The Slavery of Women
July 2, 1797 — Public Instruction Academy, Mantua, Lombardy
Dear Citizens, one cannot deny that in the kingdom of freedom, women should claim higher rights than men. In vain, nature granted my gender a sweet predominance over your hearts. Ambitions, accompanied by low opinion of interest and jealousy, made us twofold slaves to despots, fathers and husbands. In fact, the more deplorable our social situation has been so far, the more accredited were various religious systems in peoples’ opinion. Looking at history, I was often horrified and enraged by reading that the calculating shrewdness of priests led them [women] to jump into devouring flames alive, which already accommodated the dead bodies of their husbands, condemned them for ridiculous and imaginary relationships with the devil or sentenced them to perpetual prisons or infamous fires and finally to consume their lives in sterile convents, the greatest of the crimes. . .
The more cruel was the deplorable condition of women in the previous system, the more they had to bend their heads to the oppression of tyrannous parents. Who among you does not know some of those unlucky victims personally, who were led to their loathed beds, instead of their real beloved ones, by the caprices of their fathers and the ambition of their mothers? Which one of you does not know how certain parents exercise their authority on young and inexperienced daughters?
But, if fathers and mothers are usually tyrants to their daughters, if so are husbands to wives, no less have been the despots of nations to my gender. They poisoned the source of life with their oppressive laws and turned the sweetest of the bonds to one of the heaviest chains. Is it not perhaps utter tyranny that forces a woman to live forever with a cruel husband, who treats her like a slave? Is it not an infamous outrage against freedom and nature that one may get divorced only after long judiciary proceedings but cannot get married again to compensate for the bad treatments she received in the previous marriage? Even the dowry establishment became a disadvantage for us, since we were denied having equal rights as men for the distribution of our fathers’ inheritance. We were denied all jobs, got humiliated by an absurd and inhuman system of a trifling education and have lost all hopes of overcoming many barbarities and seeing the end to many injustices for many centuries. We were told thousands of times that we were created for the happiness of men. But, it must be rephrased that they have given us arguments with their behavior to believe that they were created to strengthen our ties and make us completely passive in society. Dear Citizens, if you want to break the chains of the kings, we want to break ours, too. We might need your help, but we do not lack the energy and virtues to deserve it. If you think of excluding us from the revolution, it cannot be conquered by half of mankind only. If men do not want to be the slaves of one tyrant, we do not want to be the slaves of thousands. You hate a despot, we hate the aristocracy of men, under whose yoke we have groaned for centuries. What? Do you say that women are unworthy of having the same rights and duties as you? Are they not capable of most noble and decisive actions? Roman liberty would not have triumphed with the Tarquini without Lucrezias and Clelias.
Women? To humiliate those who consider us unworthy and for our glory, let us remember that Rome was liberated by a woman and that thanks to a woman the People obtained the consulate and thanks to a woman the decemviral tyranny was terminated. Some of you would like to tell me that our gender has too many imperfections. I cannot deny it: but men have always exploited our sensitive physique and have always educated us with the ignorance of civil and scientific systems and fanatic superstition. If we are frivolous and superstitious, blame yourselves for it.
So injustice of men and deception have sickened and oppressed us. If resistance against oppression is a right, men cannot deny us that same right. Each one of us knows how despotic their authority is to women in Asia and Africa. Nature trembles for them and takes revenge by making barren those unhappy victims sacrificed to the brutality of their mustached tyrants. Ah, then, let the day of redemption come for my sex too, and so with more reason will you call us the dearest half of mankind.
Translation by Elisa Strumia.
Source: Schiavitù delle donne. Memoria della Cittadina Lattanzi Letta nell’Accademia di Pubblica Istruzione in Mantova li 14 Mietitore. (Mantova: Apollo) 1797.