of, and argue for and about only a sex of man, with an annex to him — woman.”
“They see, think of, and argue for and about only a sex of man, with an annex to him — woman.”
All these years later, we still haven’t fixed the problem, as Caroline Criado-Perez makes clear in her 2019 book, Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed For Men. Because data treats men as the default option, bias and discrimination are baked into our systems.
Gardener also ruffled feathers with another, earlier speech, “Sex in Brain.“
Delivered in 1888 at a conference in Washington DC, her speech presented extensive data and research to demolish the popular notion that because women’s brains were smaller than men’s, they were not as intelligent — and therefore not qualified to vote.
“There is absolutely no definite information on the subject now in the hands or books of the medical profession which can justify the least show of dogmatism in the matter,” Gardener told her audience.
The medical and scientific experts had assured her “not only that they did not know, but that no one could possibly know [based] upon the statistics and with the instruments in the hands of the profession to-day.”
One thing Gardener did know was the value of evidence-based inquiry. And when she died, she donated her brain to science.
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