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Women’s Voices of Duty and Destiny

Religious Speeches Transcending Gender


Elizabeth W. McLaughlin

This book collection is a celebration of women who speak truth to power in the public square. A perfect fit for undergraduate students of rhetoric, gender, religion and history, Women’s Voices of Duty and Destiny showcases the speech texts of 14 women addressing societal issues from the values of their religious beliefs and discourse communities. Between the tensions of the duty of gender roles and human destiny, these global voices representing different time periods and religions address the thematic issues of faith, society, education, reform, freedom and peacemaking. Written in clear, straightforward language, students will directly encounter the words and voices of leaders who strive to make the world better for all in the quest for human dignity. Each speaker seeks to forward the transcendent value of human freedom as reinforced by her explicit references to the divine. This collection is appropriate for 200-400 level undergraduate classes and offers a broad sampling of women who speak in the public square.

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Education, literacy, and learning are keystones to human freedom in all societies. However, in many countries, girls’ opportunities to go to school are limited or non-existent. Some religious leaders teach that girls should not receive an education because they might rebel against their God-ordained roles as submissive wives and mothers and that formal education is not needed to fulfill these divinely sanctioned responsibilities. Sometimes, this prohibition against girls’ education can lead to violence, as in the example of Malala Yousafzai. At age fifteen, she was shot in the head while on her way to school.1 After a remarkable recovery, she is now an international symbol of freedom and the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Early marriage can also limit girls’ continuing education. Furthermore, some families simply cannot afford to pay for the education of both their sons and daughters, so their sons get to go to school. Whatever the causes preventing women and girls from learning, access to education is a strong theme and transcendent value for these speakers who understand its importance to equality. In this section, we study the speech texts of two women from different time periods, with the same ← 87 | 88 → message. Each speaks passionately about the importance of education to foster equality and a better life for all.

First, in “Why Sit Ye Here and Die?” African American abolitionist Maria W. Stewart contends to her mixed-race, mixed-gender audience in Franklin Hall Boston, September 21, 1932, that...

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