OCALA, Fla., April 11, 2014 — The “War on Women” is a major theme in the media these days.
According to those who assert its existence, conservative activists and lawmakers are plotting to erode women’s rights. More or less, this would ultimately mean that abortion rights, contraceptive use, and pursuing a career over motherhood are banished to ‘unmentionable’ status.
While it some right wing extremists harbor far out, if not repugnant, opinions, they do not constitute a legislative majority. Still, their antics alienate voters who would otherwise consider supporting Republican candidates.
At the same time, many supposed women’s rights supporters pursue an ideological agenda which has soured mainstream views about feminism.
Both righties and lefties could stand to learn much from the life of an extraordinary, yet somehow forgotten, lady.
Kate Chopin was far ahead of her time. Born in St. Louis just a decade before the Civil War began, she followed the path of conventionality for women of her era and married at the age of twenty. Becoming a mother soon after, eventually having a grand total of six children, nothing out of the ordinary appeared to be coming her way for years on end.
During the early 1880s, however, her husband died and left her destitute. Residing in rural Louisiana, she packed up her kids and moved back to her city of birth, where her mother was able to support her.
Unfortunately, Kate’s mother passed on the following year, leaving her daughter in severe emotional turmoil. After seeking professional help, Kate decided to enter the writing industry as it was a potentially profitable outlet for her feelings. Said feelings led her to pen social commentary which effectively laid the groundwork for first wave feminism.
Her best known short story, 1894’s aptly titled The Story of an Hour, is about a wife who confronts her inner demons and finds that, despite society wanting her to, she does not fully love her husband and is relieved to hear of his demise. Succeeding this was her indisputably most controversial work, an 1899 novel called The Awakening, which delved head-on into the sticky subjects of adultery and non-marital cohabitation.
Critics of the latter were so fierce in their condemnation, not only of the book but of Kate herself, that she stopped writing novels and turned to short stories. She died only a half decade later, in 1904 at the age of 54.
Despite her literary career lasting for, more or less, only ten years, her ideas of individuality and illumination of the hypocrisy, as well as ignorance, harbored by too great a number ring true today. She was the epitome of a fearless visionary, and did not allow the opinions of others to stand in the way of relating key messages regarding the lost hopes and dreams of women pinned down by archaic cultural norms.
Indeed, Kate Chopin lived her own rendition of the American Dream, and left a torch burning for others daring enough to take her place.
Needless to say, there were, and still are, no shortage of women willing to do this. If Kate could have lived to see the end of the 20th century, there is little doubt that she would have felt her painstaking efforts paid off in dividends.
Much of this article was first published as This American Story: Kate Chopin, the First Feminist in Blogcritics Magazine.