The late nineteenth century was a critical time in reshaping the rights of women. Commonly this era is considered to be the beginning of what is know to western feminists as “first-wave feminism.” First-wave feminism predominately fought for legal rights such as suffrage, and property rights. A major hallmark of first-wave feminism is the concept of the “New Woman.” The phrase New Woman described educated, independent, career oriented women who stood in response to the idea of the “Cult of Domesticity,” that is the idea that women are meant to be domestic and submissive (Stevens 27). Though the concept of the New Woman was empowering to many, some women did not want to give up their roles as housewives. These women felt there was a great dignity in the lifestyle of the housewife, and that raising children was not a job to scoff at. Mary Freeman's short story “The Revolt of 'Mother',” tells the story of such a domestic woman, Sarah, who has no interest in leaving her position as mother, but still wishes to have her voice heard in the private sphere of her home. Freeman's “Revolt of Mother,” illustrates an alternative means of resistance for women who rejected the oppression of patriarchy without a withdrawal from the domestic lifestyle.
First to understand why this story is critical to empowering women who wished to remain tied to their domestic roots, we need to look at the limitations imposed upon their resistance. Within the public sphere women had the option of peaceful protest which allowed for them to sway the political system that had oppressed them for so long. Unfortunately public protest could not change the oppression that took place in the private sphere of domesticity. We can see in the story that Mother has no interest in starting a fight with her husband; she is aware that he provides for her and is respectful of him even when he does not show her the same respect. We can see how much power the father holds when Sarah tries to convince Adonitram to explain why they need a new barn.
“I want to know what you're buildin' that new barn for, father?”
“I ain't got nothin' to say about it.”
“It can't be you think you need another barn?”
“I tell ye I ain't got nothin' to say about it, mother; an' I ain't goin' to say nothin” (665)
As the conversation goes on mother explains her wishes for a new house with the preface that see is not complaining she is simply “speaking plain.” It is evident that Sarah wants nothing more than to talk to Adonitram about her side of the issue, but because of the patriarchal relationship between the two of them he feels completely justified in keeping information from his wife. As Martha Cutter argues in Frontiers of Language: Engendering Discourse in “The Revolt of 'Mother'”, “ordinary language does not provide Sarah Penn with a tool for communication, since patriarchal discourse systematically excludes women as speakers” (282-283). Because of the systematic exclusion of feminine discourse domestic...